THE Reds have scored 50 Premier League goals in 2016 — that’s more than any other side. 101 goals have been scored under Jürgen Klopp in 57 games, with 22 different scorers. Already this season Liverpool have hit four or more goals on three separate occasions.
You get the idea. This Liverpool side being built by Klopp is rapidly emerging as an attacking juggernaut. Goals win football matches and the goals are starting to flow at quite an alarming rate, from our rivals’ point of view. Even more encouraging is that fact that these numbers are coming from a wide spread of players, rather than one or two individuals. It is not inconceivable that Liverpool might have up to six players achieving double figures in goals this season.
To quote Bill Shankly: “A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.”
This analogy strikes me as rather appropriate when analysing the factors behind Liverpool’s attacking prowess. The attacking triumvirate of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge against Leicester was wickedly effective, and those three might be our most potent front three this season. Perhaps they are the ones who can play the metaphorical piano and do the business up front.
One of the emerging themes this season for Liverpool has been the new-look midfield shape, which is reflective of something almost unprecedented in English football until now. Klopp has utilised a 4-3-3 system so far this season, fielding Jordan Henderson as the “number six” at the base of the midfield, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana stationed as the more advanced midfielders.
It’s a tactical phenomenon we haven’t really seen before. Ostensibly, what we are seeing is the utilisation of two “number 10s” playing in central midfield. Pep Guardiola is doing a similar thing at Man City, with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva being used in midfield in front of a “controller” in Fernandinho.
When the starting line-up came out for the opening fixture against Arsenal, it was concerning to see such an offensive-minded midfield lacking balance and getting overrun at the Emirates. This looked to be the case for much of the first half until Philippe Coutinho’s free-kick changed the momentum of the contest in our favour.
What followed was a 25-minute period of exhilarating, high-octane attacking football which saw Liverpool blitz Arsenal’s defence into submission. Arsene Wenger’s side managed to pull two back soon after, but the damage had already been done in that devastating spell after the break during which the home side simply could not cope.
Liverpool have dominated every game since the trip to the Emirates. Admittedly, 81% possession against Burnley was not converted into goals, with the final ball eluding us against a side intent on shutting the game down after taking advantage of two sloppy defensive errors.
The Reds put five past Burton Albion in the League Cup before largely outplaying Spurs at White Hart Lane, with some profligate finishing costing us two points which would have been richly deserved given the level of performance. Our first home game of the season saw the reigning champions comprehensively annihilated, fortunate to escape Anfield having shipped *only* four goals.
Klopp has been keen to emphasise the importance of getting players into the box to maximise scoring opportunities, which has been reflected in his team selections so far this season. Lallana is currently playing at the highest level of his career to date, adding a thunderous strike against Leicester to his opening day goal against Arsenal, either side of his first international goal for England against Slovakia.
While many might have assumed that the arrivals of Wijnaldum and Mane would confine Lallana to the bench for much of this season, he looks to be a nailed on starter for Klopp and is flourishing in his new midfield role. His lack of pace is no longer a hindrance as it was when Lallana was fielded in the front three. He now has more time and space to effect the game, while his exceptional work ethic and pressing ability means he offers ample defensive balance to the midfield.
Wijnaldum, meanwhile, has been the subject of some scrutiny since arriving at Liverpool with questions over where he would fit into the team. Although he has played in a deeper role previously for Holland, Wijnaldum is naturally assumed to be more of an attacking midfielder, with his former coach Rafa Benitez describing his best position as “behind the striker”.
After a low-key start to life at Liverpool, Wijnaldum has been going about his business quietly but effectively, positioned in front of Henderson on the left side of the midfield trio, but not quite as advanced as Lallana on the right. The Dutchman picked up an assist for Lallana against Arsenal and repeated the favour against Leicester with his most impressive display of the season to date.
Wijnaldum offers the kind of pace and physicality which Joe Allen lacked last season, able to carry the ball forward from deep positions and drive past players with a burst of pace. He uses the ball intelligently too, with 85% passing accuracy and nine chances created this season (second only to Firmino in the Liverpool squad). Most notably, though, is the frequency with which Wijnaldum breaks into the box with surging runs from midfield, often finding himself as Liverpool’s most advanced player. He notched 11 goals for Newcastle last season as a result of getting himself into these areas and it is surely only a matter of time until he opens his account for Liverpool.
Perhaps, then, Wijnaldum could be more of a piano “carrier” for Liverpool, his contributions not quite as flashy as the rest but no less important to the functioning of the team.
With Henderson answering his critics with an outstanding display at the base of midfield against Leicester, there is a real cohesion developing in this unorthodox-looking Liverpool midfield. Klopp is looking to maximise Liverpool’s goal threat by having five attacking players as well as the full-backs pushing on ahead of the controlling midfielder.
This midfield is extremely mobile, capable of winning the ball back quickly and transitioning rapidly from defence into attack. The fact that it is not immediately obvious where Coutinho or Emre Can fit straight into the side speaks volumes about the quality and depth of options at Klopp’s disposal. If he decides to fit them back in, then he will have to drop some very good players. It’s a puzzle the manager will have to solve according to the occasion — it’s a great dilemma to have.
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