Joseph Kavaloski explains why Jurgen Klopp might need to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
In what is always one of the biggest matches of the season, Liverpool takes on Manchester United later today at Anfield. The Reds have picked up significant momentum winning each of their last four league matches, while United has recently struggled between domestic and European competitions.
Liverpool is favoured to beat their Manchester rivals, but the Reds have a couple key injuries that will likely force Jurgen Klopp to alter his tactics. Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum have played a big part in the team’s strong start to the season, but both are injury doubts for the match.
If the two central midfielders are unable to play or at least start, Klopp is faced with two decisions: stick with the 4-3-3 that has been so effective to start the campaign or change the formation to better fit the players that Klopp has at his disposal.
If the German decides to stay with the 4-3-3, Lucas would likely slide in as the team’s holding midfielder with Emre Can and Jordan Henderson occupying the box to box roles. This is a realistic possibility, but Lucas’ lack of playing time at that position over the past twelve months combined with his physical limitations brings into question whether that is the best option.
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Therefore, Klopp would be smart to change from the 4-3-3 to last season’s preferred formation: the 4-2-3-1. In the midfield, Can would enter the starting eleven in front of the defense (a role he excelled in last year) pushing Henderson into his preferred box to box position.
Henderson has been excellent at the base of the midfield to start the season, but Can is the preferred option in that position when both are fit. Plus, the Reds could use Henderson’s energy and work rate in the midfield without pressing-master Lallana on the pitch.
The formation change would also allow the Reds’ four best attacking players to be playing together for the first time this season. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Philippe Coutinho would step in as the three attacking midfielders from right to left. Up top, Klopp would be able to employ Daniel Sturridge as the lone striker.
Although Liverpool has been dynamic with the 4-3-3, it prevents one of those four playmakers from being on the pitch. The scintillating attacking potential that comes with Sturridge, Mane, Firmino, and Coutinho on the field may now be realised – a frightening possibility for United.
While changing formations requires an alteration of tactics from the team making the change, it also leaves the opposing side with an adjustment to make. Mourinho has most likely planned for the 4-2-3-1 possibility in his pre-match preparation, but the only game footage available to United for planning purposes is from last season.
As a result, there is no way for United to be fully prepared for what the Reds’ new lineup can do being that Mane has replaced Lallana on the right side of the attacking three. The Senegal international is a completely different threat to the Englishman and his dynamic skill set has had a huge impact on Liverpool’s attack.
Sturridge’s presence at the point of the Reds’ attack may decrease the team’s work rate off the ball, but his tendency to drop deep could create a tactical fluidity not seen before in attack. One of the staples of the 4-3-3 is the interchangeability of the front three. In the 4-2-3-1, that same fluidity can be applied to the attacking midfielders. In addition, Sturridge’s ability to drop deep to get involved in the play could open up the possibility of Firmino and Sturridge interchanging between the number nine and ten roles.
The Reds have not been able to play with a style like this due to the nature of the 4-3-3, and this change may come as a surprise to the United defense. The fluidity among Liverpool’s attackers combined with an extra attacking player could cause headaches for Mourinho’s men throughout the match.
The one drawback to the 4-2-3-1 is one less body in the center of the park. Particularly with Klopp’s mindset of always wanting to push bodies forward, the Reds could be left exposed at the back. There will be a lot of pressure on Can to stay positionally aware and not leave his defence wide open on the counter.
If Lallana and or Wijnaldum are able to start, Klopp will likely stick with the 4-3-3. However, in the realistic event that neither are fit, the 4-2-3-1 would be a smart choice. Having the Reds’ four best attacking players all on the pitch at the same time is an intriguing possibility that Klopp needs to take into consideration.
It is a testament to the depth of the team that even when two of the Reds’ best players cannot play there are two top class replacements waiting in the wings. Liverpool’s squad depth has not been tested yet, but tonight’s match promises to be an excellent opportunity for the Reds to put it on display.
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