Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has stuck almost religiously to his 4-3-3 from his arrival…until now.
“We just thought we had to change and that’s what we did in terms of training. Let’s see how it goes,” explained Jurgen Klopp shortly before Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Rangers in the Champions League. The manager made three changes to his starting line-up – with Fabinho, Fabio Carvalho and Roberto Firmino dropping for Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez – after a 3-3 draw with Brighton.
“There is never a perfect time to change, we had to change anyway. We felt it was fair,” he said. A stiffer defense was protected by two midfielders, while four forwards were allowed to intertwine in the final third.
Some might say it was 4-2-3-1, but regardless Liverpool looked more solid, securing their fifth win of the season and keeping only their third clean sheet in 11 games.
The bet has paid off for Klopp, and the hope is that he will put the Reds on the path to renewal. But with change comes more questions – and here are five.
1. Where does Harvey Elliott fit into Liverpool’s new look?
One of the revelations of Klopp’s 4-3-3 form was Elliott’s transition from a dazzling right-winger – where he excelled in a seven-goal, 11-assist season on loan at Blackburn he two seasons ago – to a more rounded number. 8 in midfield three.
With over 10 hours on the pitch, the teenager is one of the manager’s most used players this season so far, but the change in formation could raise more questions over his place. Of Liverpool’s midfielders, only Fabinho has played more minutes so far this season – and none of them were in that line-up.
Interestingly, when Elliott was brought on in the second half against Rangers, the system remained 4-4-2 and he took over on the right flank, in what was effectively a hybrid of his two previous roles.
It could be argued that, as with Carvalho, one of the attacking roles in the 4-4-2 might, in fact, suit Elliott more than in a three-man midfield, with the 19-year-old admitting he still has work to do. when it comes to his defensive game.
2. Can he get Darwin Nunez fired?
When Darwin Nunez was signed in the summer, there was much talk of Liverpool’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the Uruguayan having mainly played in such a system at Benfica – and also the system in which Carvalho shone at Fulham. .
After a tough string of recent cameos on the bench, the formation change has brought a much improved display since the £85m signing. His movement, interaction and off-ball work all felt more natural as a central striker.
There was everything, in fact, except the goal. Four shots on target in the first half were, however, very promising.
“I have to be calmer when it comes time to shoot,” Nunez explained after the match. “The goal will come. It’s like ketchup, when it comes out a little, everything comes out.
In theory he’s right, and his leading performance ahead of Jota, Diaz and Mohamed Salah proved it. No player has taken more shots on goal (six), or hit the target more (four), with only the heroism of an inspired Allan McGregor keeping Nunez out, and Klopp is confident the 4- 4-2 showed “how good a striker he is.
3. What’s going on with Fabinho?
The biggest casualty of Klopp’s system overhaul has been Fabinho, whose struggle for form has been one of the most worrying factors in Liverpool’s difficult start to the season.
Thiago and Jordan Henderson were deployed as two-man pivots, with Trent Alexander-Arnold noting in a post-match interview that using “two sixes” allowed Liverpool to be more “defensively compact”.
There is a natural understanding between the two veteran midfielders, and the simplified duties seem to suit both Thiago and Henderson and allow them to play their natural game. But that’s far from a death knell for Fabinho, who came off the bench to replace Henderson in the second half against Rangers, resuming his partnership with Thiago before linking up with fellow substitute James Milner.
Placing 10 midfield options in two slots – in the rare event they are all fit – may be more difficult than having three, but Fabinho will remain firmly in Klopp’s plans as a first-choice starter. , second or third choice. Fabinho excelled in a two-man midfield at Monaco before signing for Liverpool, so this is certainly a role he can fill.
4. Can he prolong Roberto Firmino’s career
On the eve of the World Cup, it is clear that Firmino is playing for his future. The Brazilian finds himself on the fringes of Tite’s squad and, having turned 31 at the start of October, this is almost certainly his last chance to play in international football’s premier tournament.
The same could be said of Firmino’s career at Liverpool; the striker is in the final year of his contract, and with five goals in 10 games he is their joint-top scorer this campaign. There was an eye to the future in Klopp’s four-man attack, however, in the 4-4-2, with Nunez, Jota and Diaz representing the next generation, while Salah remains a constant having signed an extension of three years in July.
This could place Firmino as the odd one out, but there is a compelling argument that the system change could actually extend its relevance to Anfield.
There are now two clear roles for Firmino to fill – main No.9 and second supporting striker – which could be key to earning a new contract rather than leaving on a free transfer this summer.
5. Will it work long term?
The big question: Was the 4-4-2 a short-term fix to get Liverpool back into shape, or a glimpse into the future as the next tactical evolution under Klopp and his coaching staff? Liverpool have managed to find the balance between compact defense and fluid attack against Rangers, but will it be the same against Arsenal or Manchester City?
In reality, it couldn’t be much worse than the porous 4-3-3 presented against Brighton. After the Champions League win, Klopp explained his players had ‘only one session’ to work on their new form, but the fixture list allowed a four-day block to build on that afterwards.
It may seem reactionary, particularly after a busy pre-season working on the existing formation, but before a crisis hits, a long-term switch to a 4-4-2 could just breathe new life into Liverpool. .
Perhaps when Klopp said ‘we had to change’ it was because of the attacking quality of the next two opponents, an acknowledgment that the ‘old’ method would face serious problems against the current top two in the league. Premier League.