Despite a lack of signings in the summer transfer window, Harry McMullen believes Jurgen Klopp is already overseeing the long-term evolution of an ageing Liverpool side.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”
With several key players over 30 in the current Liverpool squad, and a trio of 29-year-olds leading the line, the word ‘ageing’ has become attached to the first great Jurgen Klopp team.
With the manager expected to leave on the expiry of his contract in 2024, there’s a growing sense that to build the second great Klopp side, Liverpool urgently need to cut hard and spend high.
But what if that team is already within the squad? What if Klopp is doing a Michelangelo, and gradually chiselling it out?
As we all know, Liverpool line up off the ball in a 4-3-3; four defenders back, three in the midfield and a front three that presses high and wide.
This gives the Reds a numerical majority in defence, making them difficult to breach.
In attack, Liverpool look more like a 2-3-5, with the centre-backs and the midfielders in reserve, and the full-backs joining the attack.
This means that our majority is now in the attacking third, with a player in each of the five ‘stratas’ of the pitch (wings, half-spaces and centre).
Crucially, this means that in both attacking and defensive transitions, Liverpool have five players in defence and five in attack; a perfect balance.
This version of 5×5, from a 4-4-3, is perfect for the personnel at Klopp’s disposal.
However, with each of the fabled front three currently out of contract in 2023, and several first-teamers over 30, it’s no wonder reports have suggested a big window next summer.
Who we already have
Fortunately, recent signings and extensions have future proofed the squad moving forward.
Diogo Jota (24) has stepped up admirably.
Certainly, there’s the spine of a great team to mature together around 2023/24.
That’s without mentioning those who signed new contracts this summer, with there a clear belief that Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold can remain key players for the long term.
How we’ll play
But how can the tactics evolve with the personnel?
Last season, Liverpool briefly adapted to use Jones’ goal threat from midfield.
With Alexander-Arnold sitting deeper, the Reds formed a 3-2-5 in attack that saw Jones make runs from deep to great effect, scoring in the 2-0 win over Sheffield United.
Sticking it to the Toffees
In Carlo Ancelotti’s 4-3-3 structure, Rodriguez was free to come short and create, with the right full-back staying deep.
Typically the left-back Lucas Digne pushed into the final third to take up the wing space, and wide forward Richarlison cut into the half-space, mimicking Sadio Mane.
Rodriguez coming short allowed striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to move fluidly around the box, with attacking midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure completing the attacking quintet to form a similar 3-2-5 shape.
While Elliott has debuted on the right of a midfield three this season, he is naturally a left-footed right winger, and in both roles he has demonstrated his ability to occupy wide positions and then drive inside to create, using his superb dribbling ability and range of passing.
With Elliott off to an explosive start, and Liverpool’s superior options across the rest of the structure, it’s easy to see us hitting greater heights following the same ‘blue’-print.
This could pave the way for Alexander-Arnold to step into midfield, using his superb vision and range of passing to play a deeper Thiago-esque role alongside the more direct Jones.
Alexander-Arnold also appears to be getting forward himself more often this season, and we know he can be dangerous in the right half-space:
Perhaps the biggest missing piece is an out-and-out striker, as opposed to a false nine.
Should Mo Salah’s new contract come to fruition, a more central role in his mid-30s could allow him to stay prolific as he inevitably loses a yard of pace.
But there’s also a young Norwegian with an attainable release clause that kicks in next summer…
Worth a watch
With Liverpool off to a strong start and key players back on the pitch, the tactical evolution is likely to be subtle this season, with the Reds already real contenders for the title once more.
However, while some contested the Transfer Window Trophy this summer, we seem to have our attention on the long term, where the stone is setting nicely.
Don’t be surprised to see Klopp chip, chip, chip away until his masterpiece is revealed.
* This is a guest article for This Is Anfield by Harry McMullen. Follow Harry on Twitter, @mcmulhar.