The transfer window has closed, Liverpool’s squad for the 2016-17 season has been set, and there will be no further changes, at least until January. Four games have been played, and we now know that the 4-3-3 was not simply a reaction to the players Jürgen Klopp had available to him at the start of pre-season.
No, despite a reliance on the 4-2-3-1 at Mainz and at Dortmund and in his first months at Liverpool Football Club, Klopp appears to have switched primary formations this season. The most obvious reasons are found in one new signing and one returning player who appears to be one of Klopp’s favourites in the squad.
The move to the 4-3-3 gives Klopp an extra place in the starting eleven where newcomer Gini Wijnaldum or Adam Lallana—a player who it is clear is to Klopp what Dirk Kuyt was to Rafa Benitez a few years ago—can be slotted in, even if he doesn’t score as often as the fans would like.
We may have Henderson narrowly beating out Wijnaldum in Klopp’s best eleven right now, but the reality so far this season has been that Henderson and not Stewart has been first choice back-up to Can at DM. And Wijnaldum is likely to be preferred in one of the wide roles to Ings. Most weeks, both Wijnaldum and Henderson will start.
More generally, the shift to the 4-3-3 means that there are four positions Wijnaldum could play in rather than three. The same is true for Lallana, and likely also for Philippe Coutinho, though both appear clear first choice at their current positions. For Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino higher up the pitch, there is also flexibility.
Klopp favours both attacking players, and both seem capable of filling any role in the attacking band. So far, though, it has been Firmino who has become the surprise first choice striker—though in a false nine role, or perhaps as a playmaking lone ten, and in either case relying on Mané to regularly run beyond him from wide.
There are of course losers in this reshuffle. Henderson is competing with Wijnaldum and Lallana rather than clear first choice to partner Can as wold be the case in a double-pivot. Firmino’s role leading the line has led to all sorts of hand-wringing about what happens to Daniel Sturridge. And even a tactical reshuffle couldn’t make room in midfield for James Milner.
Milner is now the club’s starting left back, a position he admits he’s still learning. And it’s a move at least in part to shore up a problem position. But it’s also a move in part to make sure Klopp’s vice-captain doesn’t start on the bench every week, which would almost certainly be the case were he not currently playing at left back.
Things will likely change as the season unfolds. They always do. At the very least, Loris Karius will be back soon. But right now, this is where things stand. Firmino leading the line at Sturridge’s expense. Wijnaldum and Henderson as close as it gets to being a toss-up in midfield. And, for now at least, an embrace of the 4-3-3.