Liverpool find themselves in a bit of a predicament heading into the first Premier League game of the 2023/24 campaign.
The Reds spent the entirety of pre-season using the system they adopted for the final 11 matches of the previous season, with Trent Alexander-Arnold inverting from his right-back role to form a double-pivot in midfield during the build-up phase.
The 3-2-2-3 shape helped them to seven consecutive wins during a 10-match unbeaten streak. Jurgen Klopp’s men averaged 2.7 goals per game after implementing this new shape and hit three or more goals in half of their outings. On the flip side to that, they did concede 15 goals at a rate of 1.5 per game and the opposition scored two or more in half of these games.
On one hand, the system seemed to help the Reds going forward but it didn’t necessarily plug the defensive issues that plagued Liverpool throughout the campaign. However, Klopp didn’t seem deterred by this having had his side adopt the same system throughout pre-season.
Despite having time to work on this new shape, the 2019/20 Premier League champions have looked just as chaotic. They scored 18 goals across their five friendlies but also conceded 11. Now, these games don’t count for much in the grand scheme of things but giving up two goals to Karlsruher SC, four to Furth, three to Bayern and one to Darmstadt is difficult to ignore. Especially when you consider how easily the opposition created chances and how busy Alisson was in a number of those games.
There was clearly a belief this system had potential though, it might just require a little patience as players adapt to it.
Klopp through a curveball in his post-match interview following the 3-1 win over Darmstadt.
"In the next five or six days we need to find a formation for the Chelsea game, not for the whole season."
These aren’t the words you expect to hear from your manager in the same week as the first Premier League game of the season. Klopp is almost famed for his stubbornness and here he is seemingly happy to try something new against Chelsea to kick off the new campaign.
In previous years, the German tactician has stuck with his preferred 4-3-3 shape even when he didn’t have the right personnel. A prime example of this is that Liverpool played a high defensive line with Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams at centre-back. It didn’t play to their individual strengths but if the Reds tweaked their shape for the centre-back pairing, it would have a knock-on effect on everyone else. The former BVB boss has always been an advocate of short-term pain in favour of long-term gain. He sticks with ideas so that players are able to get the repetitions in. Once they’ve done the same thing enough times, it becomes natural.
In this particular situation, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. So while it didn’t suit Philipps and Williams, the system suited everyone else in the starting lineup. This time around, however, it appears to be different.
Had Romeo Lavia been signed last week, it is unlikely he would’ve been in the starting XI for the away trip to Chelsea. In fact, any hope of the 19-year-old starting the first game of the season disappeared as soon as he wasn’t on Liverpool’s tour of Singapore.
So the Reds have had weeks to come up with a suitable short-term plan in the absence of a senior defensive midfielder, yet Klopp persisted with the 3-2-2-3 system. And now, heading into the season opener, he’s looking to potentially pivot away from this shape. This reactive approach isn’t one usually embraced by the German manager. Yes, at times last season, he changed the shape in a bid to stop a poor run of form, but that wasn’t based on the opposition. It was more a reaction to what was going on and the desire to just regain control of the situation.
Changing it up for Chelsea, having spent months working on a system and bedding new players into this system, is unlike Klopp. He’s never been a horses-for-courses type of coach who tinkers with things for certain opponents. He’ll make the odd tweak here and there against teams, but it is rare for him to change a system ahead of a match.
This is perhaps the clearest indicator that the club’s summer business hasn’t been what it should be.
With the window still open, there is time to right these wrongs but the club need to get a move on. This cannot be the norm moving forward for Liverpool.