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How Jurgen Klopp’s next tactical evolution is already taking shape

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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.”
Michelangelo

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?

 

Tactics (briefly)

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

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 21, 2021: Liverpool's Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konaté during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Fortunately, recent signings and extensions have future proofed the squad moving forward.

Exciting prospect Ibrahima Konate (22) is primed to partner Premier League winner Joe Gomez (24) at the back.

Curtis Jones (20) already has goals in Europe and a title-winner’s medal, while Harvey Elliott (18) is now a full league debutant.

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

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 21, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp embraces Harvey Elliott after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Burnley FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

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.

This tactic actually debuted against Everton the week prior, and their deployment of James Rodriguez in a similar shape suggests a way of building around Harvey Elliott in the near future.

 

Sticking it to the Toffees

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 28, 2021: Liverpool's Harvey Elliott (L) and Chelsea's Marcos Alonso during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

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.

 

Missing pieces

NORWICH, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 14, 2021: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Norwich City FC and Liverpool FC at Carrow Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

While there’s clearly no rush to shift tactics, the likes of James Milner or Thiago may find themselves elsewhere by the time this team has ripened.

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:

However, this would necessitate a new right-back. While Liverpool have the likes of Neco Williams and Conor Bradley in reserve, the transfer market could be instructive here.

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

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 28, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp applauds the supporters after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

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.


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