Leighton Clarkson made his Champions League debut on Wednesday and looked like a great fit for a specific formation. The 19-year-old has a bright future.
Leighton Clarkson was the one Champions League debutant in Liverpool’s lineup against Midtjylland on Wednesday. He played well, too – fans certainly thought so.
Clarkson was very tidy in possession and covered more ground than anyone on the pitch. Those two things make him a natural Liverpool midfielder, really.
Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum have built their careers on that style. Reliable, hard-working, and capable of something special when the time comes.
Clarkson needs to work on that latter one, of course, but everything is very promising right now. In fact, there are shades of another Liverpool player there.
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Like Thiago, Clarkson could be a player made for an alternative formation.
Change of plans
Liverpool usually play 4-3-3, of course. One holding midfielder plays with two hard-working covering midfielders either side. The False 9 links the attack, with two pacey wingers offering direct threat.
But we’ve seen a few occasions this season where Jurgen Klopp has gone 4-2-3-1. It’s a different kind of formation that asks for a change in midfield.
Now it’s about midfielders who compliment one another. They’re a pairing after all, but need to cover several different aspects of midfield.
Like pressing, for instance. Do you choose two disciplined pressing midfielders who can cover one another when stepping out? Or do you choose one static midfielder alongside someone who presses heavily?
The on-ball/off-ball balance is key, too. Do you use two midfielders who are good at it all? Or do you have one player as a playmaker and put a supporting player next to him?
That’s all very different to the 4-3-3 where Liverpool ask at least two midfielders to do a bit of everything.
Thiago is a player who seems made for 4-2-3-1. He’s a player whose strengths lie in his playmaking and intelligent movement. He doesn’t want to do all the pressing and defensive work, even if he can.
So Thiago suits a partnership. Liverpool could put him with Jordan Henderson, to name one, who will happily do everything Thiago isn’t. Or the Spaniard could play alongside Fabinho, who is willing to cover him and pass him the ball at all times.
We think Clarkson would suit this formation, too. Physically, he’s very small, which will limit what he can do in certain areas. He’ll likely never be a real presence in a midfield battle and you don’t want him isolated against a physical threat.
Thus asking him to do a bit of everything in a 4-3-3 isn’t ideal. He likely can’t do certain things.
But with a partner in a 4-2-3-1, Clarkson could thrive. Picture him alongside Fabinho. The youngster can pick the ball up and dictate play, operating as a deep playmaker. He’d always have Fabinho there to offer defensive help and ensure no one is winning a midfield fight.
And when Clarkson is pressing, Fabinho is the perfect player to cover behind.
We think this is the 19-year-old’s future in the team – a future he surely has, given Klopp labelled him ‘sensational’. He’s good enough to play 4-3-3, of course, but a change of formation could see Clarkson develop quickly into a useful player.