Amidst a mid-season slump, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has little time to turn things around. Instead of looking towards the top and focusing on reeling in league leaders Chelsea, Klopp is now more concerned on keeping the Reds in the top 4.
With fatigue and defensive issues plaguing the Reds right now, here are three ways Klopp can get his side back on track:
Persist with the 4-4-2 diamond
Since top scorer Sadio Mané left for the African Cup of Nations in early January, Liverpool have lost their attacking prowess and dropped to 4th, ten points behind Chelsea. Klopp has to fill the right wing void – mainly by deploying Roberto Firmino or Daniel Sturridge there. However, both are better as a no.9 and both lack the type of blistering pace Mané possesses to make darting runs in behind opposition defences.
With such an important cog of Klopp’s 4-3-3 formation missing, he has turned to the 4-4-2 diamond in some recent games – with little success. However, amid accusations that Klopp doesn’t have a plan B right now, it might be good to persist with the 4-4-2 diamond right now and develop this much talked about plan B.
This formation would allow Klopp to avoid having to play either Firmino or Sturridge out of position on the right. The returning Philippe Coutinho can hopefully rekindle his partnership with his fellow Brazilian, while Sturridge, or Divock Origi, would be able to lead the line.
With Adam Lallana, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson supporting from midfield, the 4-4-2 diamond seems the perfect solution until Mané returns. However, the lack of width – which is also currently a problem with the 4-3-3 – would be even more of an issue in this formation.
Restore Moreno at left-back
Emre Can has been woefully out-of-form since his return from injury this season. As a back-up to Lallana and Wijnaldum, the German international has been too ponderous on the ball and lacks the offensive thrusts he was known for last season. Along with Liverpool’s lack of width, bringing in the much-maligned Alberto Moreno back into left full-back, thereby allowing James Milner to be deployed back into central midfield, could help Klopp solve a few issues right now.
The left-footed Spaniard, for all his defensive lapses, would instantly add more width to this Liverpool side, assuming he is tasked with overlapping rather than coming inside. His pace also helps stretch compact opposition defences laterally, allowing the likes of Coutinho, Lallana and Firmino that bit more room to manoeuvre in the centre of the park.
With Milner now an option in midfield, he would replace Can as deputy to Lallana and Wijnaldum, or even take the latter’s place and form an all-English midfield with Henderson. Another option could even be Milner at the base of the midfield, returning the skipper to his original, all-energetic, box-to-box role alongside the equally lively Lallana.
Milner’s versatility would translate into an added offensive edge to the Reds, as seen by his 11 assists in 28 league games last season compared to his 3 in 20 this year. The only problem with this potential solution is whether fans or Klopp would, on current form, prefer Can in midfield or Moreno at left-back.
Try out a 3-5-2/3-4-3 formation
This would be the unlikeliest of solutions for Klopp, and also a return to former manager Brendan Rodgers’ final tactical solution as Liverpool manager. Yet almost half the league using it, no less the league leaders, Klopp might want to at least consider it – at least until Mané returns.
Playing three at the back would facilitate the reintroduction of Moreno, although a left wing-back/winger role would actually suit Milner more than the Englishman’s current role. Some form of the attacking trident of Coutinho, Firmino and Sturridge/Origi in a 4-4-2 diamond would be replicated in a 3-4-3 (or 3-4-1-2). This would lessen the need for Can or Wijnaldum, as Henderson and Lallana would likely take the two remaining midfield spots.
With Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip taking their places in the back three, the last slot at left centre-back would – at the moment – go to Ragnar Klavan, just as well that the Estonian is left-footed. Yet this line-up could also pave the way for the return of Joe Gomez back to league action.
Having impressed at left-back for Rodgers prior to his long-term injury, Gomez could do a decent job at left centre-back and form a strong back three with Lovren and Matip.
Gomez’s versatility allows Klopp to easily switch back to a back four when need be. With left wing-back Milner coming inside to play in a midfield diamond with Henderson, Lallana and Coutinho, such unpredictability and ease at switching formations in-game could actually be that fluid plan B Klopp and all Reds fans crave right now.