Liverpool’s dominant defensive trait continues despite Jamie Carragher’s confusion

Brentford found themselves caught offside seven times at Anfield on Sunday, way above the usual Premier League average, as Liverpool’s high line worked a treat

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  • 11:13, 18 Jan 2022
  • Updated11:18, 18 Jan 2022
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In many ways it was about as routine a Sunday afternoon as Liverpool could have wished for against Brentford.

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In the continued absences of Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, Jurgen Klopp would have been pleased to see Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino get on the scoresheet in the 3-0 victory over the Bees, with the win taking his Reds back above Chelsea and that little bit closer to Manchester City, while maintaining a game in hand.

It was welcome respite for the Reds after a damaging run of only one (non-penalty shootout) win across the last six matches in all competitions, with that victory coming at home to Shrewsbury Town last week.

And, as well as the goalscorers, Klopp's fairly wild celebrations at full-time were perhaps a reflection of his delight at seeing his side keep a clean sheet – a first in the Premier League for five matches.

Liverpool barely gave Brentford a sniff, with Thomas Frank's side only registering one shot on target and three off throughout the 90 minutes.

Liverpool saw off Brentford with a minimum of fuss
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But when you take a look at those fairly feeble numbers, as well as Brentford's 32 per cent possession, then they don't seem to quite correspond to the fact that the Bees found themselves caught offside seven times at Anfield.

That's because we tend to think of offsides as a consequence of a team looking to burst past their opponents, perhaps just waiting on that final ball and that perfectly-timed run to get in on goal. But Liverpool don't quite do it that way.

And when it comes to catching opposition teams offside this season, the Reds really are in a league of their own.

As per FBref, there are five teams in the Premier League this season who have caught their opponents offside 40 times or more in league matches. Leicester are on 41, Chelsea 43, Brentford 45, Manchester City 47, and then Liverpool on a staggering 85.

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That difference is enormous, and underlines just how Liverpool have turned catching people offside into an art form. Usually, anyway.

Reds legend Jamie Carragher has often voiced his concern about Liverpool's high defensive line in the past, and about how when it can go wrong it sometimes goes spectacularly wrong.

Last season's 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa would be the prime example of that, but there was also this season's 3-2 loss at West Ham, after which Carragher admitted he often can't understand why Liverpool's defenders play so high so often.

Liverpool's high line was caught out at West Ham in November
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"That is something Liverpool have done for a while and, me being in that position, I can’t quite get my head around it. But then you look at the defensive record and it’s fantastic," he told Sky Sports.

"I just think when you’re in those positions, I don’t know what you gain by holding the high line.

"There’s only two things that can happen there: either catch them offside or they run through at goal.

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"For me, that’s not a fair fight in some ways. I’m thinking I’d rather run back. What do we gain out of an offside? Nothing.

"We just get the ball 60 yards from goal or them running through at our goalkeeper.

"Liverpool do it an awful lot and the opposition will run through at the goalkeeper at least once a game."

The constant use of a high line is, in many ways, what tripped Liverpool up during their awful run this time last season.

Liverpool's defensive ranks were depleted last season
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In the absences of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and then eventually Joel Matip, Liverpool didn't have the defenders to keep their high-wire act going.

In fact they often didn't have any defenders full stop, and with Klopp determined to keep his side playing in the manner they had become accustomed to en route to successes they were often caught out.

This season though, with everyone back and with Ibrahima Konate added to the mix, Klopp's offside trap has been deployed almost to perfection.

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To the outside looking in, the fact that the Reds have caught their opponents offside almost twice the amount that Manchester City have shouldn't really make sense, but then the key is in the control.

City look to dominate the ball and then eventually, almost inevitably wear you down with their precise passing. But Liverpool have always been at their best when they can create chaos.

Part of the role of midfielders such as Thiago, James Milner, Curtis Jones and most noticeably Jordan Henderson – also Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is a defender in name only – is often to play risky passes that create uncertainty in the opposition, even if it means Liverpool give the ball away in an area where the opposition have to clear from a position of difficulty.

Adama Traore has caused Liverpool issues in the past
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Should that happen then the counter press begins, with Liverpool seeking to quickly win the ball back to punish their opposition as they did for the third goal against Brentford.

If it doesn't happen however, then the opponents are quickly progressing the ball upfield, Liverpool's defence pushes up even more and offsides often occur.

Beating that press is one of the main goals of a manager when they take on Liverpool, and it is one of the reasons why a player such as Adama Traore has often worried the Reds when playing against them for Wolves.

Matip and Van Dijk are key to Liverpool's defensive efforts
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Instead of hitting the ball upfield, Wolves can progress it simply by getting Traore to run given his pace, and although his end result is often mixed, the Spaniard has been deemed "unplayable" by Klopp in the past.

Players of Traore's speed are difficult to find, but stationing two quick players upfront – thereby occupying Liverpool's two centre-backs – could be a way for teams to take on the Reds and try and get the better of them as they attack.

For now though, there are little signs that anyone will stop falling into the Reds' trap.

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