Liverpool’s ‘heavy metal’ Fab Four boasting both Firmino AND Jota will be stunning when it comes off… but it could prove a liability if Klopp’s engine runs out of steam without Van Dijk
- Jurgen Klopp was faced with dilemma over whether to drop Roberto Firmino
- Diogo Jota’s hot form and six goals in four games offered strong case to start
- But Klopp surprised everyone by playing ‘Fab Four’ in clash with Man City
- It created a high intensity opening that City found difficult to cope with
- Liverpool were only able to score one goal and energy levels eventually sapped
- In the end, City claimed a 1-1 draw and Liverpool’s 4-2-4 was a qualified success
It was a gloriously cavalier way to deal with a genuine dilemma.
Ahead of the toughest assignment of the Premier League season, Jurgen Klopp was forced to choose between the established but slightly off-colour Roberto Firmino and the fresh, firing and exciting Diogo Jota.
Break up the trio of Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah that had won Liverpool the Champions League and Premier League in consecutive seasons to shoehorn in a newcomer who had scored six goals in four matches?
The scoring form of Diogo Jota gave Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp a dilemma ahead of Sunday’s trip to Manchester City – should he replace Roberto Firmino in the front three?
In the end, Klopp went with both Firmino and Jota in an adventurous set-up with four attackers
In the end, Klopp’s bold gamble was a partial success as Liverpool drew with Guardiola’s City
That’s not how the Liverpool manager operates. Far better to add a fourth prong to your trident and see what happens.
To do so away to Manchester City, the side expected to push Liverpool hardest in this season’s title race, was an incredibly audacious move by Klopp.
His gamble was, in the end, a partial success. Liverpool came away with a point that could ultimately prove valuable and as we enter the November international break they sit just a point off the top.
City, meanwhile, are 10th as the guns are lowered for a little while.
Liverpool’s formation shapeshifted between a 4-4-2, a 4-2-3-1 and an alluring 4-2-4, even becoming a 3-5-2 on occasion when one of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andrew Robertson surged forward.
The tactical dexterity of Klopp’s side saw them maul City for the opening half-hour but also ensure the game didn’t turn into a basketball match once legs became tired in the second-half.
Liverpool’s electrifying start to the game led to Kyle Walker fouling Sadio Mane for a penalty
Mohamed Salah tucked away the spot-kick and is congratulated by Roberto Firmino
After Kevin De Bruyne slid a penalty wide, Liverpool just about had enough in defence to come away with the draw.
Had they been exposed and lost heavily, Klopp may well have shelved the Salah-Mane-Firmino-Jota experiment, never to be seen again.
As it was, the German hinted afterwards that we will see the ‘Fab Four’ perform again, regarding it as a qualified success.
‘When you can do it against City then you can do it against other teams as well. It will not be our new, all-the-time formation, but there are moments when we might use it,’ he said.
Klopp’s point is a fair one. If you can deploy such a bold set-up against City and come away with something, then surely it can be used successfully against lesser teams.
But Gabriel Jesus was able to equalise for City once they’d recovered from their slow start
City’s Kevin De Bruyne rolled a penalty wide of the post as the Etihad showdown ended 1-1
After all, quite a few opponents in the Premier League would have crumbled when put under the kind of pressure Liverpool exerted in the opening 10-15 minutes.
This was Klopp’s ‘heavy metal football’ taken to its extreme, the intensity of Liverpool’s play early on dizzying City’s players and forcing them to retreat.
It wasn’t quite as dazzling as the three goals in nine minutes early in the second half to go 4-1 ahead against City in January 2018, a game Liverpool ultimately won 4-3 to inflict a first league loss of the season on Guardiola.
But it did yield a 13th-minute penalty which Salah converted and left City rattled.
Guardiola said his pre-match preparations had included the possibility that Liverpool would line up with four attackers – you’d expect a manager of such calibre to anticipate every possibility – but even he was left staring into space as his side were smothered early on.
Pep Guardiola and his side looked genuinely rattled by Liverpool’s fast start to the match
Trent Alexander-Arnold was encouraged to get forward at every opportunity for Liverpool
But after picking up an injury, Alexander-Arnold was forced off and Liverpool settled for a draw
But it was never sustainable for the whole 90 minutes and Klopp knew it.
To continue the ‘heavy metal’ analogy, the start of Sunday’s game was the grungy chaos of the mosh pit with the adrenaline soaring at each guitar riff as the band works through its classics.
By the end, you’re knackered, soaked in sweat, bleeding and keen to get out ahead of the crowds.
It was always going to be too much to ask of Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum to keep City’s attack at bay, not to mention a defence missing Virgil van Dijk.
So it proved. Liverpool’s intensity slowly faded, Gabriel Jesus restored parity before the lucky escape of De Bruyne’s penalty miss following a Gomez handball. By the end, there was a happy acceptance of the draw.
The formation put pressure on midfielders Jordan Henderson (left) and Georginio Wijnaldum (right) to work hard and ensure City couldn’t counter-attack
The injury Virgil van Dijk suffered at Everton makes playing this formation risky for Liverpool
A map showing the average positions of the Liverpool team revealed how the system worked with Mane and Jota tasked with performing greater midfield duties than normal.
Firmino and especially Salah were the more advanced of this quartet of forwards and what is notable is that Alexander-Arnold essentially occupied the position of a winger on the right before he was forced off through injury on 63 minutes.
James Milner came on for him and Liverpool seemed content with their lot.
Liverpool had a habit a couple of years ago of blowing teams away in the first 20 minutes, racking up two or three goals with intense starts.
They scored once against City but this attacking quartet could easy establish a commanding, match-winning lead with such an explosive opening in most games.
Liverpool were content enough with a draw at their title rivals but the system could be used again in the future. Many lesser teams than City could be overwhelmed by the 4-2-4
The drawback comes when they fail to do so. Once energy levels sag, Liverpool may find themselves in trouble after half-time if only 1-0 ahead.
To this end, it was little surprise to hear Klopp calling for the return of five substitutes in the Premier League post-match.
The ability to bring on fresh legs around the hour mark, essentially creating a second wind, would be incredibly useful for Liverpool.
The absence of Van Dijk for the season also makes the 4-2-4 system more fraught with risk than it might otherwise be.
If Liverpool knew they had Van Dijk’s leadership and anticipation of danger at the back, their forwards and wing-backs could push forward more often.
Klopp is annoyed that the five substitutes allowing post-restart last season was scrapped
As it is, a vulnerability remains that may see Liverpool’s new ‘Fab Four’ used in tandem only on special occasions or when chasing a game.
Also, it’s no longer a secret weapon. City were undoubtedly the best team to spring this surprise on but future opponents facing Liverpool may well devote six or seven men to thwarting it and prove difficult to break down.
As much as we’d love to see the free-wheeling, free-scoring spirit of this Premier League season embodied every week by its reigning champions, Klopp will eventually have to make that tough call on whether to drop Firmino for Jota.
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