After an increasingly calamitous series of events in the Premier League, Liverpool find themselves sitting at ninth in the Premier League – a spot that the supporters of the club find wholly unacceptable. For many of these fans, Jurgen Klopp’s tenure at the club has been sufficiently long that questions can now be raised about his suitability as coach going into the future.
In many respects, it is hard to feel differently. Klopp has now been in the managerial hot seat at Liverpool for coming up to two years and, in that time, it feels as though the club has hardly progressed at all. Despite managing to cling onto a fourth-place finish in the Premier League, securing Champions League qualification in the process, Liverpool seem to re-enact the same old defensive frailties in almost every game.
This raises questions about the workability of the German’s oft-cited system of high-octane pressing within the Premier League. Of course, it is easy to cite Einstein’s principle of insanity at this juncture – why does Jurgen Klopp expect different results from repeating the same old mantras – but this ignores the fact that Klopp has tweaked his system this season without any noticeable benefit.
The problem is, it is hard to know how Klopp should resolve any issues on the part of his team at this point in the season. Yes questions should be asked about the transfer processes put in place through the summer. But that was then and this is now.
The question becomes this: if a new manager was brought in at this point, would they be able to improve results more successfully than the former Dortmund coach? In this article, Jon Mackenzie suggests that, however Klopp sets up the team, Liverpool would struggle to get much more out of this squad.
The Full Strength Squad
In the Premier League this season, Jurgen Klopp has favoured a 4-3-3/4-4-2 diamond formation which allows him to utilise the high press for which he is famous. In the formation above, you can see the team that – injuries notwithstanding – is probably his strongest lineup.
Defensively, of course, it is noticeable that Klopp is fielding close to his strongest players. After a nightmare weekend at Wembley, Dejan Lovren was replaced James Milner allowing Joe Gomez to shift into a centre back role – his preferred position.
In the centre back pairing with Joel Matip, Gomez looked much more assured than the recently-departed Lovren. With Nathaniel Clyne available, it would be interesting to see if Klopp reverted to this partnership between Gomez and Matip.
Ahead of them, the Liverpool team is clearly weakened by injuries to a number of key players. Sadio Mane’s recent hamstring problem leaves Klopp with something of a headache: ideally, it seems, the German would like to drop Phillipe Coutinho into the midfield behind a front three of Mane, Firmino and Mohamed Salah. With Mane out, does he push Coutinho forward and risk sacrificing his neat-and-tidy ball possession in deeper spaces, or drop him back and leave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to take up the role.
Adam Lallana’s absence has also been felt throughout the season. Without him, the Liverpool midfield has often been left in the hands of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can – none of which possess the sort of creative ball-carrying and passing that Lallana does.
Were all his squad available to him, then, Klopp would be comfortable lining up his team in this manner. But injuries and suspensions to key players have left him unable to field this side for the most part during the season to date.
However much Klopp shoulders the blame for any disappointment in the transfer department over the summer, though, it won’t change the fact that he now has to decide how to arrange his team in the coming weeks.
Copy Cat System
Being without his best players, Jurgen Klopp is now faced with the question whether he should persevere with the system his has trained or whether he should instead change this system into something more suited to his available players. It is hard, though, to see what that system is.
Take for example the 3-4-3 formation that so many clubs have segued into in the past 12 months. Whilst three at the back might suit Alberto Moreno and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the formation leaves Klopp looking for an extra centre back to field out of a list that is already somewhat of a scraping of the barrel.
Fundamental to the correct functioning of the 3-4-3 formation is a central midfielder who is able to break down opposition attacks before carrying the ball into an attacking phase of play on the field. Last season, Chelsea utilised N’Golo Kante in this role alongside the more muscular Nemanja Matic. For Spurs, Mousa Dembele is the linchpin for their 3-4-3 hybrid and he is often accompanied by Victor Wanyama as his back up.
Until Liverpool complete the signing of Naby Keita, though, they do not have the personnel to attempt such a shift and, were they to try, they would likely find themselves overrun in central areas with their centre backs faced with more pressure rather than less.
Back to Basics
Perhaps what is needed for Liverpool to steady the ship, then, is a back to basics formation like the 4-2-3-1. This was the go-to formation during the earlier part of the decade, offering control of the midfield areas without sacrificing any defensive players from the back four.
On the face of it, the formation suits this Liverpool squad, riddled as it is with injury. Emre Can and Jordan Henderson would likely function well in a double pivot and Philippe Coutinho might benefit from a return into a classic Number 10 role. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a wide attacking player is not conventional but, as he showed on Sunday, he might actually thrive in that role.
Problems do arise, though, defensively. With large areas of space opening out between the full backs and the wide forward players, a team either has to push their forwards deep or their full backs into advanced positions. Exposing the centre backs would cause exactly the same problems that Klopp is trying to avoid already. Dropping the forward players deep would isolate Roberto Firmino in the lone striker role.
In each case, therefore, it seems as though the problems that Liverpool are facing cannot be solved as simply as by removing their manager. One thing is certain though: time is running out for Klopp. If he doesn’t significantly improve the strength of his squad over the January transfer window, there may be nothing for the Liverpool owners to do but fire him.
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