Jack Hallows believes that the 4-2-3-1 that Jürgen Klopp has recently deployed is the German’s long-term vision for his Liverpool side.
Liverpool’s 3-0 win against Watford on Saturday was not just another win for the club but for the 4-2-3-1 formation that Jürgen Klopp has recently tinkered and toyed with.
The German has frequented the 4-3-3 since the start of the 2016/17 season, his first full campaign on Merseyside, preferring when possible to attack with two inside forwards, a single striker and a pair of midfield players who act somewhat as ‘eight and a half’s.
The design of the system is simple, pen the opposition in, get men in the box and push the full-backs high up the field to pull defensive lines across the pitch and open up space for the attackers.
Interestingly, the formation was initially implemented to counter the 4-2-3-1 that at the time was favoured by all of the big boys of the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger stuck with it religiously at Arsenal, José Mourinho begun his Manchester United career that year swearing by it and both Mauricio Pochettino and Antonio Conte gave it a swing in the early months of that season before switching to three at the back systems.
It was also favoured by a number of teams lower down the pecking order, with the shape of the system allowing them to drop into a 4-5-1 in defence, employing a low block and stifling attacking teams.
The 4-3-3 counters this by getting whoever is deployed in the ‘6’ as close to the opposition ’10’ as possible, cutting off the creative spark while isolating the striker and pitting him directly up against the centre-half pairing.
The issue with this however, comes when your no.6 isn’t particularly dynamic.
Jordan Henderson excelled in the role due to his athleticism more than his defensive nous and with the onus on the five players in front of him mostly to attack, attack, attack, his passing range and ability to dictate tempo were vital.
Fabinho however, is another kettle of fish.
The Brazilian quite clearly has fantastic game intelligence – especially when it comes to his defensive positioning – and his time spent as a right back means he is more than capable of defending in one-on-one situations and breaking up counter attacking situations.
He’s just not mobile enough to play as a solo ‘6’ against attacks that are capable of deadly pass and move football.
This was demonstrated against Arsenal recently when the Gunners simply took him out of the game in the first 45 minutes by just playing around him.
He didn’t exactly do much – if anything – wrong but the positioning of Milner and Wijnaldum meant he was often passed by with ease by the likes of Mkhitaryan and Ozil.
The former Monaco man is in my mind, the superior ‘6’ at the club, however, so getting him on the field makes a lot of sense.
This is where the switch to a 4-2-3-1 has been essential.
The manager has already admitted that his initial decision to switch his formation was based on Fabinho’s preference for operating in a double pivot and with Gini Wijnaldum and the fit again Naby Keïta also very good at doing so, it simply makes sense.
Partnering Fabinho with someone proactive who is capable of sweeping around the field, intercepting passing lanes and driving forward in possession means the Brazilian is freed up to what he does best: get in the way of the opposition.
For me personally, I’d love to see Keïta partner the Reds no.3 in the double pivot. The little Guinean has the dynamism to form a stellar partnership with his new teammate and both have made their mark on European football so far playing in similar systems.
“What about Wijnaldum though?!” I hear you ask, well, never fear because I’d like to see the Dutchman remain in the line-up just in a more advanced role.
Personally, I’m not convinced of Firmino in the ’10’ or Mohamed Salah playing up top and I genuinely believe both play their best football in the positions they occupied last season.
Salah is too easily frustrated and isolated when he plays up top with the presence of centre halves who like to get tight to the Egyptian meaning he can’t find space with quite the same regularity as he can from the wing.
Firmino, on the other hand, is a master of doing so. Even with opposition players looking to close him down, he’s immaculate at ghosting around the field, dropping into midfield, popping up on the left or the right and interchanging with his attacking teammates.
He also generally tends to pull defenders out of line with him such is the subtlety of his movement.
Wijnaldum has also played that ’10’ role superbly for his national side in recent months, scoring in both of the last two international breaks and his presence would ensure there is still another solid presence on the pitch and that if the need is felt, Klopp can change back to a 4-3-3 during a match without having to make a substitution.
The other beauty about this is that if things aren’t going too well and Klopp needs to change something, he can still call on the likes of Sturridge and Shaqiri from the bench to make an impact – just hopefully before the 87th minute!!
There have been a lot of claims that our front three cannot function properly this season unless they’re in the 4-3-3 but frankly, that’s laughable. Top players don’t just stop being effective when the shape of the team is altered. They can, however, have this issue when played out of their best position.
The 4-2-3-1 is the way forward for Klopp’s Liverpool, at least for now, the German just needs to return his best attacking assets to their most comfortable roles.
Unleashing a midfield of Fabinho and Keïta wouldn’t hurt either.