Liverpool’s formation changes have pundits talking them up as serious challengers to Manchester City.
Statistics prove Liverpool have improved significantly from last season – more points, more goals for and fewer goals against. Jurgen Klopp has crafted a defensively secure attacking machine adept at winning games.
A big reason for their success this season is the formation change to 4-2-3-1. So how exactly has it made a difference?
The Tried And Trusted
Klopp trusts the free-flowing attacking 4-3-3 formation where his technically superior midfielders dominate possession.
His full-backs are challenged with supporting midfield, their energetic penetrating runs down either flank offer an extra dimension.
In the final third of the pitch the front three attack together – narrow, with pace, power and aggression.
He moulded the squad he inherited so they could play this system. He brilliantly recruited in each transfer window to bring in players better equipped to play his preferred shape.
At the base of the three midfielders is a holding defensive play-maker giving the other two midfielders freedom to support the attack.
Their penetrating runs beyond the forwards confuse defenders, pulling them out of their shape and creating space for Liverpool’s potent attackers.
Just as importantly, their positioning enables them to swarm the opposition high in their own half when out of possession. Klopp regularly used Adam Lallana as the trigger to launch a highly intense press by the entire team to win the ball back.
The New Shape
The recent games against Red Star and Cardiff saw Klopp adjust to the 4-2-3-1 formation, possibly to accommodate Fabinho.
Klopp even joked after the game that he played the formation as a birthday present for the Brazilian.
Klopp regularly used the 4-2-3-1 formation when he was the manager at Borussia Dortmund. Towards the end of last season, the formation was used several times when injuries meant he didn’t have the players to play his preferred 4-3-3.
This included the game against this weekend’s opponents Arsenal where Firmino played the Number 10 role with Dominic Solanke as striker.
Two Games, Two Convincing Wins
Klopp will be pleased with eight goals scored in the past two games, playing well and bagging two wins.
The shape allows for midfield domination, quick transitions, winning the ball back and launching swift counter-attacks.
With Fabinho playing exactly how we expect a natural Number 6 to play, he was many people’s man of the match against Red Star.
His movement, passing and all-around game management against Cardiff was excellent. Especially with Wijnaldum running the show alongside him.
Gini was controlling the tempo of the game and made twice as many completed passes as the entire Cardiff team combined. He is becoming the midfielder Klopp can’t leave out of the big games.
Freedom For Salah
Changing shape has also allowed Mohamed Salah to attack more centrally, playing in front of Firmino.
More teams are closing down on the Egyptian after his record-breaking debut season and it’s something he’ll have to get used to.
Playing centrally in front of players with the creativity of Firmino, Mane, Shaqiri and Lallana has given him more space.
His vision and passing also have him creating opportunities for his teammates. He picked out Shaqiri in the box for the Swiss winger’s debut goal in front of the Kop. He also threaded the ball through to Mane for his cool chip over the advancing goalkeeper.
A One Off or A New Way Forward
It’s hard to second guess Klopp, even though it resulted in two wins it will be interesting to see if this new shape will be used against Arsenal.
If his key players are fit for the big games, Klopp is more likely to revert to the trusted 4-3-3 formation that has served him well.
Winning games against this season’s Top 6 (and Man United) will determine who wins the league this year.
The Reds are second in the league on goal difference and have three points won away to Spurs and draws secured against Man City and Chelsea.
Liverpool’s fluid transition of formations have them playing more controlled and balanced football, and poised for a strong finish.