Liverpool's Defensive Shell

By Simon Banoub | August 25, 2013

Liverpool's Defensive Shell

Despite the relative ease of Liverpool's opening pair of Premier League fixtures, six points is a pleasing return. I thought yesterday's win away at Aston Villa was mighty interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly what Liverpool didn't do: counter attack with any great threat once they were one goal to the good. And secondly, what Liverpool did do: shelled pretty heavily. Now, I once again discussed defensive shells in last week's 10 Points column, Ted then elaborated on that topic further in fine style. Teams who have a one goal lead tend to sit back, tighten up the defensive shape in an attempt to prevent the opposition from exploiting any space and creating good goal scoring opportunities. A good defensive shell should also have a threatening counter attack element to it. Yesterday, Liverpool's shell did not have that.



Tied Plus 1
Shots 4 / 1 1 / 16
SoT 1 / 0 0 / 3
Blocks For 1 / 2 0 / 4

  Liverpool took the lead in the 21st minute and thereafter proceeded to shell, and shell hard. Liverpool had just 1 shot for the remainder of the ~75 minutes that remained (injury time included) and this points to the counter attacking threat being non-existent. Although there was no counter threat, Liverpool's shell worked pretty well. yes, Villa had 16 shots when Liverpool were employing varying levels of their shell but just three (18.7%) of Villa's shots were on target. Let's now look at Liverpool's shell, what it restricted Aston Villa to and how self inflicted errors on Liverpool's part gifted Villa their best shooting opportunity of the game.  

The Shell



This screen grab shows us just what Aston Villa had had to break down in the second half. Liverpool were in shell mode and it became visually obvious what kind of tactics Liverpool were employing once Villa gained controlled entry into the final third. Two banks of four, ten yards apart and twenty or so yards wide. What Liverpool were aiming to do is to prevent Villa from taking shots from central positions close to the goal. Liv_villa_scrren_medium Faced with Liverpool's deep defensive shell and two banks of four setup Villa could attempt the following methods of attack:  

  • Central pass to the attacking midfielder who is dropping off.
  • Pass down the line for the wide player.
  • Shot from distance
  • Chip cross into the box in the hope of a knockdown/secondary ball.

Let's see how Villa fared in trying to break down Liverpool's shell.   '44 Shot From Distance Villa_shot_through_shell_medium A failed clearance - the first of many - allowed Villa to work the ball to Weimann in a central area. The Villa player struck a fierce shot which looked destined to be on target but was blocked by a Liverpool player. This screen grab highlights just how difficult it is to get a shot through a crowd and on target. Liverpool were sat very deep with numerous bodies in front of the ball and it paid off with a vital block of a goal bound shot.   '74 Snap Shot From A Secondary Ball


  Villa went for option 4, the chip into the box. Three Liverpool defenders won the duel for the initial chip cross, but as Villa had hoped, the secondary ball fell to a white shirt who was able to attempt a shot from a good position. Villa were only able to attempt a shot, which was off target, due to Benteke's aerial prowess and the failure of the Liverpool midfield block to get closer to the defensive block once the ball had been chipped in. Kolo Toure, quite rightly, was extremely displeased. '79 Shot From Distance Liv_shot_against_medium This time, Villa chose option 3 - a shot from distance. The play shifted in field from Villa's right flank and the Villa player has options. Tonev could lay off to the player immediately to his left but the better option would be a 15 yard square ball to Agbonlahor who was not only in space but had his left-back available for support. Tonev elected to shoot from distance, and given the improbability of the shot resulting in a goal, the Bulgarian wasted possession. Tonev's poor decision making prevented Villa from potentially carving out a higher quality scoring chance. '86 Liverpool Chaos, Benteke Volley Live_clearance_failure_medium The sequence of events that took place just before this screen grab were important. Villa, once again, attempted a straight chip pass which Agger, Enrique and finally Gerrard failed to clear in 3 attempts. That failure to clear led to to flicked headers by Villa players putting Benteke clean through with the keeper for a volley opportunity. It was arguably Villa's best chance during Liverpool's spell of defensive shelling and that chance came through poor defending and a sequence of failed clearances which led to the giveaway.  

Final Thoughts

Liverpool's defensive shell was effective. It gave up a high number of shots, but most of them were from distance or had to find their way through numerous defensive bodies. This is what a defensive shell does, it gives up the ghost in terms of possession-based attacking play and focuses on reducing the quality of opposition chances. The reduction in quality of Villa's chances may be evident in the low number of their 16 shots that were on target. Liverpool's shell worked, although they were a little too deep at times, which may have led to some of the fatigue and errors that gifted Villa some good quality scoring chances. Oh, and Liverpool, when shelling, need to offer way more counter attacking threat than they did. A better team than Villa would have overwhelmed this error-prone Liverpool shell with their skill and speed of ball movement. A hub player like Suarez will help with the counter attacking threat.