It’s flown by hasn’t it? Klopp’s appointment as Liverpool manager doesn’t seem like it was a year ago. Everything about him at the club still feels fresh and new but at the same time it feels like he’s part of the furniture. It’s testament to the man that he’s managed to come in and change so much in such a short space of time. It’s genuinely scary to think that if history repeats itself Klopp will only be here, at Anfield, for another six years.
To celebrate the German’s anniversary I’ve decided to have a look back at what’s changed tactically since his appointment.
Liverpool started the season with Brendan Rodgers at the helm and the Ulsterman opted to field a 4231 formation with James Milner and Jordan Henderson the centre-midfield pairing and Jordon Ibe, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho behind new big money signing Christian Benteke.
It was disjointed Liverpool performance. Benteke was isolated, build up was slow and Liverpool didn’t look like an attacking threat. A Coutinho worldie earned the Reds all three points and people put the rustiness down to it being the first game of the season. But it wasn’t. The team continually looked lost and confused. Rodgers then switched to a back three formation and went with Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings as a strike partnership that seemed to be an adrenaline shot to what was a pedestrian attack. The attack looked more healthier but It was still far removed from the breathtakingly fluid attack Rodgers pieced together in 2013/14. The defence was still an issue with the midfield offering it no protection meaning it was often exposed and the opposition could get at Liverpool with relative ease.
In came Klopp.
Opening Game against Spurs
Jurgen practiced what he preached in making Liverpool difficult to break down. Instead of using the 4231 formation that served him so well at Borussia Dortmund he chose to go with with a 4321 system, or what some may call a Christmas tree. You can clearly see the system in the picture above.
The main idea behind this formation is to be compact so the opposition can’t play their way through the middle of your team. There is no soft, fluffy middle with this formation and you’ll rarely see it being stretched. The opposition have to play through four ‘defensive’ lines before even getting to the Liverpool defence. In this instance Spurs have to play through Origi, then the two attacking midfielders, then the centre-midfield pairing and finally Lucas in the defensive-midfield role.
Liverpool would Switch to a 4141 system when defending with the centre-midfielders – Emre Can and James Milner – shifting wide and allowing Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana to take up central positions in the hope of doing more damage there.
The pros of playing such a formation are you have bodies in central midfield at all times. Spurs had Moussa Dembele, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen as their midfield three, all of whom are good ball playing midfielders and can carry their team forward with the ball. They’re the sort to attack the space with the ball, not just look to pass it off, so smothering them and restricting them of space nullifies them.
In this formation the width comes from the full-backs. Klopp instructed Lallana and Coutinho to get close to and support Divock Origi so the onus was on the full-backs to take up positions in wide areas in the hope of stretching the opposition.
Firmino False 9
This formation transitioned into the one many Liverpool fans have become familiar with under Klopp with Roberto Firmino leading the line as a ‘false 9’ being supported by Coutinho and Lallana. The team were defending from the front and it was pretty much defence is the best form of attack for the Reds as they pressed their way to big victories away from home against Chelsea and Manchester City.
The perpetual movement of the attacking trio caused all kinds of trouble for the opposition as Liverpool capitalised on the weakness that plagues many of the centre-backs in the Premier League – their lack of ability on the ball. The team also profited from having players supporting the striker. The opposition had to deal with the movement of three attackers as opposed to just the two.
The Return of Sturridge
Daniel Sturridge’s return to the first team saw Klopp adopt a different approach. It was kind of a hybrid 433/4231 formation with James Milner often acting as both the right sided centre-midfielder as well as the right sided attacker as part of the three behind the striker. This system got Sturridge into the team but didn’t sacrifice the work rate in attack because Firmino, Coutinho and Milner still did that job.
An injury to Jordan Henderson saw Klopp use James Milner beside Emre Can in central-midfield and that’s when the issues became evident. James Milner’s lack of discipline in that midfield role lead to Emre Can having to be a one-man midfield and at times the team were overran centrally.
After getting deals done early in the summer transfer window Klopp reverted back to the 4321 formation that served him well early on in his Liverpool career. Although the sample size is only small you have to say this variation of it, with the players signed in the summer, seem to be excelling in this tactic.
Joel Matip’s ability in the air combined with his calmness on the ball makes him a perfect upgrade to Martin Skrtel in the centre-back role. Likewise, Loris Karius looks a lot more assured in possession than his predecessor Simon Mignolet. Gini Wijnaldum has added another dimension to the midfield with his effortless dribbling, work rate, his runs from deep and his incisive passes from a deeper role. Sadio Mane has added aggressive and direct running from his side of the pitch to go alongside his obvious goal threat and immediately Liverpool looking a lot more fluid and functional in this set up.
The Reds are able to swarm the opposition with six players centrally and two players – the full-backs – in wide roles.
Klopp clearly had a style in mind when he agreed to takeover as Liverpool manager but moved away from it when he realised he didn’t have the players available to him to effectively execute it. After the summer transfer window we’re now able to see how he’s got the players he wanted positioned in areas of the pitch where they can impact the game.
The team can boast that they’re no longer cut open defensively on a regular basis. They now have a fluid, high energetic, interchangeable attack that’s full of goals and it couldn’t be further removed from the attacking style that Klopp took over when he replaced Brendan Rodgers just 12 months ago.