At the end of pre-season, it wasn’t clear whether Jürgen Klopp would stick with his favoured 4-2-3-1 or switch to the 4-3-3 that had been regularly trotted out for the summer’s friendlies. By the time the transfer window closed, it seemed clear 4-3-3 was to be the formation of choice for the 2016-17 Premier League season.
There were still more than a few questions. Now, though, Klopp’s favoured starting eleven seems fairly established. We now know that Roberto Firmino is his first choice to lead the line. Adam Lallana has shed any lingering question marks in midfield and established himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet—Klopp’s Dirk Kuyt.
In goal, despite a shaky return from a hand injury, Loris Karius looks set to be given the chance to grow through any nerves as he seeks to establish himself as Liverpool’s long-term answer in goal. In fact, it increasingly appears that there is only one real question, and that question is where exactly Emre Can fits in this season.
The assumption heading into the season was that he would be Liverpool’s top defensive midfielder; he would be Klopp’s anchor. In the 4-3-3, though, Klopp’s anchor has needed to stay more positionally responsible than Can has so far shown he likes to be—and far more responsible than he had to be with cover in the 4-2-3-1 last year.
And while Can has been out injured, Jordan Henderson has grown in confidence in the role. The captain has become an increasingly steadying and responsible presence from deep, one of Klopp’s three defensive players in an exceptionally attacking lineup that asks the fullbacks to act as wingers or midfielders more than defenders.
At times, Liverpool have looked more 3-4-3 than 4-3-3, with Henderson taking on a modern libero, or sweeper, role when they have the ball. He steadies, switches play, and drops deeper than the two centre halves before stepping up to build the attack. When given opportunity, he charges forward to contribute to a central overload.
It’s not a true 3-4-3, perhaps, as out of possession Henderson is still far more holding midfielder than defender and, when given time to re-set, Liverpool do drop back into a fairly conventional four-man back line. Yet it’s a tweak to the approach that has given Henderson a role to grow into and makes Can’s future hard to peg.
For the time being, then, we’re answering the Can question by slotting him in further forward—having him back up Wijnaldum, at least until time and Jürgren Klopp’s matchday decisions prove something else is in the works. Elsewhere, though, things mostly remain unchanged. Clearly, Klopp’s 4-3-3 is now here to stay.