There’s five to ten minutes left in a match, Liverpool are leading, and Jürgen Klopp is looking to shore up the defensive structure of his side to ensure the win. One of the taller players in a red shirt rises from Klopp’s bench, a defender, ready to get all sorts of defensive.
Klopp has deployed this third centre-back many times to give his team a durable, tactical advantage in the dying embers of a match. Being a defender, Joël Matip has first-hand experience with switching to this three-at-the-back formation and admits that it took some getting used to at first. But such is the confidence now that the German centre-back believes Liverpool could even start a match in this way if the manager so wished.
“Normally I would say it always helps to have another centre-back on who helps with the defence, who has defending in his mind, to give more solidity in the last few minutes, but of course you also have to adapt to the situation.
“We have done this a few times now though so it is no longer a new situation for the players on the pitch to deal with.
“Maybe the manager will start with three at the back if a certain situation requires it, or it fits well for a game. I don’t know, but it’s an opportunity that maybe we will use.”
Liverpool’s wily and constantly fluctuating attacking players gives a sense that sides of the pitch don’t matter and that players can swap positions at will throughout a match. And while that’s always a possibility the further up the field you go, the defensive positions remain fairly resolute.
But when a third centre-back is introduced there’s always going to be a bit of a shake up. Somebody’s got to slide over and command a different space. Matip, Virgil van Dijk, Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan have all been given a crash course in being subbed on late to lock the game down.
“It is the same position but not the same position, if you know what I mean,” Matip said.
“If you have to play more on your right or more on your left, it is not the biggest difference, but it is different so you must adapt.
“In my time as a center-back, although not here, I have played in both positions really often and maybe I prefer the right, but I also played on the left for a few years so I feel comfortable and confident in both positions.”
Jürgen Klopp likes options. And Liverpool now have a flexible group of central defenders that the manager can call upon. Individual ability is up for debate down the line of these defenders but collectively Klopp has coached both a resilience and an adaptability into every position on the pitch. This is good.