Tactical Review: Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool

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Ruthless Villa. Shambolic Liverpool. The former took full advantage of what was, perhaps, the worst Liverpool performance of the Premier League era. A hat-trick from new signing Ollie Watkins, a brace from Grealish and a goal apiece for Barkley and McGinn ensured the Villians came out 7-2 victors.

Here is, if you can stomach it, a short tactical analysis of an ineffably bad display… *breathe*

Villa 1-0 [Watkins]

3:40: Andy Robertson plays a clumsy ball back to Adrian in goal. The Spaniard takes the ball down and instead of playing it long and out of danger, swept the ball with his weaker left foot wide of Joe Gomez, a ball from which Grealish took full advantage; squaring the ball to Watkins who netted. A Shambles start. But note Villa’s intensity. Note – and this is not excsing Adrian’s error – how Villa’s high press forces the mistake.

Villa’s high press. Trezeguet pressured Robertson into playing the ball back to Adrian while Barkley stepped onto Van Dijk cutting this passing line and Watkins pressed Adrian forcing the mistake
Villa 2-0 [Watkins]

This move started as Villa turned the ball over from Liverpool’s attack. Watkins, out wide, was shunned back towards his own goal by TAA and picked out Grealish with a simple pass.

Following this pass back, he has seen TAA vacate the RB space and spun in behind to get onto Grealish’s pass…

This very high line deployed here by Liverpool was breached by Watkins who was now through on goal. The English striker dribbled the ball, cut inside onto his stronger right foot and unleashed an off-balance finish into the top corner to get Villa 2 goals up.

Tactically, Liverpool’s line is fine but it should have dropped back upon seeing Grealish in possession of the ball. TAA not getting back to his man and ball watching as he got sucked into Grealish allowed the flank free for Watkins to run into. But once the ball gets there, Gomez has to do a lot better in stopping Watkins doing what he wants to do – cut in onto his right foot and let fly.

Villa 2-1 [Salah]

An unfortunate incident for Villa RB (Cash) allowed the ball to break loose to Wijnaldum. Jota on the overlap was able to pick up sufficient space as Luiz is caught ball watching.

Jota dribbled inside and passed the ball behind Keita who couldn’t control the ball. A lucky ricochet allowed the ball to fall into the path of Salah who finished emphatically.


Villa 3-1 [McGinn]

They say fortune favours the brave and this is exactly what happened for the 3rd Villa goal. The ball is cleared from the corner by Gomez and falls kindly for McGinn to hit a first-time volley, deflected off Van Dijk past the despairing Adrian…

Villa 4-1 [Watkins hat-trick]

As with most teams, Liverpool play a high line off set pieces aiming to keep their opponents further away from goal as well as catching early runners offside…

From this graphic, you can clearly see the high line in operation. There’s 2 issues with it; the free opponent at the far post (Trezeguet) and the positioning of Adrian. For me, Adrian is far too deep to have any chance of dealing with balls in-behind. A few yards forward means that he has more command of his area + the ability to come out and claim balls. As with Trezeguet, its baffling how no one can see him nor track him to nullify his movement. The players in the line are far too insistent in playing all of the opposition offside instead of picking up their men (Gomez at the far post).

As the cross is delivered, Trezeguet is able to cut the ball back unchallenged to the free Watkins to head in and claim his first hat-trick in the top tier of English football.

Villa 5-1 [Barkley]

Another error from Gomez cost Liverpool their 4th of the game.

A simple, short pass which he’d nail 9 times out of 10 lacked pace as Watkins was able to slide in and win the ball. The ball fell to Barkley who was able to turn and pass to Grealish with Fabinho closing him down.

From the graphic above you can see how the play unfolds… TAA can’t go in tight on Grealish with Targett flying down the flank on the overlap, Fabinho jogging lightly across and not cutting the passing lane to Barkley who’s picked up an intelligent position allows Villa a 2v2 (Barkley/Watkins v Gomez/Van Dijk).

A 1-2 with Grealish runs rings around Fabinho and allows Barkley to pick up a very good position unmarked and unchallenged:

Again with 0 pressure on the ball, he’s able to unleash a shot which is deflected off TAA and in.

Tactically, it is far too easy to blame the defensive line when in fact the players ahead (midfielders + attackers) are not doing anywhere near enough to help out the defence.

Villa 5-2 [Salah]

The first time Liverpool looked awake all game was when they were 5-1 down. As Jota was dispossessed by Luiz he triggered the counter-press as seen below:

Jota/Firmino both pressed Cash on the ball, Wijnaldum positioned on the turn between Luiz and Watkins and Minamino attending to McGinn. A sloppy pass from Cash to Watkins was picked off by Wijnaldum who won the subsequent 50/50 with Watkins and Liverpool were on the front foot…

The ball fell to Firmino who picked out an inch-perfect pass to Salah, who ruthlessly put away his 2nd chance of the game:

Villa 6-2 [Grealish]

3rd deflection of the game.

Firmino’s poor touch here loses Liverpool the ball and is collected by Watkins (below)…

…The Villans broke with a 2v2 (Grealish/Watkins v TAA/Fabinho) and the pass was played out to Grealish…


…1 skip inside gives Grealish enough space to trigger a shot, which was unfortunately deflected in off Fabinho – very poor defending from TAA. His only idea in this dribble should be to take Grealish down the line onto his weaker left foot and trust that his keeper would save any attempt on goal.

Villa 7-2 [Grealish]

2 flick ons from a throw in allowed McGinn acres of space to pick his head up and attempt to feed Grealish…

… a weak attempt of an interception by TAA meant that the ball found its way to Grealish who was free on goal…

…The Englishman carried the ball into the box before chipping it above a grounded Adrian to pile more misery on Liverpool.

Next time, Liverpool face early table toppers Everton straight after the international break, which undoubtedly will have an extra edge to it – Everton seeking to claim bragging rights and remain unbeaten while Liverpool look to bounce back after this heavy defeat and get back to winning ways.It is back to the drawing board for Jurgen Klopp’s men as they look to shake off their defensive instabilities and put right the wrongs that took place on Monday night. Personnel changes or system changes may be disputed but returning players (Matip, Mane and Thiago) for the trip to Goodison Park will give The Reds a massive, much needed lift.

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