This has been the first taste of the UEFA Champions League for many of Liverpool’s players, but they have hit the ground running – and not stopped
A ferocious but focused pressing game and some added steel at the back have taken Liverpool far
Ferocious up front, intense in midfield and increasingly solid at the back, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool FC have been a sight to behold. How different their prospects appeared in January, when the Anfield outfit lost their creative fulcrum, Philippe Coutinho, to FC Barcelona. Instead of splashing out on a replacement, Klopp swooped for centre-back Virgil van Dijk – and that masterstroke provided the platform for their success in the knockout rounds
Coutinho’s role had already evolved in the first half of the campaign, with Klopp opting to utilise his visionary gifts behind a new front three of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané. Together, the trio have clicked superbly, the hard-working Firmino leading Liverpool’s terrific pressing game with Salah and Mané providing pace, guile and finishing ability from wider positions.
The main beneficiary of Coutinho’s exit has been Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the former Arsenal FC player injecting more zip and ball progression into the Reds’ approach play before his injury last month. That was never more evident than at home to Manchester City FC in the last eight, when fellow midfielders James Milner and Jordan Henderson also thrived.
Klopp’s Liverpool are about more than just high pressing. They can be very adaptable, as when Georginio Wijnaldum moved to defensive midfield during the second leg against City, or when Firmino switched to the left wing to counter City’s build-up play in the same match. It may appear chaotic with their high press and swarming of the opposition, but Liverpool’s strategy is perfectly calibrated to ensure players are, as Klopp has said, “in the right spaces in the right moments”.
Having filled in at left-back last term, Milner has shone as the complete midfielder in Klopp’s 4-3-3 this season, serving up a record nine assists but also mopping up when required. Young full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have been even more of a revelation, their dynamism an obvious asset further forward and their defensive talents maturing. The arrival of long-term target Van Dijk has been the real key at the back, however. The Dutch international settled quickly and has given the Reds a newfound solidity, while bringing out the best in partner Dejan Lovren.