By Hani Na’eem – @hani_eem
As Liverpool fans continue to nurture their growing hopes of a league title, some are still slightly surprised by the progress the team has shown each year.
Pictures have been circulating on social media of the contrasting names of Liverpool’s starting XIs between now and a few years ago. The message mainly points to how far we’ve come as a team.
But something else needs pointing out as well. Liverpool’s shortage of world-class players and very limited bench options meant industry and diligence were the name of the game for Klopp’s team. Perhaps these are characteristics of any Klopp team, going back to his Dortmund and Mainz days, but they were doubly clear and crucial for Liverpool during the start of the German’s reign.
One sign of this was Klopp’s preference of a hardworking, crazy-pressing, three-man midfield. The Liverpool manager favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation with his Dortmund side.
The high press and defensive line were always there of course, but missing the quality of players like Gundogan at Liverpool prompted the “Normal One” to depend more heavily at an industrious three-man midfield for pressing and creating chances.
Fast forward to 2018/2019 and the Liverpool manager has more midfield options than ever during his time in charge of the Reds.
Summer signings Naby Keita and Fabinho add different qualities and dimensions to Liverpool’s midfield in terms of defensive duties and creating chances. Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri has also proved an excellent signing from relegated Stoke.
Both Keita and Fabinho have had a slow start to their Liverpool careers, but Fabinho – in particular – has seen his influence grow on the side. With the Brazilian’s brilliant displays as of late, the shift towards a 4-2-3-1 formation has been very clear. Fabinho’s role as one of two holding midfielders gave Liverpool the luxury of having extra support for the front three.
Liverpool’s current record in the Premier League suggests the 4-3-3 formation that we’ve seen regularly may feature less frequently in the future. Liverpool played ten league games with the 4-3-3 formation, most of them coming earlier in the season when Fabinho was still ‘adapting’ to his new side.
However, Klopp used the formation again in the defeat to Manchester City earlier this month, probably with the intent of providing more cover for the fullbacks. All this being said, Liverpool’s three draws and one defeat all came when they started the match with the 4-3-3 formation. In contrast, the Reds have won all ten games in which they employed the 4-2-3-1 formation.
At times this season, it seemed the 4-3-3 system was safer, with Klopp deploying it in big games against Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal away. However, a very convincing record with the 4-2-3-1 system may mean the old system is now a thing of the past.