The Phillipe Coutinho era is back at Liverpool – sort of. Jurgen Klopp returns to 2017 with his latest tactic.
Everyone knows Liverpool need change. They’ve now lost five consecutive home games for the first time in their history, after all.
Really, things have been dreadful since Christmas. They’ve won just three times between the holiday and now, losing consistently.
The bizarre thing is that they were top at Christmas. The downfall has come quickly and devastatingly so. But there are obvious reasons for it.
The defence and midfield are crippled thanks to injuries, with neither looking solid. Add a dysfunctional front-three and you have a recipe for rapid decline.
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Klopp, then, can’t really run with his usual tactic. Despite league and European success in back-to-back years, things must change. The boss just doesn’t have the right players anymore.
And that has led to some nostalgia, it seems. Liverpool have gone back to the Philippe Coutinho era.
Liverpool’s defence hasn’t been this bad for some time. But the last time it was anything short of ‘good’ was 2017 – before Virgil van Dijk arrived.
Van Dijk changed everything but he wasn’t quite enough on his own. The summer of 2018 also saw Fabinho arrive to protect the defence. Between them, Liverpool were golden.
But before that, Liverpool couldn’t rely on their defence. Instead, they had a special attack.
Mohamed Salah had just arrived from AS Roma and he joined Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in a front-three. But there was one more attacking star – Coutinho.
He didn’t have a natural place but Klopp found a way. He used him in midfield on the left of a three. That allowed Coutinho two midfield partners to protect him while he drifted between the lines and wide left.
The Brazilian thrived, too – he had 12 goals and eight assists before January.
Klopp seems to have all of that in mind with his current system. We recently labelled it a 4-2-4 but it’s not quite that.
The Chelsea game showed it’s a hybrid between 4-3-3 and 4-2-4. Curtis Jones plays the Coutinho role, taking up a place in midfield but frequently joining the attack.
It gets the Scouser wide left a lot, forming a partnership with Mane. The other two midfielders – Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago on Thursday – then form a midfield two in possession.
It’s a smart move from Klopp. He still has several players who made it work with Coutinho, after all.
But he has three big problems. Firstly, the defence is far weaker now than it was then. Secondly, there’s no Jordan Henderson to help in midfield – vital when defending with two.
And thirdly, and most importantly, Jones isn’t as good as Coutinho was. Not yet, anyway. It means Liverpool don’t quite have the same level of magic from their attack.
We think Klopp might stick with this idea, though, and it can improve. The defence should get better with experience, as should Jones.
No, it’s not perfect – far from it. But going back to this idea does make some sense. And honestly, there aren’t many better ideas right now.