After struggling to start the 2022-23 season, with too many dropped points and poor performances, Liverpool ran out against Rangers on Tuesday night with a new formation—one they’d had just one session to prepare.
A change seemed needed and wasn’t surprising. With many pointing to midfield—and its impact on defensive surety—as the problem area, what was somewhat surprising was that the change was to remove a midfielder and add a forward.
The result was something of a 4-4-2 that, due to personnel, looked an awful lot like a 4-2-4 for most of the night, with widemen Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz mostly staying high up the pitch. Regardless, the result was improvement.
“It had a little bit to do with the game but not too much,” manager Jürgen Klopp explained following the 2-0 Champions League victory over Scotland’s Rangers. “It was for us, we wanted to defend differently to what we usually do.”
In a game in which midfield control is needed an extra forward who mostly stays high up the pitch might not be the answer, but that control wasn’t needed against Rangers and what the switch did was the shift the defensive angles.
Defending against Rangers, especially on the break, it meant that the Reds had two flat midfielders tasked with screening the defence rather than a single pivot as primary screen flanked by a pair of eights tasked with dropping back.
“We set it up slightly different, closed different gaps,” Klopp said of Tuesday’s addition by subtraction. “We knew the left of Rangers is the creative side, so that was the part that had to do with the game, but apart from that [it was about us].”
The real test, for Klopp and potentially this new system they will now have a few days to drill if it’s to be a permanent solution, will come next when the Reds take on an in-form Arsenal in a game where midfield control seems likely be key.