Jurgen Klopp utilised a plan in the Community Shield defeat to Arsenal that we didn’t see last season. It’s one with huge potential.
Liverpool didn’t play well for the vast majority of Saturday’s game. The first half, in particular, was awful. The Reds couldn’t create anything, frequently bypassing their entire midfield with long balls. Long balls that didn’t find anyone.
Things didn’t look good at all, despite having the first-choice attack on the pitch. But Sadio Mane was the only one finding the ball – the Senegalese winger had more touches than Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah combined.
That suggests there’s a problem. Whether it was the midfield not providing the right passes or the front-three failing to get involved, something need to change.
And Klopp did just that.
The boss made a switch of formation. He moved Firmino back to a no.10 role, with Salah playing as a striker. Mane then moved across to play from the right and Takumi Minamino came off the bench to play on the left.
This is a system we only saw once last year and, importantly, that wasn’t with the first-team. Klopp played 4-2-3-1 in early December when Liverpool hosted Everton. He rested key players, however, as Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri played and Adam Lallana took Firmino’s role.
It worked wonderfully, too. Liverpool won 5-2 and tore their rivals to shreds. But that wasn’t enough for Klopp to try the formation seriously with the first XI.
Against Arsenal, though, he was. Now, that might have been because of the Gunners’ formation (3-4-3-) or that he trusted Minamino to make it work. Either way, it’s a system with great potential.
Liverpool have a great luxury in that their usual front-three are versatile. Mane initially joined Liverpool as a right-winger but learned to play left. Firmino was originally an attacking-midfielder that Klopp developed into an unorthodox no.9.
Then there’s Salah. He’s always really been a winger but his goalscoring over recent years makes him a powerful threat as a striker.
All that versatility makes it easy for Liverpool to change systems fluidly and catch opponents off-guard. But without a fourth versatile player, it doesn’t really work.
So along comes Minamino to save the day. The Japanese international can play from the left, as seen in his goalscoring performance on Saturday. He first caught the eye playing from the right against Liverpool in the Champions League last year. On top of that, we think he could play Firmino’s role, too.
With his inclusion, Liverpool have a permanent option of an unpredictable front-four. There’s Saturday’s option. Or there’s moving Mane from the left and Minamino from the right. Or Minamino slipping in as a no.10, or Firmino dropping back and the former playing the leading role.
Liverpool were quite predictable last season, even if they were enormously successful. That comes with a problem this year, though – everyone knows what to expect.
But Klopp may have shown off his plan in the Community Shield. With Minamino’s flexibility adding to the rest, Liverpool are impossible to predict – if that’s what they want. They can now catch teams completely off-guard in ways they previously couldn’t.
And that could be the secret to success this year.