Jurgen Klopp appeared to suggest Liverpool have a weakness right now. It’s one the Reds need to adapt to quickly.
Liverpool played two games in one against Arsenal on Thursday evening. They started against a team looking to play and, really, the Reds looked very good.
But then Arsenal went down to 10 men and Mikel Arteta changed things up. He switched to a back five, playing an incredibly compact defence that rarely left their own box. And that created massive problems for Liverpool.
They couldn’t force Arsenal under any real pressure and, most damning of all, didn’t have a shot on target until stoppage time. That plainly isn’t good enough – but it’s not new.
Liverpool do struggle against back-fives. The likes of Chelsea, Wolves and Tottenham Hotspur have badly blunted their attack by overloading on defenders, much as Arsenal did. It appears Jurgen Klopp knows this, too.
His post-match interview for Sky Sports saw him talk about Brentford being a tricky game. “They also use a back five,” he said with a laugh.
So if it is a weakness, what do Liverpool do?
Jurgen Klopp needs Liverpool to adapt
Now, in truth, every team struggles against a back five. Or at least, they struggle against a very compact, deep back five that leaves little space to play in.
It’s a tactic for a reason, after all. Liverpool’s problem is that a lot of teams now turn to it in an attempt to slow them down. They really need a fix, then.
As we see it, the real issue with the system is that it effectively allows two players to cover Liverpool’s wingers. Mohamed Salah, for instance, has to play up against a wing-back and then an immediate covering defender whose entire role it to watch him. That’s a constant 2-on-1 and it’s there on both sides.
But it should be easier to play between the lines in the middle of the pitch. If you’re playing with five at the back, you must give up a player somewhere else. That’s usually in midfield, with teams sitting two in front of their defence.
Liverpool, though, lack players to play between those lines. Their midfielders are usually more functional in outlook or, with Thiago, looking to dictate things from a deeper role.
The likes of Curtis Jones and Naby Keita, though, want to get the ball and move with it. They apply pressure from central roles and we think that’s the direction Liverpool need to head in against back fives. Players who can beat midfielders will drag centre-backs out of their positions and, in theory, make things far easier for everyone.
Liverpool host Brentford on Sunday and will almost certainly face another back five. It makes sense to start Jones, then – someone who could add the extra dimension the Reds need.