Liverpool's Potential 4-2-3-1: What Did We Learn?
Jurgen Klopp decided that it was time for change for his Liverpool side as they took on Glasgow Rangers in the Champions League group stage. Liverpool went into the game after drawing 3-3 with Brighton. The reds were 2-0 down, then 3-2 up, before drawing the game & throwing away 2 points. A result that felt like a loss for Liverpool fans.
The fans have demanded a system change for a long time as it seems like Klopp’s traditional 4-3-3 may have ran its course, with more and more teams being able to get a result against the reds. Jurgen Klopp stated in his press conference today that Liverpool must find their unpredictability again...so is this formation the future of Liverpool? Let’s take a look at what we learned from Tuesday night…
How did Liverpool set up?
Jurgen Klopp made two changes to his starting 11 that drew to Brighton. Diogo Jota & Darwin Nunez came in for Fabio Carvalho & Roberto Firmino. Diogo Jota was utilised in the number 10 position which is a position that he’s not played too often throughout his career & Darwin Nunez played up front. More on those two later.
Alisson of course started in goal, with an unchanged back four of Kostas Tsimikas, Virgil Van Dijk, Joel Matip & Trent Alexander-Arnold. Thiago & Jordan Henderson played in a double pivot, with Luis Diaz & Mohammed Salah in the wide positions. Diogo Jota in the number 10, with Darwin Nunez up front.
Liverpool’s defence looked the most comfortable they have been all season. Of course, you have to take the opposition into account, but it was refreshing to see the back line defend with confidence. There are many reasons as to why this was the case. One of the biggest takeaways from the game, was Alexander-Arnold’s positioning. Below are two heat maps from his last two games.
As you can see, against Brighton, Trent was playing in his usual position. Very high up the pitch, essentially as a right midfielder when in possession of the ball. However, Trent’s criticism not only from this season, but in his Liverpool career in general, has come from when Liverpool don’t have possession. There has been gaps down that right hand side & this season those gaps have been the target of every single opponent. However, I don’t put all of the blame on Trent. He is a player who has thrived off midfield cover during his career so far. Jordan Henderson has been brilliant for covering Trent at right back when he pushes up the pitch, but this season that hasn’t happened much.
So for the Rangers game, Trent played in a much deeper role (see the heat maps below) & acted as a deep lying playmaker when in possession. Of course he still went forward when the timing was right, but it was interesting to see him operate from a deeper position to what he has throughout this season so far. I also think the double pivot worked very well for Trent to help him out when he did go forward.
Alexander-Arnold vs Brighton
Alexander-Arnold vs Rangers
Thiago & Jordan Henderson worked really well in the double pivot together. It was by a mile the captains best performance of the season so far, although the bar hasn’t been set very high. The captain was very effective both on & off the ball, whilst Thiago seemed to be the more defensive midfielder out of the two. Jordan Henderson was exceptional on the ball with a pass completion of 94%. He completed 58 out of 62 passes. When comparing those stats to his Brighton stats, you can see straight away that Henderson had much more time on the ball & was far more composed. Again, the quality of the opposition is undoubtedly a huge factor here, but it was a very promising performance from the captain.
As mentioned, Thiago was the more defensive midfielder out of the two putting in a really solid performance. He won the most tackles, interceptions & was successful in 5 out of his 6 ground duels. Thiago is such a complete midfielder & pairing him up in a double pivot seems like a very good move for me. The balance between the two midfielders was there & they worked very well together.
The Front Four
Liverpool’s front four caused so many problems for Rangers throughout the entire game. Luis Diaz & Mohammed Salah started at left midfield & right midfield, and linked up extremely well with Darwin Nunez. Nunez has faced heavy criticism during his time at Liverpool so far, but he has been extremely isolated in some of the games. On Tuesday night, he had options absolutely everywhere he looked & has thriving.
Mohammed Salah was the more noticeable of the two wide players who showcased the other areas of his game that aren’t often associated with him. When talking about Mohammed Salah, we are usually discussing goals that he has scored...but the way he linked up with Darwin Nunez was stunning. The Egyptian made three key passes throughout the game, whilst creating a big chance. On another day, he’d have got one or two assists for Darwin Nunez, but the strikers finishing was the only thing missing from his performance.
Diogo Jota was utilised in the number 10 position that raised a few eyebrows before kick off. It was rumoured earlier on in the day that the 4-2-3-1 would be used & immediately I assumed that it would be Roberto Firmino as the number 10. But, Klopp went with Diogo Jota, and the Portuguese international put in a stellar performance.
As you can see from the heat map below, Jota didn’t just stick to the number 10 position...he was everywhere. Dropping deep to receive the ball, down the left, down the right...he was everywhere. Jota’s work ethic is crucial for this Liverpool side when he plays & it’s certainly something that Liverpool looked at when they signed him. He doesn’t stop working whenever he plays & this is a position where Liverpool could get more than just scoring goals out of him should they continue to use him there. His all round game has often been criticised, but you can certainly see that he’s getting better & better when linking up play.
Darwin Nunez had a very interesting game & once again, there was a slight tweak to his position. Usually when Darwin Nunez plays for Liverpool, he tends to float around in the box anticipating crosses or long balls to find him. But against Rangers, similarly to Jota, he had a free role in the attack (See heat map comparison below). He didn’t score, but it was a very encouraging performance from the striker who linked up well with every other forward. He also attacked down the wings which is something we saw him do during his time at Benfica, and that could offer that unpredictability for Liverpool that Jurgen Klopp is trying to get back.
Darwin Nunez vs Everton
Darwin Nunez vs Glasgow Rangers
It’s way too early to tell if this is the future of Liverpool. In fact, it’s impossible to call it after just one game at home to Glasgow Rangers. Arsenal at the weekend would be an incredible test for Liverpool if they opted for this new system. However, I do hope that Liverpool stick with it. I don’t really see what going back to old ways would achieve. I think Liverpool need to stick with this system & try to perfect it.
You only have to look at last seasons performances against the top four...Liverpool didn’t win a single game. Yes they were in the title race until the final day of the season, but the proof is there for all to see. Teams have found out how to compete against Liverpool in one off games. So I’m hoping that it’s very much a case of out with the old, and in with the new.