Liverpool overcame Premier League opponents last season with their devastating attacking movement, but this season the Reds are proving more proficient in defence.

In the same English top flight fixtures last term, Jurgen Klopp’s men had conceded six goals to Arsenal and Manchester City respectively – three at Anfield and three at the Emirates. This season, the Merseyside club have conceded just once against both sides.

Is this down to a more cautious approach from the German tactician, or perhaps pragmatism? Well, Klopp has always been a huge advocate of positional pressing, central to which are triggers; i.e. an opposing defender receiving a pass on his weak on either flank, or more generally a slack pass at the back that Liverpool attackers may take advantage of to spring their own attacks in dangerous positions. But now, it seems there is another trigger-based tactic being instilled into the playing staff at Melwood, one concerning players much further back in Klopp’s line-up; namely, the offside trap.

But what is the offside trap? And what evidence is there that it is being used more extensively by Liverpool?

What is the offside trap?

Many teams utitlise the offside trap, especially nowadays where high back-lines are popular. If deployed efficiently, an offside trap can be a very powerful mechanism in stifling opposition attacks, working to compress the size of the pitch and catching opposition forwards in an offside position.

It works by having the entire back line push up the pitch in synchrony when out of possession in order to catch an opposing attacker offside the exact moment his teammate plays a pass in his direction; in order to execute the offside trap, defenders must be focused and move as a unit as there is a risk they can be caught out themselves and allow opposing attackers through one-on-one with their goalkeeper.

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Communication and timing are essential elements here as the defence must move in one motion, and so, the right players are imperative to getting the best out of the offside trap – should any manager choose to place emphasis on this tactic then it has to be practised consistently on the training ground and never overused in matches.

Where do Liverpool rank among the rest of the league?

Klopp has been largely consistent with his defence this season, deploying a four-at-the-back system with Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold occupying the full-back positions, while Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have formed a formidable centre-back bulwark.

Defensively, Liverpool have proved far more consisted in the Premier League this season than the Champions League, where they fell to a shock 2-0 defeat against Red Star Belgrade on Monday.

The club have conceded just five goals in the English top flight this campaign, fewer than they have shipped in Europe (6) and second only to Manchester City. They have also kept six clean sheets. There is evidence to suggest this has been achieved in part by how well-drilled and organised Liverpool have been at utilising the offside trap.

The draw against Arsenal highlighted just how far Liverpool have come in using the offside trap, as the Gunners were caught out seven times to Liverpool’s one, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil the biggest culprits – two players who thrive in space. This is the joint-highest number of offsides decisions a team has been awarded in a single Premier League game this season.

In the same fixture last season, Arsenal netted three times, and were caught offside just three times as well, showing the substantial improvements in Klopp’s defensive line.

Likewise, this season, in the 0-0 draw with City, Pep Guardiola’s men were caught offside five times to Liverpool’s two – with Riyad Mahrez responsible for three of those – while the same fixture last term saw a similar pattern to the Arsenal game – caught offside three times, and scored three times.

Van Dijk’s influence?

There was clear disorder in the Liverpool defence prior to Van Dijk’s arrival in January, but the club have gone from strength-to-strength since the Dutchman’s introduction 10 months ago.

Since his arrival, Premier League opponents have been caught offside against Liverpool 71 times; only Watford (73) have a higher total in that regard. When you consider how well-rehearsed a team like Spurs are in creating a high defensive line, this improvement is notable.

In fact, from his debut match onward, Liverpool caused 35 offsides for the remainder of the 2017/18 season, ranking them sixth, just behind Spurs on 36, but still ahead of Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City.

This season, those statistics have been taken to another level, and Van Dijk has been the fulcrum of that success, with the mountainous defender acting as the brain of his defence, telling his teammates when to push forward, and when to retreat.

Mats Hummels was Klopp’s commander-in-chief at Borussia Dortmund, and now Van Dijk has assumed this role at Liverpool, combining his hulking frame with an unshakable athleticism and great mobility, making him the perfect player to utilise the offside trap.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that Liverpool had kept a clean sheet for 918 minutes at Anfield since February, with Cardiff City ending that record during the club’s last home encounter.

The Red Star defeat exposed a lack of concentration that Klopp now must ensure does not occur again this season. But make no mistake, this new-look Liverpool defence can catapult them to domestic and continental silverware, and the offside trap could be their secret weapon.

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