Conor Bradley Celebration
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Conor Bradley: The Perfect Embodiment of the Liverpool Fullback Philosophy

Conor Bradley is everything you’d want in a fullback!

Jurgen Klopp was not satisfied with having just Trent Alexander-Arnold for the right-back position; he produced another “typical” Liverpool fullback in Bradley!

Indeed, after Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott (who spent a year in Liverpool’s academy since joining from Fulham), and Jarell Quansah, the Northern Irishman has become the latest sensation to come out of Kirkby, putting out a series of impressive performances topped by a demolition job of the Blues, Chelsea.

A Perfect Development Plan for Conor Bradley

Liverpool’s academy has been successful in developing players in recent years due to their three-pronged approach.

Firstly, young players are trained to adapt seamlessly to the senior squad’s philosophy and playing style. Secondly, promising players are kept around the first team to deepen their connection with the club and expose them to a high level. Thirdly, their loan strategy sends players to clubs that guarantee their development into players who can fit into Jurgen Klopp’s squad.

Conor Bradley is a prime example of Liverpool’s development strategy. After joining the club on a scholarship program, Bradley participated in Liverpool’s pre-season tour and made his first competitive start in 2021.

A year later, Liverpool sent Bradley to Bolton Wanderers on a loan deal that proved crucial to his development. Bradley made 52 appearances for the club, scoring seven goals and providing six assists. Bolton was the ideal place for him to grow and develop, and Klopp and Liverpool’s loan philosophy deserve credit for laying out a clear plan for the player.

Bolton Wanderers manager Ian Evatt understood Bradley’s profile and integrated him into a system that leveraged his exceptional energy and attacking threat, deploying him as a wingback for the team. Bradley played a crucial part in helping Bolton Wanderers win the EFL Trophy, securing the Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year, and Young Player of the Year awards, all in a single season.

Conor Bradley at Bolton with EFL Trophy

16 Minutes Are Enough!

After his fantastic season with Bolton, Bradley returned to Liverpool, where he was included in the senior squad. He played in three games during the Europa League and Cups in 2023.

However, it was his 16-minute cameo during the FA Cup game against Arsenal in January 2024 that caught people’s attention.

When Mikel Arteta introduced Martinelli in the second half, the Brazilian started to pose a threat to Liverpool’s defense on Trent’s right-hand side. Klopp reacted by substituting Elliott with Bradley and pushing Trent to midfield.

Conor Bradley vs Martinelli

The 20-year-old did an excellent job in nullifying Martinelli’s threat and keeping the right-hand side of Liverpool’s defense secure until the end of the game. One example of Bradley’s success in this game was his ability to shut down Martinelli during this specific moment.

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Martinelli was passed the ball on the wing and was facing off with Bradley alone. He had enough room to either run along the sideline or move toward the center. Because of this, Conor had to anticipate the Brazilian’s next move perfectly. Making the wrong decision could have resulted in Martinelli getting closer to the goal, putting the team in danger.

Conor Bradley covering space

Conor quickly closed in on Martinelli, pushing him away from the central areas with two long strides.

Bradley blocking Martinelli

This turned into a foot race that Bradley won as he dispossessed the winger. He not only contained the Brazilian player but also displayed his composure and intelligence by winning a goal kick for Liverpool.

Bradley tackling Martinelli

A Blessing in Disguise

Liverpool’s qualification that evening was spoiled by the news of Trent’s knee injury. The initially bad news turned into a blessing in disguise, as Bradley received the opportunity to break through.

The 20-year-old player started in four consecutive games, including his Premier League debut against Bournemouth, where he registered his first league assist. The other three games were the EFL Cup legs against Fulham, and an FA Cup match against Norwich, where he assisted two of Liverpool’s five goals.

Bradley looked like a veteran right back, not only locking down his side but also posing a consistent threat by bombing forward. However, these steady performances paled in comparison to his showing against Chelsea.

He scored one goal and provided two assists while also keeping a clean sheet. His overall performance showcased his abilities and proved that he is the type of fullback Jurgen Klopp loves to have.

Bradley vs Bournemouth

Tactical Discipline

Liverpool had a dominant performance throughout the game, resulting in a comfortable 4-1 victory. The Reds employed a variety of tactics, such as quick combinations in midfield and more direct plays to target the runs of Luis Díaz and Darwin Núñez.

Conor Bradley played a crucial role in facilitating these tactics.

During Liverpool’s 3-2 build-up phase for their third and final goal, Bradley pushed forward and held the width.

Bradley pushing forward

With Chilwell being forced to cover wider areas in order to stay close to Conor, Chelsea’s defensive block was stretched, allowing more room for Liverpool to target central areas.

Chilwell on Bradley

This allowed Van Dijk, Konaté, and Allison to target Darwin Núñez’s runs behind but also helped the Reds apply counter-pressing as Chelsea’s players were unable to close the distance.

Alisson long ball
Space cause of bradley

Although Badiashile won the header, Liverpool’s players were better positioned than Chelsea’s to win the second ball, as the Blues struggled to cover the stretched areas. At this specific moment, Jota was ahead of Chilwell, resulting in the Portuguese regaining possession.

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Here is another instance where Bradley’s holding of the width allowed his teammates to play in a more direct manner.

Conor Bradley holding width
Konate Long Ball
Nunez Run

Out Of Possession: Pressing and Counter-Pressing

Bradley made a significant contribution to Liverpool’s settled build-up play. However, Klopp’s squad is more renowned for their aggressive pressing style, and the young right-back demonstrated that he is a perfect fit for such a system.

During Chelsea’s goal kick, Liverpool adopted an aggressive pressing structure. Notice how Bradley was not in the frame at this moment

Chelsea Goal Kick

However, once the ball was passed to Chilwell on the left, Bradley aggressively pressed the left-back to the corner.

Bradley Press
Conor Bradley Pressing

This forced Chilwell to go long, resulting in a high turnover as Van Dijk regained possession.

Conor Bradley running

When it comes to counter-pressing, it’s safe to say that Conor Bradley has learned a thing or two from Andrew Robertson! The 20-year-old has a great sense of timing, knowing when to initiate the counter-press. He also has impressive footwork skills, allowing him to keep the ball after winning it back.

For example, during a Liverpool corner, Chelsea gained possession after Van Dijk missed a header. As Raheem Sterling attempted to launch a counter-attack, Bradley was already on the move, anticipating the ball.

Bradley already on the move

Bradley didn’t just rush into the challenge; instead, he timed his tackle perfectly to win the ball.

Bradley times his tackle well

With the ball still in play, Bradley showcased his excellent footwork as he executed a “roulette” move, leading to a high turnover for his team.

Bradley skill move

Bradley’s defensive performance was outstanding as he gave no breathing room to Sterling and Chilwell. He relentlessly tracked their runs and put in tackles, winning eight ground duals out of 12. His defending style was mature and composed, especially considering his young age. This was already highlighted in his duel against Martinelli in the FA Cup.

While many would argue that Trent can be poor defensively, and others disagree, there is no doubt currently about the Northern Irish international’s qualities.

In Possession: Progressiveness

Bradley exhibits tenacity, impeccable timing, and an insatiable hunger to win each challenge. So far, it appears that he embodies the quintessential Liverpool fullback when out of possession.

But what about his skill with the ball? The situation is no different, and as I previously mentioned, Bradley must have learned a thing or two from Andrew Robertson when it comes to pressing, and he undoubtedly acquired a similar trait from the Scotsman when it comes to progressing the ball.

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Whether he’s carrying the ball or passing it, Bradley demonstrates an unwavering determination to drive forward.

Ball progression
Credit: SaturdaysOnCouch

Bradley confidently receives the ball in his own half, turns to face the play, and advances forward, as seen in the following sequence.

Bradley receiving the ball
Bradley receiving the ball
Bradley receiving the ball

He then spots Darwin Núñez’s run behind the defenders and delivers a top-notch pass to the Uruguayan.

Long ball

Conor displays great composure once again. This time, it’s inside his defensive third. He took only two touches and launched a line-breaking pass that initiated a Liverpool attack.

Great Bradley composure
Great Bradley pass
Szoboszlai receiving the ball

A Nose For Opportunities

Liverpool’s first goal was the result of Bradley’s constant effort to progress the play, along with his exceptional tackling ability and timing. And also to his great ability to identify opportunities.

Chilwell’s slight loose touch was enough for Bradley to cover the distance and make an interception, regaining possession and quickly starting a counter-attack.

Bradley progressing the ball
Bradley progressing the ball
Bradley progressing the ball

Conor immediately made the pass upon spotting Jota’s run, but he kept targeting the free space on the right-hand side.

Bradley progressing the ball
Bradley making a run

It might seem like a natural reaction to follow the action, but Conor has demonstrated his ability to detect hazardous areas on multiple occasions.

In this particular instance, when Darwin Núñez received the ball, all the other Liverpool players remained stationary, except for Bradley, who immediately sprinted forward.

Bradley progressing the ball

This resulted in Bradley entering a dangerous area, but unfortunately, Darwin Núñez, unaware of his location, fired a shot.

Bradley progressing the ball

Although this run didn’t pay off, Bradley scored his first goal for Liverpool by locating and sprinting into free space after Díaz turned with the ball.

Bradley goal build up
Bradley goal build up

The cherry on top was his devastating finish, showcasing his composure and ability to strike the ball across the goal.

Bradley goal build up shot

Once again, it was like watching a right-footed clone of Andrew Robertson!

Conor Bradley showed an impressive fighting spirit, always looking to progress the ball and with the intent of pressing, as well as a natural instinct for attacking dangerous areas.

Let’s not forget about his crossing ability as he showcased it with his assist to Dominik Szoboslzai.

It is safe to say that Bradley’s time with Liverpool’s academy and Bolton has molded him into the kind of fullback that Jurgen Klopp appreciates. But of course, you never know what might happen with young players taking their first steps at the highest levels. However, Bradley’s meteoric rise can only be a positive sign of what’s to come.

Ultimately, the club’s decision to not sign a new right-back last summer could prove to be the right one.

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