The Stoke Match – An Experiment
Playing three games in a week can tell you a lot about the current state of a football club. Squad depth has been an issue plaguing Liverpool all season and it was in full-view against Stoke on Saturday. Having chosen to line up his team in the 3-5-2 formation they concluded the Bournemouth match with, Jurgen Klopp named a much changed side. Ben Woodburn and Trent Alexander-Arnold made rare Premier League starts, while star men Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino were on the bench.
In the buildup to Saturday’s clash with Stoke Klopp had spoken about his side’s needed change of mentality,
“That is how most of the teams are playing against us – to defend as good as possible and then use the situations to create with this. That is how we will play, 100%.”
The intent was something that supporters have been calling for since the Reds big dip in form in January, with some questioning whether the German had a “plan B” for when the ‘heavy-metal’ football wasn’t cutting the mustard. The reality was much different. The first forty-five minutes against Stoke was disjointed and disorganized. Not only did they not defend well, but the attacking verve that has saved Liverpool time and again this season was also gone. The introduction of Firmino and Coutinho addressed the former, but did little to fix the latter. Admittedly, Klopp divulged the fact that the team had no time to practice the new formation before kickoff.
Final Run In – The Test
The defensive issues that Liverpool have endured this season have been both troubling and baffling. More than once Klopp has expressed his utter amazement at how reckless his back-line can be, but has yet to find a clear-cut solution to the problem. Some cite the lack of a solid center back partnership, or the pace of James Milner at left back, or the confidence issues spread by Simon Mignolet — but the reality is much more ingrained and less tangible.
In the six matches that remain this season Liverpool have to opportunity to rid themselves of the mistakes that have dogged them and try to find a way to beat the remaining opponents that have. The future depends on these results and more long-term planning can take a back-seat to pragmatism. If the Stoke match is any indication of Klopp’s intent, defending first will be the attitude he’ll want his team to adopt.
Summer Recruitment – The Solution
Given the woeful defensive display seen too many times this past year, Klopp will be looking to add not just depth, but quality to his squad this summer. Past summers have seen numerous attempts at developing a “plan B” through purchasing target men, i.e. Christian Bentenke, Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli. This never seemed to gel with the attacking talent currently available at Liverpool, with all acquisitions being moved on shortly after their arrival.
Klopp’s new-look 3-5-2 may be the perfect way to close out games and still have enough creativity to create chances. A settled and quick backline that can press the opposition and recover quickly is vitally important. To get those quality recruits though, Liverpool will need Champion’s League football to attract the top echelon of targets.