Is it time Liverpool reverted back to 4-3-3?

Liverpool's squad at the beginning of this season is much-changed from the one that started the 2022/23 campaign.

But with the change in personnel, is it time for Jurgen Klopp to reconsider the effectiveness of his new system?

By any metric imaginable, Liverpool's 2022/23 season was a huge disappointment. At times, there was no creativity, the defence leaked goals, and the once formidable Jurgen Klopp side was beginning to lose its fear factor.

This was the case for the large majority of the season, baring a few highlights (it would be rude not to acknowledge the 7-0 trouncing of Manchester United). However, towards the business end of the campaign, the Reds did enjoy a turn in form.

Liverpool went unbeaten in their final 11 fixtures, winning seven, drawing the other four, and scoring 27 goals along the way (an average of 2.4 goals per game).

It is no coincidence that this run of form coincided with Klopp parting ways with his traditional 4-3-3 and trying his luck with a 3-box-3 formation that brought Pep Guardiola so much joy last season.

It was a system that fit the needs and circumstances of the squad that season.

However, with the makeup of the team changing immeasurably since then, many fans have been questioning whether it's time to revert back to the staple 4-3-3 that has brought the club so much success under Klopp.

An Anfield Watch's Twitter poll revealed that 71.1% of more than 7,000 fans would opt to change back if given the chance.

WHAT IS A 'BOX MIDFIELD'?

The idea is simple – when defending, Liverpool's 4-3-3 formation remains largely untouched. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson play as full-backs, in-between a pair of centre-halves and just behind a midfield three.

When in possession however, the system changes. Robertson drops into a left-centre back role and Alexander Arnold becomes inverted to play in a double-pivot with another defensive midfielder, creating a box in the middle of the park with the two more offensively-minded midfielders ahead of them.

In principle, this is a tactic that can serve Liverpool well, and it certainly caught opposition teams off guard last season. Alexander-Arnold operates as the extra man in the midfield and is able to use his creativity and passing range to control the game.

ISSUES WITH THE SYSTEM

So what is the problem? The issue for Liverpool is not the system itself, but the personnel they have deploying it. With the transfer window creeping closer and closer to deadline day, Liverpool look unlikely to recruit another defender.

If Liverpool are to stick with playing three at the back in possession, this is incredibly risky because while Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate are perfectly capable of playing with extra responsibility, and have the recovery pace to combat counter-attacks, the same can't be said for every defender at the club.

No one doubts the quality that centre-back deputisers Joe Gomez and Joel Matip have but, as Danny Corcoran wrote for Anfield Watch recently, the pair are prone to mistakes and the new system simply doesn't allow for error. With fewer men behind the ball during counter-attacks, almost every mistake or lack of pace likely results in a goal.

That's without even considering Andrew Robertson. The Scotsman has been, and remains, one of the best left-backs in the world, and as well as being a solid defender, much of his plaudits have been because of his forward-thinking, his attacking runs and the fact that he has the most assists by a defender in Premier League history.

They are incredibly useful attributes in the old system, but Robertson's attacking nature often leaves the left side of Liverpool's defence incredibly exposed when the team is caught in possession.

Another potential issue is that the new system's use of advanced number 10s, means Mohamed Salah is pushed a lot wider than the Egyptian would normally like.

While this isn't necessarily a 'problem' – Salah is picking up a lot more assists and Liverpool are still in free-flowing scoring form – having your most lethal goalscorer further away from the goal is not ideal.

READ MORE: Andy Robertson – Liverpool's weak link or unfair scapegoat?

SHOULD LIVERPOOL REVERT TO 4-3-3

Perhaps the most obvious reason to revert back to the tried and tested 4-4-3 would be if Liverpool, as expected, fail to sign a centre-back that fits in with the new system before the transfer window slams shut, as previously discussed.

However, another reason is that Liverpool have successfully provided some much-needed creativity to the centre of the park with the signings of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai.

Having Alexander-Arnold occupy more central areas was vital when the club was lacking midfield creativity - he was able to find the right pass and unpick defences without as much defensive responsibility, especially when considering Henderson had started to lose the ability to effectively cover for the scouser when he did bomb forward at right-back.

© Proshots - Trent Alexander-Arnold

Not only are Mac Allister and Szoboszlai incredibly creative from the middle of the park, but they are both young pressing machines, who can adequately provide cover for the full-backs alongside Liverpool's starting defensive midfielder (most likely Wataru Endo) when required.

This would allow Liverpool to once again get the best out of Robertson on the left-flank, and Alexander-Arnold's dangerous pin-point crosses from the right could get the likes of Darwin Nuñez, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz scoring even more goals.

Plus, with the right-flank occupied, it would allow Salah to re-take a position much closer to goal, which will always be a good thing.

Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses, but perhaps with the players at Klopp's disposal at Liverpool, reverting back to 4-3-3 wouldn't be such a bad thing?

YOUR THOUGHTS

Liverpool's formation is clearly a big talking point, with a range of differing opinions.

Twitter (or X, we should say) user @LaBrioche440 raises a good point in favour of sticking with the 3-box-3 formation. Just like any system, it takes time for players to adapt, and perhaps it isn't that Liverpool don't have the personnel to play the formation, but certain players are taking longer than others to adapt?

Alexander-Arnold himself has admitted his love for the midfield position and he certainly performs well there. With time and practise, Liverpool could completely build around their vice-captain in the centre of the park.

Liverpool fan @hossamborto, however, completely disagrees with Liverpool's use of the new system and suggests it is taking the club away from what made it so successful under Klopp.

When you think of Liverpool at their absolute best, the team utilised 'gegenpressing', hunting the ball back as a team and exposing the opposition from the flanks.

Is this new system too much about trying to emulate the success of other sides, and not enough about doing what Liverpool do best?

However, the most likely answer to Liverpool's formation dilemma is flexibility.

As stated by @Adulttel in response to the poll, both systems can be useful and may serve Liverpool well in different situations.

Against opposition where the Reds are likely to dominate the ball, why not have Alexander-Arnold overloading the midfield? He's excellent at it.

However, in the harder games, where Liverpool come up against tougher midfields and are expected to have less of the ball, reverting back to a more defensively solid 4-3-3 could be the best solution.

Like anything in football, balance is key and getting the squad in a position where it can utilise either system depending on the opposition could be the key to further success.

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