Liverpool's Plan B: Time for the Hipster 3-4-3?
Under Klopp, 2016 was a fantastic year. Goals galore, two cup finals and the development of players such as Roberto Frimino and Adam Lallana.
The German tactician started off using a fluid 4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1 formation during the latter months of last season which morphed into an efficient 4-3-3 for the first half of the season. With Can and Henderson never excelling as a two, putting Lallana or Wijnaldum into the mix solidified the midfield and created space for Coutinho’s and Firmino’s brilliant movement off the ball.
However, in recent weeks Liverpool have failed to find anything resembling form. Milner looks increasingly exposed, the centre halves have been targeted and the front three have struggled more often than not.
With 12 games left before the summer comes along when Klopp can strengthen again, could a switch in formation help in the push for the top four?
Rodgers liked to think he masterminded the 3-4-3, Guardiola has used variations of the formation and Conte has shown this year how wonderfully efficient and brutally effective it can be.
Liverpool are never going to suit Conte’s vision, but with the crop of players fit and available here’s a look at how Klopp could interpret the 3-4-3 over the coming weeks. I’ve based the line-up below on the fact Henderson is out, but I’ll talk about how most of the squad can fit into the roles below.
To start with, here’s is how I see LFC lining up in the 3-4-3.
The back three enables Gomez to develop alongside the more experienced Matip and Klavan. Having two centre-backs who have played full-back in the past should help with their positioning as the wide players push on.
With the ball Matip would be the one looked to as the man to play out of defence, while organising the back three. Klavan and Gomez would push wide, ready to drop in alongside Matip as and when needed.
Moreno would be expected to play as an attacking wing-back, keeping the width and using his pace to overlap when Countinho cuts in from the left.
Mane would play as a more orthodox winger, running at the opposition, creating space with the width and pace he offers and looking to get in behind the defence and into the box on a quick break.
The two centre midfielders would rotate between Henderson, Can and Wijnaldum. A fit Henderson is going to start (Klopp likes him), but while he’s out Emre and Gini should be able to dove tail nicely. Can offering a physical presence while Wijnaldum looks to recycle possession and move the ball into space, whether out wide or to the playmakers.
With Moreno as more of a wing back and expected to track back, Coutinho would be positioned around the left channel. Using him as a playmaker cutting in from the left enables him to keep the width when needed, but also to cut inside and get into the box or dangerous positions off the striker.
Firmino would be playing in his natural position of the number 10 playing off a striker. Here he can press and harass the opposition, while his intelligent movement will help create space for himself and the centre forward. With Mane on the right and Moreno or Coutinho on the left he’s left to operate in pockets where he can get shots or create chances as well as getting into the box to get on the end of through balls or crosses.
Sturridge, if fit, has to be the main centre forward. His ability to get a shot off quickly and his deadly finishing is essential here. With Firmino buzzing around him and he quick passing both the central players could flourish — and both need something to kick start their form.
Losing the Ball:
Once Liverpool lose the ball the shape can change quickly. Moreno would be expected to bust a gut back into the left-back position, with Gomez moving in the right-back role to create a back four quickly. If Moreno is out of position Mane or Can can drop into the right-back position with Klavan shuffling into left back in order to get into shape quickly.
Matip’s communication and organisation here are essential, making sure the players either side are in the right position and getting them to move if not.
The centre midfielders are also important here, creating a compact line of four quickly to win the ball and be ready to pounce on the counter. Coutinho and Mane tucking in to protect the full-backs and assist the midfield two.
Up front Sturridge could be drop back while Firmino looks to press the centre-backs.
Out of Possession:
Once the banks of four are set and compact, the team is set to hit on the counter quickly.
Once the ball is won the team can break back into the 3-4-3. Moreno and Mane ready to bring width at pace. Can and Wijnaldum looking to drive into space with quick passing of the ball at feet.
From here, Coutinho and Firmino running at a team on the back foot would wreck havoc with Sturridge looking to get into the box as quickly as possible.
The Low Block:
Against teams sitting deep there is plenty to work with. A back 3 with some pace enables Liverpool to push on and have players who can get back.
Moreno and Mane keeping the width, Gomez getting on the overlap at times and Coutinho and Firmino buzzing around in tight spaces could help us break down teams putting numbers behind the ball.
Now, this is by no means a perfect plan but there is the flexibility here to control possession in the 3-4-3, get into a solid shape of two banks of four and for the formation to transition as the game plays out quickly.
The fluidity of the formation and the players in the squad give Klopp a few options too.
Clyne could play as a right wing-back with Moreno, Ojo or Mane playing on the left wing. Against teams were you want the right centre-back to support Mane, Clyne or Alexander-Arnold could likely fill in here.
In centre midfield both Henderson and Gjuic add some value. Lallana could play in the Firmino or Coutinho role — as long as he’s instructed to play one and two touch football. Origi with his pace and power could offer an option on the right or instead of Sturridge.
Based on current form, the complete lack of ability to keep a clean sheet and the squad available for the rest of the season I would love to see something along these lines from Klopp for a few games at least.