Liverpool came agonisingly close to ending a 29-year championship drought last season.
Jurgen Klopp’s men tasted just one defeat as they went on to accumulate 97 points – a record total for a non-Premier League winner.
That sole narrow (2-1) loss came at title rivals Manchester City, who finished their 2018/19 campaign winning 14 on the bounce, which included five results by a 1-0 scoreline.
The Reds went on a stellar run themselves, picking up nine consecutive wins, and the general consensus is next season’s battle for supremacy will be contested between these super clubs.
It should come as no surprise given they are led by two of Europe’s most distinguished coaches. Pep Guardiola and Klopp, despite their differences when it comes to setting up their sides, are natural born winners and have galvanised – if not greatly improved – the institutions they preside over.
Both are tacticians of the highest order. Klopp, who prefers a high-octane style, has shaped Liverpool’s current squad in his own image. Their fast-paced never say die mindset catapulted them to a sixth European Cup success and in what has been a quiet summer there’s more to extract.
Subscribe to Squawka’s Youtube channel here.
Ahead of what is Klopp’s fourth full season, having joined shortly after the start of 2015/16, you can expect him to continue being creative. Although the affable German has settled on a preferred starting XI there’s riches beyond them.
It’s unlikely he’ll deviate from the 4-3-3 that’s served him well, but to call him narrow minded is a gross mischaracterisation, as someone whose proven to be flexible as well as adopting a pragmatic approach to problem solving – and treating every opponent with tremendous respect but not fearing them – there’s a guarantee Klopp will regularly change the shape of his team.
Considering their squad and formation options here are three ways Liverpool could lineup in a highly anticipated 2019/20 season.
The new classic
After starting life at Anfield in tentative fashion Klopp – who announced himself as one of Europe’s leading tacticians at Borussia Dortmund – has settled on his preferred system and personnel, though a number of positions are up for grabs. If we are being honest no fewer than seven players are guaranteed to start on a weekly basis as long as they are playing at their optimum level.
Four of them can be found in Liverpool’s back five – the Premier League’s current number one goalkeeper Alisson, colossal central defender Virgil van Dijk and their irresistible full-back pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson. Joining that quartet is Klopp’s ferocious front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane who between them have bagged 160 goals across the last two seasons in all competitions which accounts to 64% of Liverpool’s total output, is a staggering return that explicitly illustrates their overall importance as individuals.
The only question marks are who partners Van Dijk and who will make up the midfield trio. It’s hard to see beyond a fit and healthy Joe Gomez lining up alongside the PFA Players’ Player of the Year, in the few games they’ve featured there’s been an undeniable chemistry, but there’s strong competition from Joël Matip who turned his fortunes around towards the backend of last season. Given it is where games are won and lost Klopp has chopped and changed depending on the situation.
In their recent European Cup triumph he opted for a central triumvirate of Fabinho, playing just ahead of the backline, captain Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum who has transformed from a deep-lying forward into a formidable box-to-box ‘number eight’ since under Klopp’s tutelage. Again there are options with Fabinho, who is determined to become a pivotal figure next season, being the most under threat with the versatile James Milner and Naby Keita two credible options on the sideline.
Waiting in the wings
A team with grand ambitions cannot have a meagre squad. Liverpool, the reigning European champions, are hellbent on ending a 30-year championship wait next season as well as going all out to defend their newly acquired crown. With the Premier League transfer window set to close on August 8th, it’s fair to say Liverpool haven’t been overwhelmingly active.
Klopp has said goodbye to Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno but in turn welcomed Dutch central defender Sepp van den Berg from PEC Zwolle although he’s expected to be eased into their first team so will not yet be threatening Matip, Gomez et al. By adopting this ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality, Liverpool’s depth remains as last season, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being like a new signing. Though he could hypothetically fit into Klopp’s 4-3-3, the same could be applied to a 4-2-2-2, which the Reds occasionally played throughout last year.
This system, which sees two centre-forwards deployed, can theoretically relieve much of the burden on their stellar front three. Of course, it’s hard to see this being used in the marquee games, but there are matches where Liverpool can afford to mix things up. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Milner on the flanks provide that athleticism and work rate Klopp salivates about.
Sandwiched between them Keita and Adam Lallana have the wherewithal to seamlessly link up with promising youngster Rhian Brewster and new cult hero Divock Origi with the oft-forgotten Lallana, who became central to Klopp’s pressing game before enduring a state of injury troubles, is capable of operating as a number 10 if this system transforms into a 4-3-1-2. Behind them a string of new faces; Simon Mignolet in goal, Nathaniel Clyne (currently sidelined) and Dejan Lovren with left-back one particular area Liverpool can strengthen.
A compromise between the formations above is a 4-2-3-1 which Klopp utilised 10 times last season. Here there’s a clear distinction as well as the presence of a number 10, which cannot really exist in an orthodox 4-3-3 or 4-2-2-2, and there are several contenders for that spot with intelligent deep-lying forward Roberto Firmino the most viable candidate. He, of course has experience there, and can play off Salah – who’ll subsequently fill his ‘false nine’ role – with both proving to have a telepathic understanding.
This also means plenty of positional interchanging, and potentially with the other musketeer Mane, who goes into the season having enjoyed his most prolific campaign to date. This naturally means there’s a right-wing berth up for grabs: enter Xherdan Shaqiri, another squad member with something more to give. To be fair, the Swiss international seldom let Klopp down, a brace against fierce rivals Manchester United – ultimately leading to Jose Mourinho’s sacking – being a high point.
With an energetic frontline there needs to be cautious protection. A midfield double pivot needs to strike the right balance, not just uber-defensive or the other way around, considering the Reds lean towards a possession-based style having two box-to-box players – in the guise of Keita and Wijnaldum – could be a smart move; as one aligns himself near Firmino and Salah the other can float just behind. It’s also not a random pairing as both have worked together before.
As for the back five, the usual suspects plus whomever partners Van Dijk, in this case Matip whose ball-playing ability can be an asset especially as he can drop into midfield to maintain Liverpool’s shape. Having these options and the players who can put theory into practice effectively must give Klopp a good feeling. He is presently leading a club on the rise, they may not be favourites to sweep all before them, but if anyone can topple City they stand the best chance.