Jurgen Klopp appears to have a plan in mind for his defence when Liverpool face Chelsea on Thursday. We got a glimpse against Sheffield United.
Liverpool have defensive issues – we all know that. Jurgen Klopp can never pick the players he wants, given they’re all injured.
His only options are wildly inexperienced, too. They’ve either never played at this level for a full season, or they don’t know the position, or they’ve been at the club for a month.
None are perfect and it makes creating a partnership very difficult. Especially as every time Klopp gets one going, someone picks up an injury.
The latest duo is Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips. They play for an hour against Everton and then the full 90 at Sheffield United, with mixed results.
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But between those two games, Klopp made an interesting change.
At Anfield, Kabak was the more aggressive defender. He pressed the ball consistently all game for a total of 14 presses. They were pretty successful, too, as Liverpool won the ball back 50 per cent of the time.
Phillips was the covering player, then. He pressed just six times in his 61 minutes. For balance, Jordan Henderson – who played the other 29 minutes – pressed once.
It suggests that was a plan. Kabak pushes forward, the other defender covers him.
There was a complete role-reversal at Bramall Lane, however.
Kabak’s dropped to eight presses and only pressed in midfield twice. 25 per cent of these worked.
Phillips, on the other hand, was relentless. He put pressure on the ball 18 times, stepping out to do it seven times in midfield.
It appears Klopp wanted to try something new. The clean sheet does suggest it worked, too.
So what does this mean for Thursday? Well, we expect Fabinho to come back into defence against Chelsea.
And if that is the case, Kabak may be the one dropping out. That’s because Fabinho doesn’t press all the much as a centre-back.
He averages nine this season – a number inflated from playing in midfield. A full campaign in midfield, after all, saw him average 18 last season.
So for us, the switch suggests Klopp wants Phillips as the pressing defender to allow Fabinho to cover. That’s the hint, certainly.
There are other ways to look at it, of course. Klopp may simply have wanted to see Kabak play in a different way in order to judge him.
It may have been a case of wanting to see what the Kabak / Phillips partnership can do. They could start again on Thursday.
If we had to guess, though, we’d go with Fabinho and Phillips facing Chelsea. That’s our instinct after looking at the role-reversal.