Liverpool’s options open up next season with five defenders on their books. Jurgen Klopp may try following a growing trend in games.
There were times last season where Liverpool had no trusted centre-backs. We watched Jordan Henderson and Fabinho fill the roles, leading to effectively zero cohesion in the team.
Fortunately, times have changed. Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip should all return for next season. Ibrahima Konate has joined from RB Leipzig, too.
And then there’s Nat Phillips.
Phillips proved himself as Premier League quality last season. Recent reports claim there’s no desire from Jurgen Klopp to sell the player. He may well stick around for the next campaign.
That would give Liverpool five options at centre-back. That’s quite a lot for what is usually just two positions in the team. Unless, of course, Klopp shakes things up a little.
Liverpool’s five defenders
Mixed with Liverpool’s abundance of centre-backs comes a strange midfield situation. There are three undoubted stars – Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago.
All three have histories with injury concerns, though. Beyond them are 35-year-old James Milner, 20-year-old Curtis Jones and two more players with injury issues – Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
We wonder, then, if Klopp may mix things up a little next season. He could have games with three-at-the-back, using his extra options there and cutting one from the midfield two.
It’s effectively pulling the holding midfielder back into the defence – something that player frequently does anyway. The full-backs can play a more wide-midfield role – as Andy Robertson does for Scotland – and the attack remains the same.
All in all, nothing dramatically changes. Especially at teams that sit back against Liverpool and force them into that shape anyway.
That’s a system we’re seeing fairly frequently these days. Germany are using it at Euro 2020, as are the Netherlands. Chelsea have had great success with a back three, beating Manchester City in the Champions Leauge final in that system.
The tactic is hardly brand-new, of course. Antonio Conte won the Premier League with Chelsea using it just a few years ago. But it hasn’t been this common among top teams since the late 90s.
If Liverpool don’t replace the departing Gini Wijnaldum – and they may well not – then this feels like a natural way to take advantage of the luxury at centre-back. It shouldn’t disrupt the team too much and certainly suits the squad.