This Liverpool FM23 tactical recreation is written by @petedavejones
When people think of a ‘Klopp team’ the first thing that springs to mind is probably a number of cliches: Heavy Metal football, gegenpressing, high-tempo football. You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong but since taking over the reins at Liverpool in October 2015 there has been somewhat of an evolution in the way Klopp’s Liverpool play.
After being so close to a clean sweep and writing their names in folklore, Liverpool has tripped, stumbled and well and truly fallen as this article is being written. Here we look into Klopp’s setup this season and how, in theory, and with all players available, Liverpool would (probably) play.
4-3-3 is the go-to system but Klopp has, due to injuries, experimented with 4-4-2/4-2-4, 4-4-2 diamond (my personal favourite) and 4-2-3-1 but we’ll stick with the usual Klopp 4-3-3 setup.
The 4-3-3 gives us 5 horizontal lines within the structure of the team for the opposition to break through.
Liverpool is, predominantly, a possession-based team despite the reputation of playing direct, counter-attacking football so we’ll look to play out from the back and use slighter shorter passing. Keeping the mentality on ‘positive’ means that the default passing and tempo are good to go; slightly shorter passing and slightly higher tempo. Ideal for moving the ball around with urgency but prioritising keeping possession.
We’ll look to play ‘slightly narrower’ which should help with ball retention and look to overlap where possible as Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold are a key part of how Liverpool attack; they play high and wide and provide the width and the ability to send in dangerous crosses. At times this season we’ve seen Trent move into a narrow position (e.g. the 2-2 draw at home to Arsenal) so, if you wanted to, you could use him as an inverted wingback to offer a passing threat from the middle. However, here we’re going to ask him to stay wide, get forward and roam around the right flank to make the most of his passing and crossing ability.
As we want to counterattack and have devasting pace in Salah, Nunez and Diaz we will also ask the team to pass into space. This also works nicely with Trent and Thiago looking to play those killer balls in behind the opposition defence.
In terms of the final third, we’ll leave that as it is and trust the players to make the right decision. We could ask the players to work the ball into the box but that might limit the speed at which the team counterattack.
Geggenpress time. Counter press, counterattack. This is where Klopp has been somewhat of a revolutionary from his time at Mainz and then more so at Dortmund where his teams would be relentless in their pressing and harrying of their opponents often out-running them and not giving them a moment to relax when in possession. To quote the man himself “If you win the ball back high up the pitch and you are close to the goal, it is only one pass away a really good opportunity most of the time. No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situation.” The whole principle of Klopp’s philosophy is to win the ball back as soon as you lose it and, in that moment, take full advantage of the opportunity you have created.
Liverpool plays out from the back so we’ll distribute to any of the 4 defenders as quickly as possible (although when chasing games I tend to deselect these to give Alisson the
option to use his distribution skills and start counterattacks with either long kicks or direct throws). We’ll leave it up to Alisson as to how he wants to distribute the ball – we’re not micromanagers, after all.
Out of possession
Much media attention has been made of Liverpool’s high line (pipe down Gary Neville!). As expected, we set both the line of engagement and the defensive line to the highest possible as well as asking the defensive line to step up more. It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy which we have seen succeed more than fail but when it does go wrong, and the opposition breaks the offside trap and has a clear run-on goal then boy…. It goes wrong! It’s all part of the pressing philosophy; the whole team moves up and towards the ball when it’s lost to restrict the opposition’s space. The work rate of the likes of Salah, Nunez and Diaz makes this possible and the pace of Van Dijk and Konate gives some relief if they can recover.
Individual player roles and instructions.
Perhaps more important than the shape of the team and the positions is the role that each player is assigned.
GK – Sweeper Keeper (Attack) – Combines with the high line and plays the offside trap. Alisson is one of the best at sensing danger and rushing off his line. As mentioned above, this also gives him the go-ahead to distribute more freely.
RB – Complete wing back (support) – a key role in the side is using Trent’s ability to get forward and create. As a complete wing back he will naturally roam from his position to pick up dangerous positions from deep. We won’t be adding an additional instruction here.
RCB – Central defender (standard) – We’ll use a standard CB here to limit the number of long passes from the back. If I were to play Matip over Konate then there’s the option to use a ball-playing defender or assign him to ‘dribble more often’ as a standard central defender.
LCB – Ball-playing defender (standard) – Van Dijk’s role is pretty clear; he has the technical ability to make long passes and bring the ball out of defence.
LB – Full back (attack) – Robertson loves to bomb forward but is more defensively-minded than Trent so we’ll use him as a more traditional full-back but on attack. This should keep a bit more balance to the team too. In terms of individual instructions, we’ll ask him to stay wider and run wide with the ball, again, working in synergy with the team instruction of looking for overlaps.
DM – Defensive Midfield (Defend) –Nice and simple. Sit and protect the back 4 and prevent opposition counterattacks. For the last few seasons, Fabinho has been fantastic at doing that job – no wonder Klopp nicknamed him ‘Dyson’ due to his ability to clean up messes in midfield. When chasing games or wanting to apply more pressure I’ll adjust this role from defend to support so he will step up into midfield more often.
RCM – Carriero – This is ideal as he shuttles across to cover for the gaps behind left by Mo Salah and Trent as they push down the right flank.
Individual instructions – mark tighter, tackle harder. The idea is that as the ball is played into opposing midfielders then Henderson will be tight to them and be aggressive in the tackle. This, in tandem with pressing high and counter-pressing, reinforces the idea of winning the ball back immediately.
LCM – Deep lying playmaker (support) – providing he’s fit then Thiago has this role. The creative spark of the team and when he’s on form everything goes through him. If he had the physical attributes then I’d certainly use him as a ‘roaming playmaker’ but this will do him nicely – dropping deep to get the ball and keeping it moving works perfectly with his player traits and his brilliant passing, technique and first touch attributes
RW – Inside Forward (Attack) – Mo Salah’s role is simple, score goals. Inside forward’s don’t tend to cross as much as Inverted Wingers and try and break the offside trap which is exactly what Salah wants to do; get in behind the defence and cut inside on his left foot to shoot. We’ll also add ‘roam from position’ and ‘sit narrower’ to allow Mo to get closer to a striker position. You could always change his position to an AMC and select him as a shadow striker but for this, we’ll leave it fairly conventional.
For the final two positions, there are two options in terms of selection and roles here. The first is recreating the Salah, Mane and Firmino triumvirate which we have seen a lot of during the second half of the season with Nunez moved out to the left to make the most of his pace and power with Gakpo playing through the middle in the ‘Bobby Firmino/False 9’ role. The second is playing a slightly different style with Nunez through the middle as the focal point and using Luis Diaz out on the left:
LW – Inside Forward (Attack) – Fulfilling the Sadio Mane role is Darwin Nunez. I’d be tempted to play around with ‘sit narrower’ and ‘stay wider’ here as we’ve seen Darwin both hugging the touchline and, when Gakpo drops deep to get the ball to feet, we’ve seen Nunez occupy the centre forward position making runs in behind and in between the centre backs. Note – you might also want to select Trent to look to cross to the far post particularly if Darwin is up against a smaller and weaker fullback.
ST – Deep lying forward (support) – the idea here is for Gakpo to drop into midfield, turn on the ball and either play in Mo and Darwin (passes into space) or retain possession. He has the technical ability to receive passes to feet and retain possession in tight spaces and has the work rate to press. We’ll also add the instructions to mark tighter and tackle harder which can potentially expose any defenders or defensive midfielders that have a poor first touch or aren’t particularly comfortable on the ball.
Note – an additional option here is to get Gakpo and Nunez to swap positions throughout the game. We haven’t seen too much of Gakpo playing wide left so not an exact recreation of this season’s tactics but it’s another tool that could be used.
LW – Inverted Winger (support) – Use Luis Diaz in this role. Receiving the ball between the defenders and midfielders and using his dribbling skill and trickery to run at teams. It’ll also create space for Robertson to overlap on the left and Salah and Nunez to find the space behind.
ST – Pressing forward (attack) – This is the role Darwin Nunez played at Benfica – the focal point of attack, making runs in behind and setting the press from the front. Essentially what Sadio Mane was doing for the second half of last season worked an absolute treat. We certainly haven’t seen the best of Darwin this season and he’s taken time to adapt to both the Premier League and playing out wide, but he has the knack of finding the right spaces and positions; I’m hopeful the finishing will follow soon.
So, there we have it. There is nothing more satisfying than overwhelming the opposition through sheer effort, energy and enthusiasm. This season clearly hasn’t gone to plan for Liverpool but the above is how I believe they would ideally play.
This can be great fun to use with other teams on different saves and with the right players this can be an effective method and is hard to stop when it all clicks into gear. I’ve used this is a recent save with Hoffenheim and it’s slowly starting to click into place. A few things I would add:
- This is clearly an intensive style of football and is very difficult to keep up for 90 mins, game after game. Klopp and Liverpool now have more of a tendency to lean into ‘game management’ when they are 2 or more goals up (depending on the game and the temp) so my advice would be to do the same; lower the tempo, play short passing, drop the defensive lines slightly and take that opportunity to save some energy and reduce the injury risk.
- Manage your training. Give days off where you can and when specific players are tired give them time off too or reduce their training intensity, at least.
- Use all your subs! Another way to manage holding onto a win (who doesn’t love a bit of shithousery time wasting then you’re winning?!) and rest some legs. 5 subs to use now so make sure you do.
- When employing this method with a new team accept that it will take time. Rome wasn’t built in a day but with planned training and the right players you can make it happen.
Have fun and enjoy.
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