Tuesday night’s Champions League clash against Rangers ended in a much-needed win for Liverpool.
It was a performance which saw them control the game from start to finish, resulting in 23 shots on goal whilst limiting their opponents to just six across the 90 minutes, but this game served as much more than just a Champions League win for the Reds.
There were many side-quests which were ticked off during the game, which bodes well for Liverpool’s future as they look to depart this train of misery in regards to recent results.
In what may have come as a shock to many, Jurgen Klopp opted to switch tactics for the first time in a while, deploying a 4-4-2 shape which came as a result of an inquest he conducted with assistant Pep Lijnders, following a three-match period that saw the Reds uncharacteristically concede eight goals.
It was a dramatic return to normality for Liverpool against Rangers, with central areas completely locked down in a compact 4-4-2 shape.
Klopp explained in his post-match press conference: “We wanted to defend differently to what we usually do. That’s why we set it up slightly different, closed different gaps.”
It was a set-up which highlighted the defensive ability – yes, defensive ability – of Trent Alexander-Arnold, who carried out a slightly different role.
The 4-4-2 shape required him to sit deeper, with his forward runs more conservative and unpredictable, and the 23-year-old earned plaudits from Klopp as a result, with the manager saying: “He played a good game, defensively especially, a wonderful goal. How I said, we set it up differently. We cannot talk about it every week, but Trent has no defensive problem; we had a defensive problem.”
This was certainly not just a case of Klopp defending his player. Alexander-Arnold was genuinely very solid at the back for the Reds, winning the most tackles in the match with three and also the most duels in the match with seven.
Speaking after his man-of-the-match performance, the 23-year-old admitted that the tactical alterations from Klopp “definitely helped” the Liverpool players, saying: “We went back to a bit more of a basic 4-4-2 and played it really well. We shifted across the pitch really well and we made it compact — they couldn’t play through us.
“They were playing a lot of long balls and stuff like that and we were winning the second balls. The change in tactics definitely helped us.”
It wasn’t just defending which was made easier for Liverpool; they were also more dangerous in their attacking efforts, with the likes of Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz all benefitting from the 4-2-4-esque transition which facilitated slick link-up play.
Overall, the compactness of the 4-4-2 suits Liverpool’s pressing style better than the usual 4-3-3, with space in the central areas completely cut off by the double-pivot and gaps in the wide areas denied by the positioning of the full-backs. Then of course, from an attacking sense, it allows for a much more obnoxious counterattack.
Klopp was impressed with this win, so it will be interesting to see if he opts to use the same setup against Arsenal on Sunday – on this evidence, it could certainly cause Mikel Arteta’s side problems.