Although Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool usually play in his favoured 1-4-3-3 formation on the pitch the setup rarely looks like this. We can only see the 1-4-3-3 shape at Anfield defensively. Klopp’s attacking approach is different. Offensively Liverpool’s emphasis is on high mobility to ensure they get into the opponent’s half quickly and there to unlock the opposition defence as quickly as possible, so they spend most of their time in alternating formations of 1-3-1-6, 1-2-1-4-3 or even 1-2-3-5.
Defensively Liverpool use pressing in the classic 1-4-3-3 shape (less often 1-4-1-4-1) but in the first moment after losing the ball in the opponent’s defensive third you will certainly notice a 1-2-1-4-3 formation with the central midfielders and defenders press high. Pressing is never zonal as Klopp does not expect to overload any of the zones, only to gain time. This is what gegenpressing is, often confused with counterpressing. The primary task of the offensive players then is not to recover the ball, but to disorganise the rivals’ play and prevent quick counter-attacks. Those players who are closest to the situation (usually those who have lost the ball) press the opponent with the ball very high and the forward (Jota) moves forward. The rotations in the other positions that follow are usually lightning fast and create compact diamonds in the following zones making it difficult for the opponent to counter. The high pressure line limits space and provides more players closer to the action to stop direct high long passes.
In the next phase The Reds’ defensive midfielder is tasked with cutting off the rivals’ striker from a potential pass at which time Liverpool’s attackers come back and help the team defensively in a 1-4-3-3 formation or, depending on the opponent’s style of play, narrowing into a formation reminiscent of 1-4-3-2-1. In the low block they flatten out even further bringing the lines of pressure closer together (1-4-5-1) with one advanced player constantly putting pressure on the central defenders. Klopp’s players in this defensive phase overload the wide areas in compact formation preventing crosses and quick throw-ins and press immediately after any first successful contact. The three central midfielders can also enter the penalty area to help win high balls, but also follow opponents entering vertically from deep.
The build-up phase begins with a sequence of short passes in wide areas on either side, although there is a clear tendency to direct play down the right (Salah, Henderson, Alexander-Arnold). In the early phases the team often sets up 1-2-5-3 with the defensive midfielder positioned just in front of the central defenders or interchangeably 1-3-1-3-3 with the right inverted wing-back (Trent) being part of a defensive trio. In the center one of the central midfielders (Thiago) is always positioned higher than the other two (Henderson, Fabinho). The classic ball-playing variant means that Trent is usually positioned much lower than Robertson on the other side. This causes the defensive midfielder to fill in the free zone to the left of Van Dijk, while Henderson occupies the center of the field and completes the diamond. The second option is based on Van Dijk playing the ball through and then Fabinho often comes forward.
What is notable about the second phase of playmaking is that Liverpool are very fluid and do not perform the same pattern over and over again. Normally Henderson goes deeper towards Alexander-Arnold giving more space to Salah at the back, so Trent goes into the center passes Henderson and try to pass the ball to a free Salah on the right wing. However if the right wing is occupied they are able to quickly bring the fight to the other wing (Robertson) or use long passes to advanced players (Jota, Salah, Mane) bypassing the midfield line.
Through these moves Liverpool exploit free spaces in wide areas and look for progressive passes in the center. When the opponent goes higher Fabinho and Henderson and the two central defenders are able to seamlessly move play elsewhere with diagonal or sideways passes.
In the offensive third they usually line up 1-2-1-4-3 with the defensive midfielder positioned higher and the other central midfielders and defenders create space to play behind the offensive three playing close to the rivals. This is characterised by players constantly moving in and out from the center into the wide areas, while the wingers and wing-backs move in and out. With this rotation opposing defenders are often pulled out of their positions and the fluid combination of passes ensures that Liverpool’s players can exploit gaps to move forward at high speed.
It is also the job of the false nine (Jota or Firmino) to exploit the wide areas. The F9 goes deeper to get the pass, allowing the winger to take the striker’s area and the central midfielders or wingers then appear on the wings.