Virgil van Dijk’s injury has caused complications to Liverpool’s system, but a formation change could solve them.
With Virgil van Dijk in the lineup, the Reds’ standard 4-3-3 is perfect, as it allows them the freedom for the team to press high up the pitch. This is because of his excellence in one on one duels and aerial ability.
When the press is beaten, he can always be relied upon to stop any breakaways. However, now, shorn of their talismanic defender, as evidenced against Ajax, the line dropped deeper.
Joel Matip and Fabinho both lack the dynamism of van Dijk while Joe Gomez doesn’t have his awareness and technique. With a 4-2-3-1 however, it allows two midfielders to sit slightly deeper, providing more cover for the defence. The system could also bring the best out of a number of Liverpool’s midfielders.
Thiago Alcantara was at his best for Bayern Munich as a deep-lying playmaker in a double pivot with Joshua Kimmich. While Naby Keita excelled in a double pivot at RB Leipzig alongside Diego Demme. Jordan Henderson has shown he’s comfortable in a two as has Gini Wijnaldum.
This also relieves some of the creative pressure from the full-backs. Brilliant as they are going forward, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are vulnerable to runs behind them.
Aston Villa, in particular, took advantage of this to ruthless effect. Long diagonal balls in behind them have been Liverpool’s undoing on a number of occasions. However, in a 4-2-3-1, the creative burden placed on them is lessened somewhat.
This is especially with the presence of Thiago and Jordan Henderson, both defensively competent and able to split the lines from deep.
However, in recent times, Liverpool have not had an attacker to provide sufficient quality in one of the four forward roles in this system. This is where Diogo Jota comes in.
The Portuguese has a goal against Arsenal to his name as well as some notable cameos. His performance in Wednesday night’s win over Ajax was highly impressive, with his pace and passing ability on full display.
Klopp’s assistant manager, Pep Lijnders, has already sung his praises and it surely won’t be long before he starts for the Reds.
His versatility also provides a potential solution for the issues thrown up by Virgil van Dijk’s injury.
One of Jota’s main attractions for Klopp was his versatility in different systems, and Jota’s form could allow for a vital system switch. Able to fill in behind the striker or from the left, he would be a welcome addition to the attack.
Of course, a drastic change in formation overnight is not always going to bear fruit immediately. However, it does at least present an option to Jurgen Klopp in dealing with the absence of van Dijk.