Liverpool are currently in the midst of their worst season under Jürgen Klopp and the Reds’ manager has struggled to consistently get a tune out of his team, with many players regularly underperforming. In an effort to improve results, Klopp has tinkered with his tactical set-up numerous times in this campaign. Liverpool began the season with their usual high-pressing 4-3-3, but after a poor run of form and injuries to several regular starters, Klopp has also experimented with a 4-2-3-1, a 4-4-2 diamond and a flat 4-4-2.
From a tactical point of view, the low point of the season came in the 3-0 defeat against Brighton in mid-January, when Klopp played a 4-3-1-2 system with Thiago as the no. 10. Liverpool looked all out of sorts, both in and out of possession, and were frankly made to look like a Championship side.
In the four games since, Klopp has settled on a midfield three of Stefan Bajcetic, Thiago, and Naby Keita but repeatedly chopped and changed his front line. Three times, newcomer Cody Gakpo has played down the middle in a Firmino-esque role, with Fabio Carvalho, Harvey Elliott and Darwin Nunez having been deployed on the left wing. No matter which combination of players, Liverpool’s front line has largely looked uncomfortable, as reflected by the fact that the Reds have only scored two goals in this spell of games.
However, in Liverpool’s last match against Wolves, there were promising signs from a tactical perspective, despite the humiliating score line. For starters, Gakpo played on the left, where he is most comfortable, with Darwin Nunez leading the line down the middle – a role for which he is better suited than the wing. In addition, Liverpool’s build-up play was more functional than in recent weeks.
Andy Robertson was often removed from build-up duties, as he pushed high and wide on the left flank. This created space for Thiago to drop into the back line to collect the ball, from which was able to spray progressive passes around and get Liverpool up the field. Thiago is far superior to Robertson technically, which makes him more suited to participate in build-up. Meanwhile, Robertson’s pace and physicality makes him a dangerous outlet on the left flank.
Robertson’s high position also enabled Gakpo to come inside into the left half-space, an area in which he can thrive. With more game time together, one can imagine Gakpo and Robertson developing a good chemistry on the left.
With the tactical set-up pictured above, the Reds looked more dangerous than they have in recent weeks; their 1.96 xG against Wolves is the highest they have accumulated since their loss at Brentford in early January.
The opening 25 minutes of the second half, in particular, was one of Liverpool’s best periods of play in recent months, as they frequently managed to box the hosts into their own half, sustaining attacks, and creating multiple glorious scoring opportunities.
It must be acknowledged that the game state likely contributed to this; Wolves were already 2-0 up and were content to sit deep and let Liverpool dictate the match. Nonetheless, with this new tactical set-up, Klopp’s men looked more fluid and dangerous, which provides a glimmer of hope ahead of the Merseyside Derby.
Against Everton, Liverpool will be without Thiago, who suffered a hip injury last week. Jordan Henderson is expected to be reinstated to the starting line-up, which likely means that Naby Keita will move to the left of midfield, into the Thiago-role. While Keita is not quite a midfield orchestrator of Thiago’s quality, he is a capable progressive passer and carrier, and should be given licence to drop into defence to collect the ball, as Thiago did against Wolves. In addition, Robertson should once again be given freedom to bomb up the pitch; him and Gakpo may be able to expose Everton’s right back Seamus Coleman, who has undoubtedly lost a yard of pace in recent years.
In this must-win derby game, Klopp should stick to the tactical blueprint with which the Reds showed promising spells against Wolves.