It has been made clear to Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool team that successfully defending their Premier League title is going to be a mammoth task.
A terrible time with injuries has left the Liverpool boss down to the bare bones in terms of his selection process.
Add the ongoing fitness woes to the embarrassing 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa last month and it’s fair to say that supporters have been put through the emotional wringer in recent weeks.
Amid the chaos and uncertainty that comes with so many injuries, Liverpool’s players have delivered too. What we have seen in the past few games is a team fighting relentlessly to their physical limits for the manager, carrying out his instructions to a tee.
There were talks from the media of significant injuries to the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker potentially crippling Liverpool and derailing their early progress. Not this team, not this squad of Premier League champions.
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An injection of new signings has certainly helped, and we have barely seen much more of a glimpse of what they are capable of yet. But clearly, the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Diogo Jota and Kostas Tsimikas have given this group a lift, and Liverpool are stronger for it.
The key to success
Liverpool have showcased a sense of versatility in terms of shifting formations, a practice the squad haven’t become accustomed to since the early stages of the 2018/19 campaign.
Last season, Klopp was rightly reluctant to change a winning formula that saw Liverpool amass a club-record 99 points but replicating a similar approach opposed the risk of the team becoming too predictable.
Aston Villa exposed limitations to this, taking advantage of Liverpool’s notoriously high defensive line, punishing the likes of Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold who were both extensively targetted down that right-hand side of the pitch while the midfield were also worryingly meek in their surrendering of possession.
Such a concerning performance warranted change and the number of recent injuries compounded the immediacy for Liverpool to alter their approach.
It saw Klopp revert to a 4-2-3-1 system which we haven’t seen over a sustained period in almost two years. It gives Liverpool greater attacking impetus up-front with Klopp effectively playing with four forward options.
The attacking talents of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota were utilised together for the first time and it was certainly encouraging to see.
What are the benefits?
Being able to deploy a four-man attack worked heavily in Liverpool’s favour as it created more space for creative players such as Firmino to break between the lines.
Strength in numbers is key, and makes Klopp’s selection decisions all the more endearing.
It also enables Salah to play centrally and get into attacking positions more frequently. Only a tight offside call and the width of the post denied him the goals against Sheffield Untied that would round-off an otherwise exceptional display.
The systematic change also doesn’t alter Mane’s preferred positioning on the left-flank. It was a typical devastating performance from the Senegalese ace who wreaked havoc from start-to-finish and turned provider for Jota’s winning goal with a stunning cross.
Also, Liverpool’s forward options meant a heavily based focus on attack which took the pressure of a depleted defensive unit that is currently without the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Joel Matip.
Klopp’s energy in midfield also enables the system to thrive with Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner all capable of digging in and doing ‘the dirty work’ which needs to be done to ensure Liverpool aren’t vulnerable out of possession.
Against some opponents, particularly Manchester City, Klopp cannot afford to have such an attack-based system and will need to alternate to a 4-3-3 formation that creates a much more well-rounded and balanced approach from defence to attack.
Hopefully, the likes of Thiago, Keita and Matip will be back in the selection equation to enable Klopp that luxury of regularly switching between systems to make the team much more unpredictable.
There is such a variety of talent available to Klopp, and it feels like he has now found the perfect alteration to ensure Liverpool are still able to thrive despite the huge number of casualties.
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