Preview: Genk vs Liverpool
Snatching a late draw away at Old Trafford, Liverpool will now shift their focus towards the Champions League. Belgium side Genk will be the opponents, and they’ll be looking to claim the scalp of the current European champions. Having nearly slipped up against Salzburg in their last European outing, there’s no room for complacency when they step onto the pitch of the Luminus Arena.
Ahead of Wednesday night’s clash, here’s the preview for both teams.
Race To Be Fit
Versus Manchester United, the Reds were handed a boost by the defensive pair of Matip and Alisson. Salah on the other hand missed out on the matchday squad entirely, despite taking part in training prior to Sunday’s game. It was a blow from a Liverpool perspective, for they’ve just lost their most important attacker for the big game.
As a result of Salah’s injury, Origi was handed his 3rd start of the season. Taking up his usual role on the left with Mane switching to the right consequently, Origi didn’t had the best of games despite early promising signs. In his 60 minutes on the pitch, the Belgian failed to have a single shot on target, while completing zero key passes and dribbles. It was a poor showing from the 24 year old, and he was rightly hauled off at the hour mark as Klopp sought to inject a bit of dynamism in the form of Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Showing that his best work is done off the bench in recent games, Origi remains Klopp’s best option from the bench. Which is why Salah’s return can’t come sooner enough, for he gives Liverpool another dimension in attack. Klopp however has refused to give anything away regarding the fitness of his star forward, and it seems that Salah’s availability will hinge on a late fitness test.
Elsewhere, Matip and Trent miss out on the matchday squad due to a sore knee and virus respectively. Thus, the backline will be forced to undergo some form of reshuffling, with Milner expected to fill in at right-hand and either Gomez or Lovren to partner Virgil at the heart of defence.
Change In Shape, Change In Personnel
Setting his side up in a 3-5-2 formation, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had his wingbacks right on top of Liverpool’s fullbacks for much of the game. This meant that a large part of Liverpool’s creativity and width was nullified, giving Liverpool’s attackers scraps to feed off.
Seeing that his side was struggling, Klopp rightly changed his formation and went with a 4-2-3-1. And although it gave Liverpool much more control in midfield, it also pushed players out of their normal position. Henderson was one of them, whose displacement out on the right caused Liverpool a few problems of their own. With his inexperience out wide, the captain seemed at lost at when to come infield and when to stay wide. In the end, he stayed exclusively near the touchline, hindering Trent’s movement upfield and preventing any sort of width that Klopp intended to have after changing Liverpool’s shape.
Recognising the problem, Klopp withdrew Henderson for Lallana, who’d experience playing out wide under Brendan Rodgers. The difference it made was telling, with Trent able to storm forward and take advantage of the space vacated in front of him. By knowing when to come infield, Lallana was also able to influence play more centrally when needed. It was no surprise that his equaliser was the result of him stealing in behind the United defence.
While at no fault of his own, Henderson’s second half showing is prove that he isn’t suited out wide. And if Klopp decides to go for a 4-2-3-1 again to accommodate for Salah’s absence, Henderson should only be played alongside Fabinho. There are better personnel out wide, as proven by Lallana’s and Keita’s cameos. And if Wijnaldum is favoured to be in Liverpool’s double pivot, don’t be surprise to see Henderson drop out entirely for tactical reasons.
At Old Trafford, Liverpool seemed to be playing the occasion rather than the game. They were uncharacteristically hesitant on the ball, with touches and passes going astray to the delight of the home supporters. To make matters worse, Liverpool’s fullbacks were unable to get forward as often as they wanted due to the fact that United had them pinned back with their wingbacks. As a result, their rarely got into the final third to create much problems, consequently starving the forward line of service.
With their path blocked, the pair of Trent and Robertson resorted to longball tactics, often launching their crosses from the middle third. Against 3 strong centre backs, there was no chance in hell for the likes of Mane and Firmino to win the ball, especially when they’re isolated upfront. But rather than try to work their way to the byline, the pair continued to launch long balls to no avail. Trent particularly was guilty of that, with 9 out of his 10 attempted crosses being high balls. Given that Liverpool’s equaliser came via a low cross, it shows the need for Liverpool to switch things up when one method isn’t working.
The lesson learnt at Old Trafford could easily be applied for their next game away to Genk. As shown in the map above, the Belgians are rather proficient at cutting out the crosses. Their task was made all the more easier given that Napoli only crossed in exclusively from the right.
Winning 18 aerial duels on average in their European games, comparable to Liverpool’s 18.9 league average, Genk are more than well equipped to deal with high balls. What Liverpool need to do is to mix things up, and not pointlessly lumping balls into their opposition half. With a potent twin threat on both flanks, Liverpool need to make sure that it’s not put to waste when they go hunting for all 3 points at the Luminus Arena.