Liverpool: Why exploiting Marcelo is key to European glory

Marcelo's reputation as an attacking fullback often conceals his defensive shortcomings.

REUTERS/Susana Vera

Marcelo’s reputation as one of the best left backs in the world epitomises everything wrong in the modern game.

The Brazilian is undoubtedly one of the finest attacking full backs in world football, but today’s perception of what qualities a full back should comprise is fundamentally flawed.

No longer is defensive solidity appreciated more than attacking flare in terms of a defender. Similar to the way ball-playing defenders are lauded far more frequently than traditional centre backs that prioritise a defence-first mentality.

Thus, Marcelo’s brilliance in getting forward frequently supersedes his actual defensive qualities. Perhaps Jurgen Klopp noticed this facet of his game:

Marcelo is a player who attacks a lot, but… he doesn’t defend – Klopp speaking to former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler.

Based on this, Oli Stein examines how Liverpool should look to attack Real Madrid, targeting and exploiting Marcelo’s particular weakness.

Marcelo vs Salah

Klopp went on to state that football isn’t as simple as saying: “If Marcelo joins the attack on the right we leave Salah in that space.”

The German is correct and football isn’t that simple. In truth, if it was, it perhaps wouldn’t be as entertaining… However, the ultimate result of the game will rest heavily on how forward Mo Salah attacks Marcelo.

What Klopp is insinuating with his somewhat provocative comments is that Marcelo is freer to join in with the attacking unit since Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are there to cover his vacated space.

However, what can arise is a situation similar to the above clip from Real Madrid's 2-2 draw with Villarreal on the final day of their La Liga campaign.

The Brazilian's lack of defensive nous leaves him struggling to find the right position in line with the other members of Madrid's back four. Marcelo is slow to react to the threat of Samu Castillejo as he darts inside, playing him onside and thus allowing him through on goal one-on-one with Keylor Navas.

Salah should take careful note of how Castillejo so simply took advantage of Marcelo in that situation by lurking on his outside before quickly drifting towards the space between himself and Ramos.

Liverpool's antithesis

To consistently exploit Marcelo's defensive weakness, Liverpool could adopt a style of football vastly different to their current philosophy. Klopp plays active football - an intense, high-press that involves a high defensive line.

When you analyse how Tottenham beat the European champions 3-1 back in the group stages in November, it's noticeable that the Lilywhites employed a low block and sat deeper in defence, encouraging Real Madrid to take the active role.

Thus, Liverpool should look to play more passively than they typically feel comfortable doing.

Invite Los Blancos onto the ball, essentially bringing Marcelo out of his position and further up the pitch. Encourage Madrid to camp out in Liverpool's defensive third for a sustained period, absorb pressure and look to counter when the ball is won back.

As a result, Marcelo is high up the pitch and chances are Dani Carvajal will similarly have some role in the attacking passage of play.

This leaves Salah one-on-two against Ramos and Varane. Couple this situation with Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane's impressive movement and suddenly a one-on-two becomes a three-on-two in Liverpool's favour.

It will take sustained concentration and organisation to withstand Real Madrid's inevitable barrage if Liverpool were to periodically adopt this strategy, but it has the potential to be devastating.

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Oli Stein


Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_