As Jurgen Klopp trudged across the pitch at the Diego Armanda Maradona Stadium on Wednesday evening, the look on his face said it all.
He knew this was more than a blip, it’s now a situation that could soon escalate into a full-blown crisis if results don’t swing back in Liverpool’s favour in the next couple of weeks.
It looks like we have to reinvent ourselves, there are a lot of things lacking,” the German had told BT Sport in the aftermath of the 4-1 drubbing. “The fun part is we have to do that in the middle of a Premier League and Champions League season. In three days we play against Wolves, when they saw the game tonight they couldn’t stop laughing, probably.”
“I had to say sorry to the fans,” said a dejected Klopp in his post-match press conference that followed. But apart from his admission of sorrow, perhaps the most striking admission from the German was the one where he admitted his side’s need to reinvent themselves in the coming days and weeks if they are to get their season on track before it spirals out of their grasp.
Of course, Saturday’s fixture against Wolverhampton at Anfield was called off following the death of Her Majesty the Queen earlier this week. Which means Klopp and his players will have a few more days of preparation at the AXA Training Centre, ahead of the visit of Ajax on Tuesday evening – which the sports understands the Reds are preparing the fixture to go ahead as planned.
At present, it is unclear how sincere Klopp’s “reinvention” comments were, and what exactly he meant by them given how he tried to dilute their weight in his post-match press conference.
“You don’t think a lot after the game, you react more,” said the Liverpool manager. We have to kind of reinvent ourselves because basic things were not there. It’s a difficult period, no doubt about that.
“If you’re not playing exceptionally well, you still can defend on a really high level. We should be able to do that.
The start of the game doesn’t help. If we want to defend better and concede a penalty after three minutes and the next one, obviously you cannot exactly do that. Tonight we were caught in-between.
But, still, it’s the job to do. That’s what I mean. It’s not that we have to reinvent a new kind of football. You always try to improve but at this moment obviously everybody would be happy if we could just play similar stuff to what we used to play.”
But having been brutally exiled by injuries this campaign and currently boasting a squad that is top-heavy on attacking quality, a switch to a familiar 4-2-3-1 could prove to be the answer to Liverpool’s current midfield woes. It’s a formation the manager knows well from his time at Borussia Dortmund, with Robert Lewandowski spearheading Klopp’s ‘Christmas tree’ formation to back-to-back Bundesliga titles in 2012.
Toppling Bayern Munich’s stranglehold on the German top-flight title, Dortmund romped to their first title success in 10 years as they boasted the likes of Lewandowski, Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Ilkay Gundogan in their front six as Klopp stunned Germany with his ‘gegenpressing’ style of play.
The term gegenpressing translates to counter-pressing, which according to Klopp, was lacking from Wednesday’s performance in Naples. “Until Thiago entered the pitch I can’t remember one counter-pressing situation, the reason for that is because we were just too wide,” said Klopp.
Currently, Liverpool are without Jordan Henderson, Fabio Carvalho and Curtis Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita. Leaving the Reds manager with just Fabinho, James Milner, Harvey Elliott, Arthur Melo and the returning Thiago Alcantara in his midfield ranks.
But given how below-par Milner’s performances have been so far this term, which is expected considering he is 36 years of age, and how difficult Elliott found dealing with being overrun by Napoli’s midfield, a tweak to a 4-2-3-1 in the coming weeks could be the reinvention Liverpool need.
As a result of how the Reds operate in an attack-minded 4-3-3 system, in possession, they often sport something close to a 4-2-4. However, despite utilising a 4-2-3-1 during Klopp’s early days on Merseyside, Liverpool hasn’t reverted to such a set-up since Philippe Coutinho’s time at Anfield in 2017.
There have been subtle in-game tweaks to such a formation from Klopp since then, however, with the most recent coming in last week’s Merseyside derby where the introduction of Roberto Firmino at half-time allowed Klopp to boast all four of his attacking options simultaneously.
Following the signing of Darwin Nunez this summer, and the difficult start the striker has endured since his mega-money move from Benfica, a tactical switch to a 4-2-3-1 could help the Uruguayan receive the service his style of play requires. Introduced for the final half-hour against Napoli, he often found himself chasing balls out wide in order to try and create a smidgen of an opening.
However, the week before against Everton, once Firmino had been introduced, Nunez was allowed to play more on the shoulder and occupy both James Tarkowski and Conor Coady, which increased the Reds’ chances of scoring ten-fold.
Whatever Klopp meant by his comments on Wednesday evening in the bowls of the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, something needs to change in the coming days if his side are to match their trophy-laden heights of recent campaigns. A switch to a familiar, reliable, title-winning formation could just be the tweak to do so.