This weekend, Liverpool face perhaps their biggest test yet in their quest for the Premier League title, by making the trip to Old Trafford to face fierce rivals, Manchester United.
There’s a clear gap between the two sides in the table, but based purely on results since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival, United are above the Reds by five points.
With that in consideration, it’s likely that the contest will be highly competitive. The two teams will no doubt look to assert their dominance on proceedings, with neither manager likely to favour the inferior role, which perhaps wasn’t the case during Jose Mourinho’s tenure.
So, given that a head-to-head battle is predicted, how can Liverpool go about gaining an advantage over the home side?
To determine, let’s take a look at how PSG exploited United in their recent 2-0 victory.
Ahead of the European tie, a level of ambiguity surrounded Solskjaer’s tactical approach, as this was to be his first test against a strong team at Old Trafford.
Previously, Solskjaer had employed counter-attacking approaches against strong opponents such as Tottenham and Arsenal, but both of these came away from home.
That approach is generally less accepted by fans when playing at home, and Solskjaer appeared to anticipate that by essentially refusing to adjust, playing his favoured 4-3-3, and fighting for the alpha role in the match.
Crucially though, Solskjaer’s reluctance to alter his system based on the opponent due to the Old Trafford factor suggests that against Liverpool, the general setup should be fairly similar.
So how did PSG do it?
The answer is by restricting and then exploiting Paul Pogba. The Frenchman is United’s most creative player, and Solskjaer gives him a license to attack in order to utilise that quality.
However, Thomas Tuchel, the PSG head coach, came up with an interesting ploy to stop and then attack through the midfielder.
Firstly, he instructed Marquinhos to essentially man-mark the 25 year-old, by sticking tight to him whenever United had possession, shown in the graphic below.
This seemed to work, as before the contest Pogba had an average pass count per 90 minutes of 65, whereas he attempted just 33 against PSG – his lowest so far under Solskjaer.
Secondly though, Tuchel instructed Julian Draxler to position himself behind Pogba, as a means of exploiting the space that Pogba was allowed to vacate, shown below.
PSG played a rough 4-2-3-1 formation on the day, with Draxler playing as the no.10, and Marquinhos on the right-side of a midfield pairing.
In terms of Liverpool, that’s an approach that could be mimicked somewhat due to the personnel that Jurgen Klopp has at his disposal.
Two of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum or Naby Keita would fill the midfield roles, Mohamed Salah would likely play as the most advanced striker, and then Roberto Firmino would be free to operate effectively as Draxler did.
It is somewhat unlikely however, that Klopp will employ a direct man-marking strategy, as it’s not something he’s previously done at Liverpool.
This is largely due to the German’s belief in synergy, collective strength and operating as one compact unit.
That’s not to say that Pogba won’t be stopped, it’s just reasonable to suggest that Klopp may expect the team to nullify him rather than one individual.