MATCHDAY PROGRAMME

How Jurgen Klopp’s expert changes won the tie & kept Liverpool in 4 competitions

Jurgen Klopp helped mastermind Liverpool to another uplifting victory with his brilliant tactical awareness and squad management, with his decisions underpinning the FA Cup win.

“So [against] Arsenal, we will go all-in and we will see,” the manager proclaimed ahead of the trip to the Emirates, opting to go toe-to-toe instead of ringing the changes.

The Reds were second best to start, as per FotMob, they managed just two shots on goal in the first half compared to Arsenal‘s 13, in addition to their three big chances to Liverpool’s none.

Alan Shearer would lead you to believe Klopp’s side were lucky not to be “four or five” down at the break, while Mikel Arteta was adamant his side “deserved to win.”

What that discounts is the shrewd management from Klopp – personnel-wise and tactically – to help his side make the most of their opportunities in front of goal and leave with a 2-0 win.

 

A swap of roles at the break

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 7, 2024: Liverpool's Harvey Elliott during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

  • Elliott, from right wing to midfield; Gakpo, midfield to centre-forward

It was intriguing that Cody Gakpo was selected ahead of Ryan Gravenberch in midfield to begin with, perhaps speaking louder of the latter’s recent performances.

Nevertheless, the No. 18 was not exactly setting the world alight and his proclivity to roaming forward left Alexis Mac Allister with plenty of space to cover alongside Curtis Jones.

Harvey Elliott, meanwhile, took his place on the right wing in the absence of Mohamed Salah and showed promise, but could not quite unlock the attack as the Reds struggled to be cohesive across the pitch.

Half-time then arrived and the team came out with Gakpo shifting to the central role up top, with Darwin Nunez to his left and Luis Diaz to his right, as Elliott dropped back into midfield.

“We changed things around at half-time, internally, and we came out and played football, created our chances. The change of system really made an impact for us,” Trent Alexander-Arnold assessed at full time.

What it did was inject pace into both attacking flanks and allow space behind Arsenal to be attacked, making for more direct play and control in the midfield.

 

Pre-planned subs just before the hour

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 7, 2024: Liverpool's Luis Díaz (3rd from R) celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. Liverpool won 2-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

  • SUBS (59′): Mac Allister, Gakpo OFF; Gravenberch, Jota ON

From the first tweak after half-time, Liverpool looked increasingly more in control and between minutes 50 and 56, the Reds had four shots on goal – double what they managed in the entirety of the first half.

None would end up on target, but questions were finally asked of Arsenal in their defensive third, which Nunez contributed to by creating one-on-one moments.

Just before the hour, Klopp made his first two changes of the night. They appeared very much pre-planned, but it saw a tiring Alexis Mac Allister replaced, plus fresh legs injected up top with Diogo Jota.

The right changes at just the right time, as intensity increased Klopp turned to two of his most experienced players from a bench with an average age of 20.4 years.

Both Gravenberch and Jota had an influence on proceedings, the former was clever to win the free-kick that led to the opening goal and the latter, of course, set up Diaz to make it 2-0.

“Staying in a game that looked in the first half like that, then growing into a game, is a pretty special thing to do,” Klopp said after the win.

 

2 youngsters and Trent into midfield

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 7, 2024: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates their side's openimg goal during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

  • SUBS (75′): Jones, Elliott OFF; Clark, Bradley ON
  • Trent moves to base of midfield

This change occurred while it was still 0-0 and with a replay on the cards, you would not be alone in thinking Klopp’s move to introduce two youngsters was conducive to going for Arsenal‘s throat.

The manager clearly had others ideas, as moving Alexander-Arnold into the No. 6 role sparked Liverpool into life as both teams moved to try and clinch the all-important goal.

Twenty-year-old Conor Bradley played wisely at right-back, winning both ground duels he contested while keeping Gabriel Martinelli quiet with the help of his captain.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 7, 2024: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold (R) and team-mates celebrates their side's openimg goal during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“I just tried to force him inside,” Bradley later explained. “As soon as I came on, Trent told me just force him [Martinelli] inside and he’ll be there to cover me.”

Bobby Clark, 18, proved just as tidy, he was instructed to “do my defensive jobs well and be myself on the ball,” which was proven with his timely tackle on Declan Rice in the latter stages.

Finishing the match with a midfield of Gravenberch, Alexander-Arnold and Clark, the Reds overpowered the Gunners in the end thanks to Klopp’s tactical tweaks and timely substitutions.

 

Not just a one-game thing

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 7, 2024: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates after the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. Liverpool won 2-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp’s squad management has been a stick to beat him with in the past, but he has expertly utilised those available to him throughout the season, both within games and from match to match.

This FA Cup tie was a good example.

The manager had voiced how taxing Liverpool’s schedule was throughout the festive period but with a winter break now within reach, he can somewhat afford to push the squad for the next two games.

And he can do so knowing he will maximise his bench. At Arsenal, he made four changes – the same as Arteta, but the difference is the Gunners boss made three from minute 81 onwards, when already 1-0 down.

Klopp, conversely, injected fresh legs when the game was there to be won. On average this season across all competitions, he is using 4.3 substitutions per game, using the full five on 13 occasions.

Injuries and suspension have not always meant Liverpool have an experienced bench, but that has not stopped Klopp from managing his squad accordingly and tweaking systems and tactics to best suit who he has on the pitch.

A word of credit to Pepijn Lijnders, too, with Klopp tipping a hat to his assistant for the Mac Allister for Wataru Endo swap that helped inspire the 4-2 win over Newcastle.

That the Reds are still competing in four competitions is a testament to how Klopp has overseen Liverpool 2.0, and that will remain the case as he manages all the games still to come.

Anyone up for another 60-plus game season?