Liverpool have used their trusted 4-3-3 formation in all their competitive games so far this season.
At times, Liverpool's attacking shape can look like a 2-1-4-3 that see's both full-backs push up to the midfield unit. Although, this shape hardly ever looks perfect as we see many positional rotations, especially with Alexander-Arnold, Henderson and Mohammed Salah. We saw scenarios where Trent Alexander-Arnold underlapped Salah, Henderson overlapped Trent, which pulled defenders out of position, and Mo Salah could exploit gaps both wide and in the channels. Klopps 4-3-3 is fluid that has players roaming and interchanging, making Liverpool unpredictable and difficult to defend against
One of Liverpool’s greatest assets is their ability to keep possession of the ball and play out from the back. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the Reds rank second (behind Manchester City) in possession (60%), as the central defenders circulate the ball to open up and a passing lane to a full-back.
The full-backs tend to be heavily involved in the build-up because Liverpool build-up with a wider shape, which also opens up the central channels.
If the opportunity is on, Virgil Van-Dijk has the license to attempt the long diagonal pass.
Building from the back, Liverpool can have a 4-1 shape, but the 4-1 shape is not positionally disciplined. It could be a left-sided central midfielder in the pivot space, or it could be the holding midfielder, and if it's the holding midfielder, this allows the right-sided central midfielder to be high and wide with Trent Alexander-Arnold inverting inside. Andy Robertson meanwhile will operate as the wider and higher of the two fullbacks.
The likes of Salah and Mane are very high and wide while Firmino drops deep to create 4v3 against the opposition midfield. The use of Firmino doesn’t stop there as he also is used to creating wide overloads and also as a roaming player in the midfield whereas Mane or Salah would be high and take his position as the striker. These positional rotations can be disruptive for any defence.
Firmino can also be seen in the image dropping deep and helping his team in such areas where they can create superiorities and move the ball up the pitch. This way Atletico found it hard to press Liverpool and their passive approach mean that Liverpool had to directly start their progression from the second-third.
Another key thing that Klopp has incorporated into the Liverpool setting is the use of Trent Alexander-Arnold. The right-back no longer provides only width like he used to a couple of seasons back and deliver crosses from wide regions. He is being given a more versatile positional sense and now plays a more similar role to what KDB has been doing for Pep. The right half-space which is considered to be one of the highest value zones in modern football is where Klopp uses him these days. We can see him in the right half-space mostly inverted inside and looking to play crosses from these positions. Liverpool's full-backs (not exclusively) make underlapping runs, and this plays a part in their chance creation. If the player making the run is found, he can drive towards the byline to play a pass across the goal or pull it back to a teammate, resulting in a clear scoring chance.
The key to Liverpool’s successful attacking actions is their constant movement and efficiency in exploiting spaces. Despite the penetrative attacking triangles on the right, the team balanced off and split the build-up responsibilities well, by using all channels.
Out of Possession
Klopp’s pressing strategy is crucial to their performance. The Reds make sure to press high but not irresponsibly with the striker pressing on the centre-backs while the wingers are assigned to cover the half-spaces where they can easily intercept any balls to the full-backs.
Liverpool look force the opponents wide, and when they press out wide, they form defensive triangles or diamonds depending on how many players the opponents have in that wide area. Forcing the opponents outside can result in the opponents playing backwards or making mistakes if the press is set up well because if they pass the ball centrally, Liverpool will pounce and can counter, but also the touchline is an extra defender as the player in possession can not play the ball wide.
Salah and Mane don’t really have any degree of defensive responsibilities in their own half, but they are required to put pressure on their opposition high up the pitch. Mane is more likely to do so in an attempt to force a mistake and win the ball himself, whereas Salah is more likely to do so in an attempt to force a mistake and allow someone else to win the ball. Their constant press and aim to win the ball also results in counter-attacks.
Another indicator of the Reds’ successful positioning and the press is the number of recoveries. Against A.C Milan in the UCL, they recovered the ball 81 times (29 in the final third and 28 in midfield) with the midfield trio throwing a lot of effort into gaining back possession. For reference, 39 of Milan’s 64 recoveries happened in their own third and only five in the advanced areas.