Jospeph Kavaloski explains why Jürgen Klopp’s tactical flexibility will aid him this season.
Under Brendan Rodgers, the term “flexibility” was one that Liverpool fans hated to hear. Rodgers was infamous for constantly tinkering with formations between, and even during, critical matches. Key attacking players like Raheem Sterling and Lazar Markovic saw their talents wasted in defensive wing-back positions.
As a result of those poor managerial choices, Sterling is now in Manchester City blue and Markovic looks a shell of the player who arrived at Anfield for a tidy £20 million sum. The FA Cup semifinal against Aston Villa in 2014 also comes to mind as one of Rodgers’ lowest points where he attempted to change the formation constantly in hopes of revitalizing his slumping team.
Now that Rodgers is gone (and still making delusional comments this time for Celtic) Jürgen Klopp has brought back the importance of tactical flexibility—in a good way. His tactical strategy is based around flexibility among the squad’s attacking players to confuse opposing defences and break them down with quick, intricate passing.
Rather than sticking Coutinho at fullback to make up for Moreno’s mistakes, Klopp is employing an attacking setup that interchanges beautifully and causes headaches for opposing defences. Whether it be moving Firmino between attacking midfield and striker or Adam Lallana’s new position in a deeper lying central midfield role, Klopp is using his current players and recruiting new ones to be positionally flexible
Liverpool’s two biggest signings this summer, Sadio Mané and Georginio Wijnaldum, are perfect examples of players that can be deployed in multiple spots. Mané can play anywhere across the front line, including as a false nine similar to Firmino. Wijnaldum primarily played attacking midfield for Newcastle last season after being a box-to-box midfielder in the Eredivisie for PSV Eindhoven.
Although Mané will likely spend the majority of his time on the right wing and Wijnladum in central midfield, each player can easily be shifted during a match to a different spot without losing any effectiveness.
Two of Klopp’s favourite players from the squad he inherited, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana, have been shifted around different positions under the German. Firmino has played both as a number 10 and in a false nine role while also being shifted to the right side of Klopp’s attacking midfield. Lallana, on the other hand, looks to be primed for a central midfield role as a result of Liverpool’s glut of attacking midfielders.
Both of these players are valued highly under Klopp because of their ability to play multiple positions without losing effectiveness both in both attack and defence.
Firmino and Lallana are almost irreplaceable in the Liverpool side due to their tactical intelligence as well as their incredible pressing abilities. Each player averaged about two tackles per match last season, an excellent output for an attacking player. This defensive aptitude allows each player to be moved to different positions without the concern of the defence becoming exposed.
Lallana’s willingness to charge forward and play the role of an attacking midfielder while also having the stamina to get back and fulfill his box-to-box duties help make him one of the Reds’ most important players. Similarly, Firmino is able to interchange positions with Mané and Coutinho almost simultaneously thanks to his intelligent movement and versatile skill set. Lallana and Firmino perfectly embody the type of player Klopp loves – one that will never stop closing down the ball while also being able to play multiple positions even within the course of one match.
In this transfer window, Klopp has furthered his intentions for the tactically flexible player by spending big money only on those that can carry out his detailed tactical strategy. It is not surprising that Wijnaldum and Mané are virtually foils to that of Lallana and Firmino.
The brilliance of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge is not to be ignored, but those four players are the intelligence behind Klopp’s tactical intentions. The ability to fill different roles among Liverpool’s attacking core is extremely challenging for defences to keep track of and, as we saw against Arsenal, will lead to many scintillating attacking displays.
Since the departure of Luis Suarez, the Reds have not had a team capable of completely blitzing opponents out of a match. With Klopp’s squad now built on tactical flexibility combined with individual brilliance, matches similar to Sunday’s are poised to become the norm rather than the exception.