Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp just conducted a successful experiment and it could benefit several players in the Reds squad.
When Diogo Jota arrived at Liverpool just over two years ago, his versatility was lauded as a key factor behind his surprise purchase from Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“I like to be on the field, no matter which position,” said the Portuguese a few months later. “But, of course, I feel like being able to play in different roles gives you an extra advantage because managers can choose you for one thing or another. It’s good for a player to have that ability.”
Jota’s goal return for Liverpool – 15 with his right foot, 10 with the left and nine headers – underlines why he can be effective when playing in all three positions across the frontline.
But even for the 25-year-old, Tuesday was an unusual experience. For the first time in his Liverpool career, Jota was asked to perform in an attacking midfield role as part of a revamped front line aimed at rejuvenating a spluttering side with a new shape.
Jurgen Klopp suggested after the match the Reds had played 4-4-2 – Jota therefore partnering Darwin Nunez in attack – but the positional maps made it patently clear the Liverpool manager’s later assertion it was “kind of a 4-2-3-1” was perhaps more accurate.
While such an approach is not new under Klopp – it was utilised for a consistent period during the 2018/19 campaign, primarily to get an in-form Xherdan Shaqiri into the team, and was briefly tried in the next two seasons – Liverpool remained steadfast in their 4-3-3 approach last term which, of course, brought outstanding results.
The success against Rangers, with Liverpool more solid in defence with two players in the deeper midfield role allowing greater cover, will have given Klopp and his coaching staff food for thought having been aware a change of personnel alone wasn’t making sufficient difference to the level of performance.
Jota performed admirably on Tuesday, with his direct running, hard pressing and single-mindedness to push into the box helping create space for others and seeing him almost notch a goal himself, one of many Liverpool players denied by Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor.
Some have shown they can deliver in the position, most notably Roberto Firmino who already this season has performed in parts of games in the advanced midfield role. The Brazilian also had spells playing behind the central Mohamed Salah in 2018/19.
Naby Keita has featured in the 10 on a handful occasions in his Reds career, and was effectively playing in the position at times during pre-season when his ability to play in Nunez was an intriguing feature. The Guinean, absent since mid-August, was spotted moving freely inside Anfield at the weekend, but no timescale has been set on his return to action.
The skillset of Curtis Jones would make him a possibility, although his club career coming up through the Academy ranks has largely seen him on the left wing or on the left of the midfield three.
Most intriguing, though, is the potential of young duo Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho. While Elliott has been moulded into a right-sided midfielder and spent most of his loan spell at Championship side Blackburn Rovers on the right flank in 2020/21, there was the odd occasion when he was employed in a more central attacking role.
But Carvalho spent most of the last season playing as the number 10 for Fulham, helping him rack up 11 goals and eight assists in 38 outings as the Cottagers romped back into the Premier League. The 20-year-old seems the most promising of all the current available options should Liverpool pursue 4-2-3-1 in the longer term.
Whether Klopp sticks with the approach for Sunday’s trip to Premier League leaders Arsenal will be an intriguing call. Regardless, though, the Reds would seemingly have sufficient alternatives to investigate further this season.