The reasons behind Liverpool’s new shape

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At least once every season, usually around this time of the year, Jurgen Klopp switches it up and has his Liverpool side play a variation of a 4-2-3-1. In the past, it’s been a way to help bed in new players. Other times, the maverick German has used it to keep things fresh. 

During 2017/18, the Reds used Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain alongside Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to make up an interesting front four. They ran riot in a 4-1 win over West Ham United. The following season saw Xherdan Shaqiri used as part of the attacking quartet, with Fabinho getting minutes in a midfield two alongside Jordan Henderson. Last year, Liverpool seemed to switch to a 4-2-3-1 shape during games, with Divock Origi coming off the bench. 

The arrival of Thiago suggested the Premier League champions may have plans to adopt that shape on a more regular basis. The Spain international thrived in a double pivot for Bayern Munich and his ability to play in a two gives Klopp a number of in-game options. It’s easy to forget this but Naby Keita and Fabinho both played in a midfield two prior to their arrivals. The more familiar the players are with the system and their responsibilities, the easier it is to flip-flop between two systems without that much of a drop-off. The adjustment period is, in theory, also much smaller. 

Liverpool struggled against Sheffield United last season and with 30 minutes left to play at Brammall Lane, they switched to a 4-2-3-1 system. It’s much easier to start in a different system and this might explain why the Reds did just that against the Blades on Saturday night. Try something new and then revert back to your tried and tested shape to shore things up, and that is what they did. 

It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but Liverpool claimed the victory and that is all that matters at the end of the day. There’s also been a lot of talk around whether or not the change worked. The truth is, it’s too early to decide whether or not it is a feasible option. There are tweaks that can be made, like using Diogo Jota as the second striker alongside Firmino. It might seem like an outlandish idea but he did play a similar role for Wolves alongside Roberto Jimenez. 

It’d also be interesting to see what the balance was like with Fabinho or Thiago in midfield. I’d not write this off as a failed experiment just yet. Granted, it wasn’t the most balanced but you could at least see the idea behind the change. 

Klopp wanted his wide players in one-on-one situations to free up spaces in front of the defence, and the switch allowed that. The equaliser came about after Henderson was afforded a lot of time and space after Sheffield United had tracked Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the Liverpool right. The winner arrived when Mane was able to get at the right wing-back. 

It could have been better but Liverpool won the game through moments Klopp and his coaching staff envisaged. That’s justification enough to give that new system more time. 

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