Jack Hallows previews Liverpool’s Asia PL Trophy fixture against Crystal Palace on Wednesday, giving his thoughts on what to look out for.
It’s almost Premier League football! Almost. Kind of. In a way.
Liverpool take on one of their biggest Premier League adversaries in recent seasons, Crystal Palace, in Hong Kong on Wednesday night and it promises to be a good game.
The Reds looked in fine form against Tranmere last week during their 4-0 demolition job and despite the standard slipping on an equally slippery pitch two days later against Wigan, there were still positive signs from the Reds.
So, without further ado, what should you be looking out for when Liverpool take to the pitch on Wednesday?
Systematic tweaks from the boss
Klopp has been very vocal so far this pre-season about being willing to find a ‘plan B’ and implement another system to help his side break down teams with better success than last campaign.
The Reds struggled against low blocks for much of 2016/17, regularly over committing too many players forward and being hit on the counter-attack when their own passing moves broke down.
Much of this was down to the high-octane, forward-thinking 4-3-3 system that Klopp put in place to negate the 4-2-3-1 preferred by numerous Premier League managers – until Antonio Conte’s revolution of the 3-4-3 became the go-to trend that is.
The German has spoken about trialling new systems and it’s something we saw towards the end of Liverpool’s chase for Champions League football last season as they trialled a variation on the 3-5-2 against Stoke and a 4-4-2 diamond during clashes with West Ham and Middlesbrough.
We saw the 4-3-3 in full effect against both Tranmere and Wigan but will we see a changed formation against Palace? A 4-4-2 diamond with Sturridge and Origi up top perhaps? Even a 3-4-3 with Alexander-Arnold and Moreno at wing-back? It wouldn’t surprise me.
Coutinho in midfield, or the birth of the ‘CFS’?
The signing of Mohamed Salah has seemingly confirmed that Klopp will look to shift Philippe Coutinho into the playmaking midfield role that has so often been considered his best position.
The Reds no.10 thrived when pulling the strings in a floating 8 role under Brendan Rodgers during the 2013/14 title challenge and it looks as if now, Coutinho will be doing something very similar in Jürgen Klopp’s system.
We saw glimpses of this tactical shift last season when the diamond was introduced and to say the Brazilian impressed would be an understatement. West Ham were ripped to shreds single-handedly by Coutinho’s vision, passing range and dribbling ability while Middlesbrough found him tough to deal with on the turn.
Starting in a deeper role allows Coutinho more time on the ball, giving him a precious extra second or two to scan the field and pick inch perfect passes – like the through ball that led to Daniel Sturridge’s opener at West Ham.
Of course, this tactic relies on a front three of Mané – Firmino – Salah all being available and with Mané still continuing his recovery from the knee injury he sustained in April, we could see Coutinho start in his more regular spot on the left of the front three.
Wherever he starts, it’s just going to be epic to see all of Coutinho, Firmino and Salah on the field at the same time.
Wijnaldum the defensive midfielder?
From attacking midfielder/left winger to box to box midfielder to… defensive midfielder?
Gini Wijnaldum turned out in the no.6 role – often occupied by one of Emre Can or Jordan Henderson last season – when the Reds came out for the first half against Wigan and to be fair to the Dutchman, didn’t look too out of his depth.
While it was evident from the 45 minutes he spent in the role that it limits his best attributes – creativity and goal threat from deep – it showcased just how far the defensive side of his game has come since being labelled ‘lazy’ by many Newcastle supporters just two years ago.
Personally, I hope this doesn’t become a regular option for Klopp but I will admit that I am intrigued to see it given another go.
Moving even further back down the field, we come to the defence.
Andy Robertson is reportedly close to finalising an £8m move to the Reds, a huge boost as a left-back has been needed for the better part of my life time now, but he will not join the Reds in Hong Kong. This leaves some interesting choices for Klopp.
Does he pick Alexander-Arnold over Clyne once again? Do Matip and Lovren start as the first choice centre half pairing? Do Moreno and Flanagan deserve another chance? Will Gomez go out on loan, or provide competition for the others now that Lucas has left?
Heck, even the goalkeeping situation will give Klopp a headache. Karius, Mignolet or Ward?
It would be worth keeping an eye on Klopp’s defensive selections over both the Palace match and the following game in Hong Kong and noting who he partners up with who and which players get more game time than others.
Klopp has already been ruthless with a couple of the promising stars from last season/the season before with Cameron Brannagan having left the club permanently and Sheyi Ojo also being sent out on loan.
It’s worth paying very close attention to the likes of Dominic Solanke, Ryan Kent, Ben Woodburn, Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold as while they are all evidently highly rated by Klopp, they all know the only way they can secure a consistent place in the German’s plans is to play themselves in.
All of the aforementioned names have impressed heavily at U23 level for the Reds, while Ryan Kent was named Barnsley’s young player of the season following his successful loan campaign in 2016/17.
They’re all sublimely talented footballers in their own right but do they have what it takes to really step it up to the next level?
It sounds dramatic, but one good performance could mean the world of difference – especially for someone like ‘TAA’ who is expected to provide real competition for Nathaniel Clyne this coming campaign.
One bad performance, however, could see them join Lazar Markovic on the ‘promise only gets you so far’ chopping block.