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Talking Tactics

Centre-back decision can define Liverpool's approach

Adrian Clarke 19 Nov 2020
Talking Tactics Fabinho Phillips

Adrian Clarke assesses the pros and cons of picking Nathaniel Phillips or Fabinho against Leicester

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points in Matchweek 9.

Liverpool’s line-up has pretty much picked itself for the last two seasons, but injuries are now forcing Jurgen Klopp to make difficult decisions in defence which could affect his entire game plan against Leicester City.

In addition to captain Jordan Henderson and top scorer Mohamed Salah, the Reds could be without their entire first-choice back four.

That is far from ideal against a Leicester side who have won all four of their away matches, scoring 13 goals in the process. 

Jamie Vardy has netted in all of those matches, hurting West Bromwich Albion, Manchester City, Arsenal and Leeds United with his pace and sharpness.

Selection dilemma

In the absence of Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk, the experienced Joel Matip is almost certain to start for Liverpool.

But will Klopp choose Fabinho or Nathaniel Phillips to partner him at centre-back?

Phillips, 23, impressed on loan at Stuttgart last term and was superb in Liverpool’s 2-1 home win over West Ham United.

He made nine clearances and dominated in the air on his Premier League debut, keeping Hammers striker Sebastien Haller in check.

Need for speed

While Vardy clearly offers a very different type of threat to Haller, Phillips has an excellent turn of pace.

Against West Ham, he registered the third-highest top speed by a Liverpool player this season, which statistically makes him the club’s quickest centre-back.

That factor could earn him the nod against Leicester. 

Liverpool top speeds 2020/21
Rank Player Speed (km/h) Rank Player Speed (km/h)
1 Salah 34.68 5 Van Dijk 32.81
2 Firmino 33.15 6 Gomez 32.59
3 Phillips 33.11 13 Fabinho 30.87
4 Robertson 33.10 14 Matip 30.80

Fabinho was excellent as a centre-back at Chelsea in September.

Because of his experience as a deep-lying midfielder, he is rarely flustered and his distribution is tremendous.

In the 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge, the Brazilian made 90 passes with an accuracy of 96.7 per cent.

When Leicester close down Liverpool’s defenders, Fabinho can be trusted not to lose possession in a bad area.

However, he is not especially fast, with a top speed this term of 30.87 km/h.

If he plays alongside Matip, who has peaked at 30.8 km/h this season, Liverpool will be nervous about the speed of Vardy and Harvey Barnes.

CC

Should Klopp opt for a Fabinho-Matip partnership, he will probably have to change his normal strategy.

If Liverpool pressed in their usual manner, keeping a high line, Leicester could tear them apart by playing balls in behind from transitions.

Instead, the champions would need to drop deeper and apply pressure from a lower block.

Liverpool’s full-backs would also potentially have to play less adventurously to avoid leaving holes down the sides of their exposed centre-backs.

There are pros and cons to picking Phillips or Fabinho in his makeshift rearguard, so Klopp’s final decision will be based around the tactical plan he prefers for this fixture.

Also in this series

Part 1: Wilder must restore Sheff Utd's threat out wide
Part 2: Bamford gives Leeds shot at rare win over Arsenal
Part 4: Hojbjerg to tackle De Bruyne in match-defining duel

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