“In the last moment, Liverpool called me but it was late. It was too late, you know? I wanted to play for Chelsea and the people that worked here were with me through every moment and it was tough to say no to Chelsea.” These were the words of Moises Caicedo when he stated his opinion on rejecting Liverpool for the Blues. It was a major blow for Jurgen Klopp, who desperately needed a number six to fill the void Fabinho left in the midfield’s heart.
However, after 20 games in the season, it seems that Liverpool have found a way to operate without a world-class number six. There is Wataru Endo, who has performed admirably but is still not operating at the same level as an elite defensive midfielder.
Liverpool are currently at the top of the table with a three-point cushion. And the reason for that is the brilliance of Jurgen Klopp. With the resources at his disposal and the competition that the team is facing, this is the best season in terms of coaching that the German has had at the club since being appointed back in 2015.
So, how did Klopp pull off a tactical revolution? We explain.
Liverpool 2023-24 tactics
Losing Caicedo was one of many obstacles that Liverpool experienced in the summer transfer window. In the closing days of the transfer window, Saudi Pro League club Al-Ittihad also put in a reported £215 million bid for Mohammed Salah. Liverpool stayed firm, though, and retained the Egyptian.
With their star striker in their ranks, Klopp went back to the drawing board to devise a tactic allowing Liverpool to play their Gegenpressing style without leaving gaps for the opposition to exploit. This means the other players step up and take more responsibility.
The first two people who raised their hands for the job were the midfield duo of Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister. The duo had joined in the summer and were immediately thrown into the thick of things.
Szoboszlai currently tops the league in counter-pressing actions (44) and is the fifth-best player in one-twos opened. His Argentine counterpart has ably supported him. The interesting thing about the duo is that Szoboszlai is better in attacking metrics, while Allister has posted better defensive stats.
The World Cup-winning midfielder has made the team’s most successful tackles and is third on the list in winning fouls and interceptions. He is also the second-best player after Szoboszlai in counter-pressing actions. So the addition of these two players has ensured that Liverpool concede as little threat as possible from the opposition.
However, despite their best efforts, teams found it much easier to exploit the gaps between the midfield and the defence. So, other players in the squad.
Mohammed Salah-Trent Alexander Arnold’s devastating combo
Jurgen Klopp’s tactics heavily relied on his fullbacks going up the pitch to create overloads and stretch the opposition for years. This led to a deadly partnership down Liverpool’s right wing between Mohammed Salah and Trent Alexander Arnold. And even after all these years the duo continue to dominate the opposition.
Salah has been, as usual, terrific with 14 goals, the most in the league. However, he has also been as good at creating chances, with eight assists to his name, the most in the league. And the Egyptian has been ably supported by his right back. The two have created a combined 29 big chances, the most by any duo across Europe.
Their dominance continues in the Expected Threat (xT) metric, where Salah is the best. The xT metric is divided into two parts: xT from passing and xT from carries. While Trent is the best player in the league when taking only passing into account, Salah is among the top five in both sets of metrics, the only player apart from Florian Wirtz and Ousmane Dembele to do so.
Salah also has 169 touches in the opposition’s box, the most for any player in the league. The same applies to the Expected Offensive Value Added (xOVA) and shots on target. These stats are something even the top players can achieve in their best-ever season, but such has been his high standard that these numbers look exactly like he has posted since joining the league.
Alisson Becker: As underrated as a goalkeeper can get
It has already been emphasised that due to the best efforts of Szoboszlai and MacAllister, along with the defence, Liverpool largely managed to account for the absence of number six. However, despite everyone’s best effort, it is a large enough hole in a team that a well-drilled opposition will exploit.
And it is here that Liverpool’s star goalkeeper has come to the team’s rescue. It is always said that being a goalkeeper for a top team requires not to be a goalkeeper who saves the ball from going into the net but to save when it matters the most. In the last two years, Alisson has been the best at this.
Alisson has only made 51 saves, the 13th most by a shot-stopper. However, when we look at his save percentage, we realise how brilliant he is. The Brazilian boasts a 77.3 per cent save ratio, the best in the league. It is the reason why Liverpool are top of the table because he makes a save when Liverpool need it the most.
Can Liverpool win the Premier League?
When the season started, even the most optimistic of Liverpool fans would not have expected to be at the top of the table in the new year. However, Jurgen Klopp has managed to pull perhaps his greatest managerial comeback, devising a tactic that has amalgamated all his players’ strengths.
Apart from the players mentioned above, others have also stepped up to provide the best-supporting cast. Virgil Van Dijk has rediscovered his mojo with Ibrahim Konate and Joel Matip in a healthy competition to be the Dutchman’s partner.
Youngsters such as Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliot have massively stepped up, while the rise of Wataru Endo could help Liverpool find an answer to their search for Fabinho’s successor in the number six role.
In a season where the Premier League has proved to be the most competitive in its history, Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp have pulled off something special. If there is one team that can stop Manchester City’s Premier League-winning juggernaut, it is the boys from Merseyside.