Liverpool

Liverpool lean on right-flank connection to cruise past Atletico Madrid

Grey Whitebloom
Salah was outstanding without scoring
Salah was outstanding without scoring / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages
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From Barack Obama to Bart Simpson, the list of notable left-handers will populate BuzzFeed articles until the Internet fizzles out. Yet Liverpool have leaned on their right-hand side throughout their headline-grabbing unbeaten start to the campaign.

Spearheaded by a pair of Trent Alexander-Arnold assists from right-back, Liverpool cruised past ten-man Atletico Madrid on Wednesday evening to secure qualification for the Champions League knockout stages to equal a club record 25th consecutive game without defeat.

As Mohamed Salah rolled the ball to an overlapping Jordan Henderson, three blue shirts were lured into the top right corner of the pitch like - *Googles collective nouns* - an eclipse of moths to a flame.

Swivelling his head between the box and the ball that was now coming his way, Alexander-Arnold arced a cross into the penalty area that bounced tantalisingly out of any Atletico player's stretch, but perfectly onto the head of Diogo Jota to nod Liverpool into a 13th-minute lead.

On a night that was effectively ended as a contest by a contentious red card for Atletico centre back Felipe inside the final ten minutes of the first half, almost half of Liverpool's attacks flooded down their dominant right flank (49% per WhoScored).

While this tactic was especially suited to Atletico - who fielded Yannick Carrisco, a talented attacker but unnatural defender, at left wingback - Liverpool have made a habit of favouring their right. No team in the Premier League funnels a larger proportion of their attacks down the right-hand side than Liverpool this season - charging down their stronger side 42% of the time. Intriguingly, this represents a sizeable shift in strategy compared to last season - when they ranked 12th in the division with an even split on either touchline.

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp marked his 50th Champions League game as Liverpool manager with a win / Quality Sport Images/GettyImages

Jurgen Klopp highlighted this tactical development as part of his side’s continuing evolution into an even more deadly attacking force this season in September: “[We] evolve every year. One thing you saw now [is] a really flexible triangle on the right side again, I would say,” as quoted by Liverpool’s official website.

“It was that flexible that at the end Mo Salah had to defend the right full-back position! Because Trent was in the box and Hendo was in the middle of the park or whatever.”

Assistant coach Pep Lijnders echoed his boss' analysis: “The team and especially our right side is connecting really well and that helps in terms of the timing to find good positions,” as he outlined to The Athletic earlier this season.

“This calmness in our positional game is so important for our front three to become unpredictable."

Naturally Salah's outrageous scoring exploits have hogged the limelight of late, but on a rare occasion when his name wasn't scrawled across the scoresheet, his supporting cast of Henderson and Alexander-Arnold in particular, came to the fore against Atletico.

Having hurdled a flurry of tackles, Sadio Mane laid the ball off to Henderson before twisting sharply into the penalty area. Liverpool's captain shovelled possession onto Alexander-Arnold who arrowed a pass back into Mane's path to double the hosts' lead in the 21st-minute, when still up against a full compliment from Atletico.

Liverpool's playmaking fullback has, incredibly, improved upon his already otherworldly creative numbers this term - almost doubling his expected assists (xA) compared to last season thanks in no small part to the added the freedom this tactical tweak has afforded him.

“Not that there were really any shackles on, but the shackles have come off for us,” the 23-year-old told Liverpool’s official website earlier this season.

“It's kind of just flowed really…There's no real instructions, we understand there's principles to our game and where to be when the ball's on the other side and things like that. But when it comes over to us then we've kind of been given licence to just enjoy ourselves, go and create things, go and attack, go and cause problems for the opposition.”

It's safe to say that Atletico were lumbered with an abundance of problems by Alexander-Arnold and co (and the officials) on Wednesday night. Imagine the havoc Liverpool could wreak if the left hand side can match their right.

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