Despite an emphatic showing in the Champions League, Jürgen Klopp reverted to his tried-and-trust midfield in a pivotal game against Spurs at the weekend. And it worked. Again.
The midweek victory over Genk in the Champions League was refreshing for a number of reasons.
There were goals aplenty after the cumbersome 1-1 draw against United and some lovely football to accompany it.
Then there was the return of two midfielders who Reds can’t wait to see more of this season in Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The pair were lauded for the impact they made in their cameo appearances and rewarded with starts in the Champions League.
Chamberlain grabbed the headlines with two stunning goals and a solid performance, but Keita too put in an impressive display.
This led to excitement among fans about how a more attack-minded midfield could help propel Liverpool even further this season.
The industry of Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum has come in for criticism recently for the lack of creativity provided.
Many have even called for the Ox/Keita partnership to continue going forward, such was the impressive nature of their mid-week performances.
However, such calls may be somewhat premature – and it seems unlikely Klopp will use that combination every week.
Why Klopp is a bit of a creature of habit
Jürgen Klopp’s midfield of choice at present seems to be Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum, and it’s a selection that’s enjoyed success.
It’s a slight deviation of the old ‘Brexit midfield’ from the 2017/18 midfield, with Fabinho replacing Milner and Henderson occupying a more advanced role.
Time and time again in big games, Klopp has turned to his trusted lieutenants to get the job done.
And he does this because he knows exactly what he’s going to get from all three of them.
Industry. Graft. Guile. Reliability. In essence, it’s a steady if not sensational midfield.
And the reason he’s been able to do this is because there’s so much emphasis on his full-backs and front three.
They’re the ones who set the world alight with their attacking contributions and let the others doing the nitty gritty that allows them to shine.
And, largely, this tactic has worked and will no doubt continue to work for Klopp in certain scenarios.
Fab, Hendo and Gini are dependable, do their jobs well and are not wasteful with the ball.
They provide a solid platform for Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané to pull defences apart while providing a shield for Liverpool’s defenders.
So many key games have probably been won as a result of using this tactic.
A case for a more attacking setup?
There are times when teams “figure out” this Liverpool setup and limit the havoc they cause.
This was highlighted by the way United stunted Liverpool, not allowing the front three to be as fluid as they’ve known to be.
This exposed the lack of dynamism, as the trio couldn’t find the key to open up the defence.
This is why Adam Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita were all introduced in the second half.
Klopp need some pace, directness and incisive passing from somewhere, and those three provided it for him.
The game changed with their introductions, and suddenly Liverpool looked far more threatening.
The same could be said about the win over Genk, with Ox and Keita running the show in midfield.
Between them, they created, scored, threatened, occupied defenders and were a general thorn in Genk’s side.
So why can’t that be the midfield Klopp uses every weekend if it was so threatening?
Klopp’s smarter than just going gung-ho
Simple: Klopp’s grown out of throwing everything at attacking teams so directly.
At the start of his reign, Klopp’s men were renowned for looking lethal going forward but self-destructive defensively.
Over the years, he’s remedied that, and now can boast one of the tightest and imperious defences in world football.
He learned and acknowledged that while his side were shaky at the back, he was never going to win trophies.
He’s shored up his defence and stabilised his midfield, while balancing this with the potency of his wing backs and attackers.
So if his engine room does lack a little creativity, it’s fine because he knows he can get it elsewhere.
Liverpool have that depth now that they can go for this approach and rely on other areas to provide the spark more than others.
And besides, against teams that can hurt you, is it always wise to throw too many attack-minded players on?
The last thing Klopp wants is a defense that’s compromised and gives his own side mountains to climb.
That’s why he will, time and time again, choose his safer option, because sometimes it is just that. Safer.
We love to see Klopp throwing everything at teams, but he’s smarter than to just do it for the sake of it now.
Liverpool are measured in their approach, so expect to see an Ox/Keita partnership only when deemed appropriate from now.