Liverpool’s gameplan appeared to be to keep their midfield deep and stretch them out across the pitch, hoping to pull Newcastle’s forward and open up gaps between them to play passes through to their forwards between the lines. Newcastle didn’t take the bait though: they were disciplined and kept their positions in the centre until Liverpool played the ball wide, meaning the away side couldn’t easily play through them.
Nevertheless, despite this Liverpool still scored three goals. Two of these were from set-pieces, with Virgil van Dijk opening the scoring from a corner.
Rafa Benitez is one of the Premier League’s most famous advocates for zonal marking at set-pieces, so it’s a little surprising to see him still continuing with a man marking scheme at Newcastle. This goal displays many of the flaws of the latter system.
Liverpool have clumped most of their players together on the edge of the area so most of Newcastle’s players are stuck close together ahead of them. Elsewhere, Daniel Sturridge is hovering around the goalkeeper so Isaac Hayden is there with him, and two Newcastle players are near the front post, but other than that the box is clear for any Liverpool player who can get loose.
Van Dijk is the first Liverpool player to move and his marker Jamaal Lascelles is initially there with him – Paul Dummett has left enough space between him and his man Dejan Lovren for Lascelles to run between them and keep with Van Dijk.
However Van Dijk makes a run behind Sadio Mane and this is where Lascelles loses him. While Van Dijk can easily run horizontally in the space along the edge of the box, Lascelle’s run is blocked by Fabian Schar and Mane, forcing him to go around them. He’s then forced to make his way around Fabinho and Ki Sung-yueng – the Brazilian’s role appearing to be just to stand in place and act as an annoyance to any runners.
By the time he makes his way around those four, he’s well and truly lost Van Dijk. Lascelles follows Mane’s run, presumably under the assumption that Van Dijk has continued in that same direction, however the Dutchman hasn’t – having lost Lascelles in the melee, he checks his run and goes straight down the open gap in the middle.
A secondary issue with man-marking is that you are expected to both keep track of an opponent, which requires looking at them (or holding onto their shirt as Schar does with Mane, although if the rules were properly enforced that would result in conceding a penalty), and read the flight of the ball to head it away, which requires looking at the ball. Lascelles has been blocked off from keeping tight to Van Dijk and when he comes out the other side, he’s meant to find him again but with the ball incoming he can’t look around to do so.
Lascelles appears to realise he’s made a mistake in following Mane’s run but can’t turn quick enough, losing his footing and slipping to the turf, looking up to see his man head home in space.