Champions League tactical preview: Leipzig to beat Liverpool


RB Leipzig v Liverpool
Tuesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2

Leicester City exposed the serious flaws in Liverpool’s defence in the final 15 minutes of their match at the weekend, with Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy working together to get on the end of long balls forward. Liverpool are vulnerable to balls in behind, but equally to incisive dribblers exchanging passes on the half-turn. That is precisely how Liverpool’s next opponents, Julien Nagelsmann’s fluid and unpredictable RB Leipzig, play.

It is hard to predict what formation Leipzig will use, and as Leicester showed on Saturday with the success of their late switch to a diamond 4-4-2, Jurgen Klopp’s makeshift defence isn’t likely to respond well to unexpected challenges. The speed and orchestration of Leipzig’s attacks will poke holes in the Reds’ back-line, especially down the German outfit’s left.

Christopher Nkunku and the overlapping Angelino are excellent together, and they just happen to play in Liverpool’s weakest area. With Thiago looking too weak in the challenge from the right of a midfield three, and Trent Alexander-Arnold getting caught ahead of the play, Nkunku and Angelino should sprint at the Liverpool centre-backs to good effect.

Barcelona v PSG
Tuesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 3

Barcelona have settled down into a better rhythm lately, and yet their 4-3-3 continues to rely too heavily on the 32-year-old Sergio Busquets to hold down midfield, which is a particular concern while Gerard Pique is out injured. Ronald Koeman is chopping and changing his centre-backs too frequently, making their soft centre (the midfielders either side of Busquets venture much further forward) more problematic.

Paris Saint-Germain have hardly got off to a good start under Mauricio Pochettino, although the former Tottenham manager’s preference to play through the half-spaces, drawing the pitch inwards, threatens to overwhelm Barcelona’s midfield in the transition. Kylian Mbappe will cut in from the left to join Julian Draxler in areas around Busquets.

This is the key battle area, as long as Marco Verratti is able to gain some control over midfield. However, with Lionel Messi excelling again as a false nine, flanked by Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele, there is likely to be goals at both ends. After all, this is a contest between two managers yet to get their ideas across in terms of defensive shape – and two teams with superb attacks, even though PSG are missing Neymar.

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Sevilla v Borussia Dortmund
Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 3

The contrasting fortunes and tactical approaches of these two teams are reflected in their recent form: while Sevilla have kept a remarkable seven consecutive clean sheets in all competitions, Dortmund have conceded 13 goals in their last six. Unsurprisingly the Spanish outfit are comfortably in the top four while Dortmund are sixth – and still falling.

Interim coach Edin Terzic has failed to stabilise largely because the football is too attacking and too open, his 4-2-3-1 deploying a high number 10 and ambitious central midfielders. Dortmund will be allowed to dominate possession in Seville, but with their attackers in poor form their expanded shape will be vulnerable to those incisive Sevilla counters.

Through Youssef En-Nesyri and Suso they can break at great speed, springing out from their ruthlessly compact shape to cut through Dortmund. They should keep a clean sheet again, considering Dortmund’s plight, providing the foundation for a solid first-leg win.

FC Porto v Juventus
Wednesday, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2

Another excellent counter-attacking team, Porto sit in a stubborn 4-4-2 formation that looks to compress the space and stay resolute against opposition possession, rather like Atletico Madrid. They sit deep in European matches especially, digging their heels in before springing forward on the break through Jesus Corona and Sergio Oliviera.

Andrea Pirlo’s team has begun to find some more consistent form recently, although in a 4-4-2 formation they can still look a little too rigid, and given their formation will match with Porto’s that is not a good sign for this one.

It is highly likely Porto will find a way to reduce Juve to fairly lifeless possession, particularly with Cristiano Ronaldo the only real goalscorer in the team. If Pepe can keep his former team-mate quiet, Porto can grind out a positive result.