Last season’s campaign raises some important questions. Is a new formation (and a tactical change) the answer?
The transfers in this window present a fresh conundrum for Jurgen Klopp. While the arrival of Fabio Carvalho and Darwin Nunez is exciting and intriguing; the departure of Sadio Mane poses a difficult question for Klopp.
Liverpool have undoubtedly thrived with the flexible 4-3-3 formation. However, the Reds aren’t infallible. Last season, Liverpool failed at critical junctures due to their predictability and a lack of tactical innovation in certain aspects. The key ones are Liverpool’s inability to break down disciplined defenses and the failure of our own defense in key moments.
But what does that have to do with our formation? Aren’t Liverpool one of the best teams both offensively and defensively? Hasn’t 4-3-3 worked like a charm in the last few years?
Why a new formation is necessary
The answer to the first question is 4-3-3’s inherent attributes. See, a 4-3-3 formation is excellent at keeping possession, counter-pressing, and dominating flanks (the hallmarks of Klopp’s Liverpool). However, 4-3-3 cannot break down a disciplined defense that doesn’t allow space behind it. A prime example was Liverpool’s struggles against Tottenham. Klopp’s men just couldn’t get past the defensive wall and create threatening chances.
It was a similar case against Wolves (in both encounters). Bruno Lage’s men effectively nullified Trent’s creativity and Salah’s attacking output to frustrate the Reds. On both occasions, the opposition was able to score first because Liverpool had to push men forward to help the attack.
This brings us to the second problem of 4-3-3. If the forwards (and even the midfielders) aren’t vigilant enough to snuff out potential attacks, a team can be cut through like a hot knife passing through butter. Countless examples of Liverpool’s meek attack turning into an opposition goal come to mind. The paragon being, Real Madrid’s goal against Liverpool in the Champions League Final.
Liverpool also tends to focus attacks on the wings while neglecting the center. This is a deficiency that is borne out of the system and Liverpool’s available options.
Another problem that Liverpool has faced is the conversion of chances that it creates. Both Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have woeful goal/shot conversion rates. Meaning Liverpool is not clinical and allows the opposition to take advantage. Our inability to score in the finals is a testament to this fact.
Even though Liverpool was able to kill most teams with their attack and choke oppositions in most cases, it does not help when we lose key games and aren’t able to even score.
The arrivals and departures of this transfer window allow Klopp to play with 4-2-3-1. Since the departure of Luis Suarez, Liverpool didn’t have a traditional number 9. Instead, Klopp had to make novel tactics that suited the transfers. Although our idiosyncrasies became our strengths, we now have the opportunity to see what a proper forward looks like in Klopp’s system.
We do have an idea of what that would be. As, Klopp employed a similar system in Dortmund, with Lewandowski leading the attack. Dortmund was able to cover the entire pitch and create favorable 1-v-1s. Also, they were largely able to break down disciplined defenses that block out the center of the pitch. This essentially solves both of Liverpool’s problems.
A 4-2-3-1 system has essentially 6 players attacking the penalty box with defensive cover. Since there are more varied attacking threats for a defense to deal with, gaps appear that can be exploited. There is also more creativity since a number 10 is employed.
This system might also revive Roberto Firmino’s waning career. The Brazilian is rumored to still be the most creative player and have the best touch at Kirkby. Therefore, his deployment as a number 10 makes sense. Jurgen Klopp used Firmino in the same role when the Reds were struggling against Wolves on the final day. Klopp made tactical tweaks, which freed up space, and voila. Liverpool was able to triumph over Wolves.
A 4-2-3-1 system has its own setbacks. The key ones are the defensive work of the entire team, potentially unfavorable 1-v-1s (just imagine Trent facing Mbappe with no cover), and (potentially) empty flanks. Additionally, a successful campaign using 4-2-3-1 requires incredible fitness and squad depth. The latter of which has been a nagging problem for the Reds.
There is also the question of Darwin Nunez’s and Fabio Carvalho’s readiness at the start of the campaign. All of these questions need to be answered if Liverpool is to have a trophy-laden campaign.
Alisson, Andy Robertson, Virgin van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate, Trent Alexander-Arnold; Fabinho, Thiago; Luis Diaz, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez.