Inside Liverpool’s washing machine

Ahmed Walid
7 min readApr 28, 2022

Being inside a washing machine is probably the closest experience to facing Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

As the washing machine rotates clockwise and anti-clock wise, Liverpool press your build up then attack you quickly when they win the ball back, and in case they lose it, they counter-press you to win it again.

A relentless experience.

The Champions League first leg semi-final was Villarreal’s turn inside the washing machine. Liverpool’s pressing and counter-pressing denied Villarreal any sort of ball control. The Spanish side kept rotating inside Liverpool’s washing machine as they saw the ball far away through the machine’s glass door.

Villarreal’s inability to hold the ball, meant that they couldn’t create any chances. Their only attempt on the night was from a free-kick in the center of the field when Dani Parejo tried finding Giovani Lo Celso behind the Liverpool defense. It wasn’t threatening, and by only having this attempt throughout the 90 minutes they joined Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan as the side with the fewest shots (1) and shots on target (0) by any side in a UEFA Champions League semi-final since 2003–04 as per Opta’s records. Coincidentally, that Inter attempt was also a free-kick in the center of the field that Cristian Chivu hopelessly played forward.

Liverpool’s pressing scheme on the night had a similar scent to the one they used against Manchester City in the semi-final of the FA Cup. With a small tweak.

Mohamed Salah was more aggressive when pressing Villarreal’s left center-back Pau Torres, positioning himself higher and more inside the pitch compared to the City game. While Sadio Mane was more focused on pressing Villarreal’s right center back Raul Albiol than their goal-keeper Geronimo Rulli.

Salah’s positioning meant that from Villarreal’s perspective their left back, Pervis Estupinan was constantly free to receive the ball, and that’s what Liverpool were prepared for.

Behind Salah were Villarreal’s two center midfielders, Parejo and Etienne Capoue, who were marked by Jordan Henderson and Thiago when Villarreal’s center backs had the ball….

…..however when the ball was on the other side, Henderson was ready to press Estupinan with Salah entirely focused on stopping Torres from having any time on the ball as seen here….

…..where Henderson rushes towards Estupinan and forces a throw in.

Salah’s job was Torres, so when Henderson or Trent Alexander-Arnold were late in moving out to Estupinan he was reasonably fussed just like in the example here. Liverpool’s safety net though, is that all of Estupinan’s nearest passing options are taken out. He can’t go back to Torres because of Salah’s positioning, and he can’t play the ball horizontally into Parejo because Henderson is blocking the passing lane and Mane is dropping to mark Parejo…..

……all of this gives Henderson more time to move out and press Villarreal’s left back who decides to play the pass into Parejo….

….but Mane is perfectly positioned to perform his other task in this pressing scheme, which is dropping onto Capoue or Parejo when Villarreal’s full backs had the ball. Parejo wanted to reset and go back to Torres….

….but Mane managed to intercept the pass and regain possession for Liverpool.

The last example was an anomaly, Henderson and Alexander-Arnold were on point in their role of pressing Estupinan. Starting the runs towards the left back even before Torres played the pass….

….which limited Estupinan’s time on the ball. In this build up sequence, yet again, Salah is blocking the backward pass to Torres with Mane dropping onto Parejo. The other feature of this pressing scheme — and it’s a common feature in all the different versions of Liverpool’s pressing — is the cover Fabinho provides, here his presence means that in case Estupinan manages to squeeze a pass past Alexander-Arnold, Francis Coquelin can’t receive the ball freely.

They didn’t need Fabinho as Alexander-Arnold blocked the pass, but on the second attempt Mane gambled on a back pass to Rulli when Estupinan found Capoue in the center of the field.

The thing about Liverpool’s press is that when any pressing line is broken, they quickly try to retrieve the ball as Henderson does here, or the lines behind move up to cover (more on that later).

Here’s another example of how things unfolded. Both Thiago and Henderson are covering Capoue and Parejo with the ball at Torres’ feet, Mane is blocking the passing lane into Albiol as he moves closer towards Torres, who’s never left alone by Salah. Torres options were limited and he had to do something….

….so he tried dribbling forward in-between Mane and Salah. Now as a left footer, he could have played a pass into Villarreal’s right back, Juan Foyth, but the presence of Diaz makes it an impossible option. So Foyth has to play the ball were Liverpool want, to Estupinan and Alexander-Arnold knows what he is going to do….

…move up to press the left back before he receives the ball.

Again, Salah is there to deny the back-pass and Fabinho is ready to react. The minimal time Estupinan had to react forced him into a quick heavy pass into Parejo…..

….that Fabinho managed to intercept, ending Villarreal’s build up and starting a new Liverpool attack.

Liverpool’s press was as usual unplayable, but the most striking aspect is how well positioned their 2nd and 3rd line are in case the 1st line of pressing was broken or bypassed. Here, Foyth manages to find Lo Celso with a forward pass….

…..but Andy Robertson and Fabinho are immediately there to close down….

….and when Lo Celso nutmegs Fabinho….

….Ibrahima Konate reacts instantly by moving forward to win the ball.

The electric pressing throughout the first half forced Rulli into many long balls where Liverpool’s defensive line — their 3rd line of the press — was already well positioned to win those aerial balls.

Rulli’s distribution in the 1st half via Opta

And that’s how Liverpool’s first goal originated. A long ball where you can spot Salah still breathing down Torres’ neck…

….Van Dijk is perfectly positioned to win the aerial dual….

….heading it down to Robertson who starts the attack with a pass into Thiago.

Minutes after the first goal, Liverpool scored their second through Mane. A 2–0 scoreline against a team as organized as Villarreal means that the tie isn’t over yet.

Villarreal might need a second wash.

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