Can Maddison exploit the holes in Liverpool's midfield?

By Alex Keble 11 May 2023
Maddison and Alexander-Arnold

Alex Keble looks at how Leicester can get the better of a new tactic that needs some work

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Leicester City v Liverpool

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s repositioning in central midfield continues to spiral Liverpool into new dimensions - both positive and negative - as Jurgen Klopp’s latest tactical innovation returns his team to the dizzying days of his early reign, before everything clicked into place.

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Liverpool are on a six-match winning streak yet they look vulnerable on the counter-attack, largely because their new formation – taken to a new extreme last weekend when Cody Gakpo played in midfield – has a few kinks to be ironed out.

Alexander-Arnold’s new role alongside Fabinho has released another Liverpool No 8 higher up the pitch, hence Gakpo’s inclusion in an attacking line-up against Brentford and a confrontational front five or six. But with Alexander-Arnold flirting with numerous positions at once, it can leave a lot of holes.

Liverpool shape v Brentford
Diagram showing Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho's positions in Liverpool's line-up v Brentford

Brentford’s direct approach caused quite a few problems when long passes were pumped over the Liverpool shape and a second ball dropped around Fabinho, who was often left isolated.

Fabinho v Brentford
Fabinho is left isolated in Liverpool's midfield v Brentford

That’s where Leicester City can do damage on Monday. Under Dean Smith they have become a considerably more direct counter-attacking team, looking to drive through the opposition midfield via Maddison.

Since Smith took charge their possession average has dropped from 49.3 per cent to 45.6 per cent, while their build-up attacks are down (1.9 to 0.9 per match), their direct attacks are up (1.4 to 2.2 per match) and their number of 10+ open-play pass sequences are down (10.8 to 5.4 per match).

Perhaps most telling of all, their number of successful take-ons has doubled, from 6.7 to 13.2 per match.

Now receiving the ball in more space on the counter, it is no surprise that James Maddison has averaged nine shot-creating actions per match in four matches under Smith, more than double his 4.2 per match under Brendan Rodgers this season.

In other words, Maddison might just cause havoc in those spaces around Fabinho. However, with Leicester conceding 12 goals in five outings under Smith – including five at Fulham last Monday – that won't necessarily be enough to win points against Liverpool.

This one should be a lot of fun for the neutral.

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