Just kidding. These definitely won’t be weekly because it’s nasty, brutish and short out here and the paper chase is a mother. That being said, a ten-match unbeaten run and some of the most balanced football Liverpool have played in years makes it a good time to restart these big story line reviews since they’re way more fun when we’re winning then when we’re not. Let’s dig into some of the overarching plotlines that have defined not just this past week of Reds football, but the entire season to date.
Fab Four (Slowly) Clicking Into Gear
Since their stilted debut in the 1-1 draw against Spartak Moscow in September, lineups including at least one of the Fab Four of Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino have smashed 47 goals in all competitons at a ridiculous rate of a goal per 50 minutes.
Although injuries have forced the Jürgen Klopp’s hand somewhat in his team selection — with Mané and the Brazilians missing matches against Newcastle, Manchester United, Maribor (twice), Tottenham, Huddersfield Town and West Ham — the German manager has chosen to keep opponents guessing by rolling out the prolific foursome together only sparingly when available.
Since September, the four have started together a mere three times, with the 50-year-old choosing to focus much of his rotation on the prized quartet, particularly in recent weeks. Late capitulations against the likes of Sevilla and Chelsea have also taught the 50-year-old valuable lessons such as that this “team of artists” isn’t quite built for holding leads.
By unleashing his most potent weapon in the biggest games and rotating them through the league fodder, Klopp has potentially pulled off a master stroke that will be pay out dividends by keeping the foursome fresh and preventing the second half collapse that derailed Liverpool’s 2016-17 campaign.
(Good lord, and what happens when Adam Lallana, arguably the most important cog in peak Klopp-ian Liverpool, finally returns to full fitness? What do you even call that lineup? Fast Five?)
Finally Answers For the Low Block?
Meanwhile, Liverpool suddenly appears as if they might be shedding their awful reputation for sputtering against compact, defensive teams mucking about at the bottom of the table. Reds sides in recent years have contented themselves with the moral victories of 2598% possession and a barrage of pot shots from outside the area stretching back to Brendan Rodgers’ time at the club.
No longer. In the tale of this season, the 4-1 humiliation at Tottenham nearly two months ago just might go down as the wake-up call and rallying cry that spurred the Klopp’s tactical mind into action and turned Liverpool’s campaign around.
How do you beat compact teams with 10 men behind the ball? Long balls over the top, set piece ruthlessness and devastating speed on the counter to punish lesser sides when they ill-advisedly venture into the attacking third.
A balanced Liverpool is a dangerous prospect indeed.
Klopp’s Newfound Flexibility
The credit for all of the above comes down to the German manager and his staff. In his now two year bedding-in period at Liverpool, it is sometimes easy forget that the two-time Bayern Munich slayer and Champions League finalist does in fact belong to the cadre of Galactico managers that play musical chairs amongst the elite clubs in Europe.
In the short time since the Wembley hiding, massive, wholescale changes have come into effect. The marauding full backs that had characterized the all out attack-mindedness of the past two seasons have been reined in to bring defensive balance against offensively potent sides. Formation and tactical flexibility tailored to each opponent has replaced adherence to a rigid interpretation of an identity. Substitutions come earlier in the game script following career-long criticism of Klopp for trusting his team sheet too much in the face of reality. Over-reliance on a favored XI at the root of the second half collapse of the 2016-17 campaign after an electric first half of the season has instead given way to more changes in the Premier League so far this term than any other manager, often four and five new names on the sheet from game to game.
The Normal One has turned a winger in James Milner into a full back, an #8 in Jordan Henderson into a classy #6 (before the injuries took hold), a #10 in Firmino to a #9, revived the careers of Alberto Moreno and Adam Lallana, absolutely knocked recruitment out of the park, somehow built the most devastating attack on the continent out of five attacking midfielders and an #8, and, in just over two years, has marched the floundering, second-least expensive squad in the top 6 back into league contention, two cup finals and the Champions League knockout rounds for the first time since 2009.
Sure, as passionate Reds fans, you are certainly free to criticize Jürgen Klopp for his stubbornness and occasional missteps. But then again, you could also shut up, sit back and just be happy this legend has chosen to bless Anfield with his presence.