Liverpool’s Leaky Defence: How the 4231 can come to the rescue

I want two screening. Two. 2. Numbers, letters, how else can I articulate it? After Rafa’s incredible Liverpool side of 2008-09, one of my favourite 4-2-3-1 teams to watch was Klopp’s Dortmund side of yesteryear and it was because I loved the balance of their formation. I thought, “they can break with pace but still balance it with two holding midfielders, one of which could always bomb on from deep”.

It’s what I love about all 4-2-3-1 formations.

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The fact that Klopp had so much success with this formation makes it more baffling now to see him refusing to implement a similar mindset at Liverpool. What’s for certain is he thoroughly believes this Liverpool squad has the materials for a 4-3-3 and not for a 4-2-3-1. Which is a shame, because I think it’s causing our team the defensive issues we see every week.

Liverpool’s current system is somewhat effective. It can keep a clean sheet against Arsenal, Crystal Palace, it also kept clean sheets last season towards the end of the campaign (albeit with Klopp’s new “pragmatic” approach). So, there is reason to credit Klopp’s system.

My issue with that system; it takes 100% concentration to get right.

It works, and the ideology can be effective. Three interchanging central midfielders who take turns doing each other’s jobs, one goes, one stays, they press as a unit and they decompress as a unit, and they’re supported up the rear (don’t laugh at that) by a back line that presses high enough to squeeze the gap so there aren’t any spaces. Marry this with a sweeper keeper and you have “total football” as Klopp would like.

But that requires 100% concentration, 100% of the time.

Now we should expect perfection from our footballers, after all they’re professionals and they get paid a lot to do what they do, however to ask anyone to be 100% perfect all the time is a tough ask.

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There are so many different aspects that need to go right at the right moment for the whole thing to work effectively. Centre mids press upfield with or without the ball, back line presses in tandem, step up, win the ball/attack with pace, lose possession, retreat. Reset.

Start again.

Centre mids press upfield with or without the ball, back line presses in tandem, step up, win the ball/attack with pace, lose possession, retreat. Reset.

Like an accordion we do this over and over again however what happens if one part goes wrong?

Manchester City’s first goal.

Liverpool’s centre mids press after Mignolet kicks it up field, they press with the ball (technically it’s in our possession as Mignolet has “accurately” kicked it to nobody) however the ball is lost in limbo and our central midfield collectively lose the ball.

Defence asks; “do we press now or do we retreat because our mids are quite far forward but we don’t have the ball so….”

Too late. Gap in front of the defence. De Bruyne. Aguero. Goal.

Sevilla. Throw in. Ball is in limbo as the mids are in “step up mode”, defence asks; “should we step up to follow our CMs who are too far forward or do we----”

Too late. Gap in front of the defence. Muriel. Correrra. Goal.

The major issue is there is constantly a gap between our midfield and our defence when the ball is in limbo; they’re being asked to press as a unit and retreat as a unit but the problem is they stop being a unit for 3 minutes every match. Every match. Which is phenomenal! I mean, it’s good! It’s great! 90 minutes on average of “total football” and only 3 minutes of switching off! But when do we concede?

In those three minutes.

That’s my problem with this system. With this flat three and this accordion style of defending.

Manchester United, serial 4-2-3-1 merchants could probably switch off for 30 minutes in the match but their structure will help them get away with it (defensively). We literally have to concentrate for 96 minutes of the match, otherwise we concede a goal a minute.

It’s why I want to see defensive midfielders with “jobs to do”. I want my LDM with a job. I want my RDM with a job.

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At the moment? We have three flat CMs and they have interchangeable jobs, which means none of them actually has a specific task. Each CM, rather, must;

1.     Firstly, determine ‘where he is’ on the pitch

2.     Allocate himself to a job to either close-down or shut down space based on ‘where he is’.

3.     Decide whether no other CMs/players are occupying that space

4.     Finally, decide whether there is actually danger in that area after all that thinking. If there is, act upon steps one-through-three. If not, ignore and move on.

That's a hell of a lot for each player to think about.

Let's try “screening DMs”...shall we?

1.     Hi, my name is Left DM, I'll help cover the left back and shut down space over there. If the ball is on the other side, I'll keep my CBs protected

2.     Hey…I’m Right DM, I'll help cover the right back and shut down space over there. If the ball is on the other side, I'll keep my CBs protected

3.     Yo! I'm the 3rd CM! (alternatively the CAM in a 4231), I'll come back and mark the extra men in midfield and focus on breaking to my wide men/ Firmino

Left covers left. Right covers right. CAM picks up space. When we break, give it to our fast lads.

Simple.

There are loads of merits of Klopp’s system and the man knows infinitely more about football than what I do. But I just, for crying out loud, want to see some protection for our defence. The poor thing has been penetrated more times than a hooker in a brothel and it would be great to see something to ease the pressure that they come under.

I want two screening. Two. 2. Numbers, letters, how else can I articulate it?

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