The good, the bad & the 4-2-3-1 – Debating Liverpool 2-1 Sheffield United

Liverpool showed title-winning qualities in their 2-1 win over Sheffield United, as Jurgen Klopp‘s decision to change his formation ultimately paid off.

The Reds hosted a Blades outfit sitting 19th in the Premier League on Saturday, with just one point to their name before the game.

It looked as though that may change for a while, however, as Sander Berge put the visitors ahead after a controversial penalty decision against Fabinho.

Roberto Firmino equalised a few minutes before half-time to restore parity, though, and Diogo Jota scored the winning goal with a well-taken header after the interval.

After the game, Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) was joined by John O’Sullivan (@NotoriousJOS) and Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) to discuss the highs and lows of Liverpool’s win, as well as Klopp’s tweak in formation.


The good…

Diogo Jota sealed victory for Liverpool (Stu Forster/PA)

JOHN: The win, for sure. It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but the Reds — despite more inexplicably bad officiating against them — found a way.

In this season, of all seasons, winning ugly will be hugely important and Liverpool have all the mental ingredients to dig deep psychologically and grind out results.

Personnel-wise, the performances of Jordan Henderson and Jota — especially in the second half — were exemplary. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane also deserve credit for the defensive shift they put in. Brilliant players grafting like League 2 journeymen.

Andy Robertson, who was maybe fortunate not to concede a penalty, was superb. The Scot has been largely brilliant this season, and his ability to dribble and carry the ball through pressure has been an element he’s added to his already strong skill set.

KARL: It was nice to see a few moments of Angry Gini; he was in and out of the game at times but then you see him surge past two or three players at once and are reminded just how technical and strong he can be in attack.

I would like to see more of it, in truth.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 24, 2020: Liverpool’s Diogo Jota celebrates with team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold after scoring the second goal to give his side a 2-1 lead during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Sheffield United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Elsewhere, Robertson was very good again, as John mentions, while Trent had a better game than he has put in recently. Salah’s non-goal was exceptional!

Good to see Alisson back, too, of course.

HENRY: I agree with John that the ugly nature of the win was pleasing, ahead of what looks like will be a mad season. I still make the Reds title favourites, partly because of their ability to dig deep in these type of games.

Robertson was again excellent, as both of the guys alluded to, and I think he has been Liverpool’s most consistent performer so far this season. Salah was a menace, too, and it’s such a shame that his goal was ruled out.

Joe Gomez deserves a huge pat on the back for a strong performance as he looks to re-find his best form and show he can excel without Virgil van Dijk around.

It was also great to see Jota bury that header – he already looks a great signing and is exactly the kind of quality backup player Liverpool have needed for years.


The bad…

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - Wednesday, October 21, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the opening UEFA Champions League Group D match between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. (Pic by Orange Pictures via Propaganda)

JOHN: Lots of the performance was disjointed. It’s hardly reasonable to expect the team to change shape and produce a matching level of performance straight away, though, and it took the team until the second half to look comfortable.

To play Jurgen Klopp’s style of pressing football, the team needs to be compact and tethered together, but there were big gaps against the Blades.

The midfield duo of Wijnaldum and Henderson had huge spaces to cover and the formation at times resembled a 4-2-4, with the attacking quartet too far advanced and nobody linking the two parts of the pitch.

Sheffield United, with their direct approach, were finding joy in the crevices in the Reds’ shape and won a lot of second balls and this was their launchpad to attack the champions’ goal.

It was much better in the second half, however, and Liverpool looked more comfortable as the game wore on.

As for VAR, each weekend, you find yourself thinking “it can’t get any worse, surely” after another botched decision rears its ugly head. But it can, and it does.

After the debacle at Goodison Park, Liverpool once again felt the sharp edge of refereeing incompetence when Mike Dean awarded the Blades a penalty for Fabinho winning the ball outside the box. The mind shudders to think what misfortune will befall the Reds next weekend.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 12, 2020: Liverpool’s goalkeeper Alisson Becker during the opening FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leeds United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Liverpool won 4-3. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

KARL: The protection from the double-pivot for the defence wasn’t great, but I detail that a little more below.

Quite a few times we were caught in possession at the back, which might have been punished on other occasions, and the horrid lack of movement in the first half is something we see too often relative to the enormous quality our forwards have.

There was lots and lots of poor passing from midfield in the first 50 minutes or so, too, but that was partly down to that same lack of movement further upfield.

Might I also point to the lack of substitutes used?

Two late and one not at all flies in the face of the boss wanting to make five every week. Yes, we need to secure the result, but we also need to protect those who play almost every game, every three days

HENRY: I don’t have too much more to add – these two have covered pretty much everything!

I totally agree that Wijnaldum and Henderson found themselves having to do too much work, with four in front of them not helping out enough.

In terms of performances, nobody was poor, with the majority in and around the same level.

Trent’s form does worry me a little, even though he played a sublime pass to Salah and nearly scored from his own half! Defensively he looks susceptible too often at the moment, with opposition managers clearly targeting him.

Oh, and VAR was s***e…again!


And did 4-2-3-1 work?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 24, 2020: Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (L) celebrates with team-mate Mohamed Salah (R) after the equalising goal from a rebound to level the score at 1-1 during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Sheffield United FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

JOHN: Overall, it appears Klopp’s men are more comfortable in a 4-3-3, but that doesn’t mean the 4-2-3-1 should be indefinitely shelved.

With Thiago, who thrived in his shape at Bayern Munich, and Joel Matip, whose return would facilitate Fabinho returning to midfield, to come back, the Reds have the capacity and the players to execute the formation better in the future.

KARL: I’m not surprised to see it so soon, but there’s work to do and I’m not convinced the Gini-Hendo partnership is the best one for it.

It should provide a better platform for the defence, but we also really need far better movement in the attacking lines for it to work. At times we had a static line of four up top in the first half and it gave us no chance of creating much.

On the other hand, there’s probably more scope for rotation in a 4-2-3-1 than in the usual system, as Xherdan Shaqiri can play two sides, Curtis Jones can play left or as a No.10 and there will be more runners around Divock Origi if he plays up top.

It wasn’t a perfect showing of the system on or off the ball, but unfortunately we have minimal training days between games right now so it will be a bit hit-and-miss at this stage, in terms of organisation and creating the angles going forward.

HENRY: I think it would be unfair to go overboard about the 4-2-3-1, considering it was the first game back using it. There were always going to be slight teething problems.

John is spot on about Thiago and Fabinho potentially thriving in a double-pivot moving forward, while Karl nails it when discussing the options available in this system, from Shaqiri to Jones.

I personally prefer the 4-3-3, and think it gets the best out of Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino, but I have no issue if it doesn’t return for a bit.