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How might Jurgen Klopp make 3 defenders work vs Manchester City?

Jurgen Klopp could turn to using three defenders against Manchester City today. How might the Liverpool boss make that work?

Jurgen Klopp isn’t a big fan of a back three and we’ve very rarely seen him use it with Liverpool. There was the odd occasion back in his first couple of seasons but virtually never since.

And yet, we might just see it against Manchester City. Liverpool are light at right-back, with Trent Alexander-Arnold missing the game. Klopp admits that he could ‘change the system’ in order to replace his star full-back.

Now as we recently wrote, the only real system change that wouldn’t involve a right-back is moving towards a back-three. If you don’t like any of your options there, the best move is to eliminate the position from your formation.

But what would that look like?

Could Klopp turn to three defenders?

There are two ways Klopp could do it. Firstly, he could switch to a 3-4-3 system that only marginally changes things.

It would likely mean Joe Gomez comes in as a right-sided centre-back, with Joel Matip central and Virgil van Dijk playing slightly left-sided. The ‘full-backs’, presumably Andy Robertson and James Milner, would operate more as wide midfielders.

Liverpool would find the extra defender by sacrificing a midfielder. The front-three then stays the same, creating a system like this:

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Gomez – Matip – Van Dijk
Milner – Henderson – Fabinho – Robertson
Salah – Firmino – Mane

This way, Liverpool don’t fundamentally change the way their forwards operate. At the same time, they can get the width on the flanks while still having defensive solidity. Gomez could handle Jack Grealish and Milner would be able to offer crossing without Alexander-Arnold there.

The other option is 3-5-2. It’s a subtle change but you sacrifice a forward to keep the middle of midfield structurally the same. It relies on the wide midfielders / wingbacks offer all of your width but they would have even more license to push on.

In this instance, we imagine it would be Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane as a front-two. Both have played centrally before with success, and the central midfielders could offer support. The extra man there affords them security the 3-4-3 simply doesn’t.

Gomez – Matip – Van Dijk
Milner – Henderson – Fabinho – Jones – Robertson
Salah – Mane

Liverpool would have to do all of their attacking on the counter with this one. There are simply fewer possibilities for players to interchange and create movement in possession – it’s all about bombing on into space using speed.

Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Against City’s possession game, though, perhaps that could work well.

Could we actually see this?

Honestly, we never thought Klopp would go with a back three but his comments suggest he’s at least open to it. That or the idea entered his mind enough to use it as a mind-game.

We still think it’ll be 4-3-3 with James Milner at right-back but we won’t blame him for shaking things up. He did against City a year ago, after all.

We can’t wait to find out to see what the boss does.

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