Written by @9_false
Notice: This piece was originally published on October 9
Default Starting 11 & Formation
Jurgen Klopp has opted to deploy a narrow 4-3-2-1 system this season, a formation which served him well during his earlier months as Liverpool manager. It was the system that Klopp used in his first match in charge of the Reds away to Tottenham and in the big victories at Manchester City and Chelsea.
In net, Loris Karius has all but cemented his number one spot at Anfield, with Simon Mignolet demoted to the bench. Klopp has preferred a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, summer signing Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren and James Milner so far this term, with Jordan Henderson ahead of them. An unfamiliar role to him, Henderson has been deployed as the deepest Liverpool midfielder, tasked with breaking up opposition play and starting Liverpool attacks, winged by a duo of effortless running and excellent workrate in Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana. A front three of Sadio Mane, Phillipe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino has proved deadly, with Klopp encouraging slick interplay between the trio. A tactical move used by Klopp in those wins at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge last season, Firmino has almost surely cemented his false nine role.
The importance of the full-backs
Liverpool’s attacking narrowness, which I will come back to later in this post, means that neither Mane nor Coutinho occupy wide positions. Firmino, operating as a false nine, has the licence to move into wide positions, as do Coutinho and Mane, but neither are deployed as out-and-out wingers. The Reds’ width comes predominantly from the full-backs in Clyne and Milner, and their importance is huge.
In the still above, the Liverpool midfield is narrow and creating a central overload while Milner and Clyne are both very high up the pitch. This creates more passing options for the man in possession, Wijnaldum in the still above, and provides Liverpool with some much-needed width.
With Clyne priced at £5.5m in Fantasy Premier League, and Milner a non-option due to being classified as a midfielder and thus reverse OOP, I am seriously considering him. Such is the manner in which Coutinho and Mane occupy the left and right half-spaces, Clyne becomes a right winger when Liverpool are in possession. The onus is on the England right-back to provide the width and the whole of the right flank is left to him to drive into the space as Mane is tucked infield.
The image above compares Clyne’s touch map in the Premier League match against Leicester City and that of Antonio Valencia against Manchester City. Clyne’s attacking output is considerably greater, but the right-back’s fantasy potential is somewhat dented by Liverpool’s inability to keep clean sheets so far. However, Klopp’s men have conceded the least shots per game in the league this season, which points to imminent clean sheets, even more so given Liverpool’s enticing fixture schedule.
Liverpool’s attacking prowess
With Firmino operating as a false nine, Coutinho occupying the left half-space, Mane the right half-space, Lallana and Wijnaldum providing further attacking intent in the midfield and Clyne and Milner marauding down the flanks, it is no surprise that Liverpool have scored the joint most goals this season, with 18.
This ensures Liverpool attack all 5 vertical columns: the wide left, the left half space, the centre, the right half space and the wide right.
Essentially, with Firmino dropping deep to fulfil his false nine duties, Liverpool have six in midfield – a significant central overload. The movement between the front three of Firmino, Coutinho and Mane, complimented excellently by the late runs of Lallana and Wijnaldum, wreaks havoc into opposition defences.
As such, the Liverpool midfielders have become must-haves in Fantasy Premier League, most prominently Firmino, Coutinho, Mane and Lallana. Although Lallana offers a great value option, I prefer Firmino, Coutinho and Mane as more reliable options for returns.
The purpose of a system like a 4-3-2-1 is to overload the central areas and thus create goalscoring opportunities and press the opposition. Klopp’s style is somewhat similar to that of Tottenham counterpart Mauricio Pochettino and perhaps even Pep Guardiola at Man City, who both instil attacking narrowness into their respective sides with the intention of overloading the central areas.
The still above is taken from Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of champions Leicester, in which Daniel Sturridge started with Mane and Firmino the two behind him. Notice the space both Mane and Firmino are in, albeit courtesy of Leicester’s disorganised defensive block. As Mane and Firmino are tucked very infield, Leicester’s full-backs have also tucked narrow. This affords Clyne (far right in the still) a wealth of space in which to attack and drive into.
Liverpool, when in possession, morph into something resembling a 2-3-5. Matip and Lovren the two, Henderson-Lallana-WIjnaldum the three, and Clyne-Mane-Firmino-Coutinho-Milner the five. This, however, depends on how high up the attacking third both Lallana and Wijnaldum are.
Impact of summer signings
It is a mystery as to why Klopp opted away from the 4-3-2-1 last season, and to a 4-2-3-1 system shorn of attacking fluency, despite it having served him so well in some memorable encounters. Perhaps the German felt he did not have the right personnel to execute the system aptly and sought to address those issues in the summer transfer window.
Joel Matip, signed on a free from Schalke, could turn out to be the signing of the season come the term’s end. Good in the air but also very comfortable on the ball, the Cameroonian enables Liverpool to play out from the back and aides the Reds’ build up play.
In this instance we see the clear benefits of having defenders that are sufficiently competent in possession to bring the ball out from the back.
Joel Matip has the ball on the left hand side of the defence and he is under a reasonable amount of pressure.
The pass that Matip plays cuts out six Leicester players and finds a team mate who has moved in to space between the midfield and defence. By cutting through the defensive lines in this manner you are giving yourself a great chance to create an overload in the final third against the opponents defence.
Mane has added a direct and aggressive threat to Liverpool’s play through his pace and movement, adapting wonderfully to Klopp’s demands. Although the most expensive Fantasy option of all Liverpool midfielders, the Senegalese promises returns. Wijnaldum ticks all the boxes for a box-to-box midfielder – work rate, running, dribbling and incisive passing from deep.