From 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, Christian Benteke to Roberto Firmino and quantity of possession to quality of possession, Jurgen Klopp altered his tactics to near-perfection to overpower and overcome Manchester City on Saturday. If you don’t believe me, eat 16 of our finest conclusions; Gary Neville was suitably impressed, too.
In the 12 Premier League games before their clash with the table-toppers at the Etihad, Benteke had played seven as a central striker, with Daniel Sturridge (three), Divock Origi (two), Danny Ings and Firmino (both one) all being handed opportunities to shine. Firmino’s first central start came in the 3-1 win over Chelsea, and the Brazilian impressed further as the focal point of the attack against City. With Benteke and Sturridge both on the bench, Firmino was trusted due to his movement and his superior link-up play with countryman Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana (though he still managed to annoy his manager), with City’s defensive pairing of Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis struggling to cope. 4-1 was a scoreline which flattered City, not their visitors.
Liverpool’s starting XI on Saturday had scored just five goals between them before Saturday, with Coutinho providing four of those, yet they dismantled the title favourites with consummate ease. Has Jurgen already found the most effective formula for away games against the top sides?
With Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Marouane Fellaini all injured and James Wilson’s knee knock keeping him off the bench, Manchester United were forced into a tactical change against Watford. Memphis Depay – shockingly hatless – and Jesse Lingard were entrusted with roles as forwards in a loose 4-2-2-2 formation which was, frankly, very un-Louis van Gaal. And while the 2-1 victory was only secured in the final minute, it was a system which worked. Free of such a rigid and uninspiring formation to which Van Gaal has become accustomed, United looked attacking, exciting and entertaining in securing victory against a side who had lost just two home games since late March. As Sarah Winterburn asked: ‘Will the party continue when Rooney returns?’
No, probably not.
“We spoke before the Stoke game. I said to him: ‘Maybe we have to try something, to change sometimes. Maybe I have to play No 10, because we have to try’.” – Eden Hazard, November 23.
And try Jose Mourinho did. Hazard started against Stoke behind the striker in the Capital One Cup and impressed, but disappointed in the same position in the following game against Liverpool. Mourinho’s desperation for a quick fix to Chelsea’s early-season struggles saw the Belgian dropped and then shunted over to the left as a consequence, but Hazard returned at No 10 against Norwich. The 24-year-old created five chances, attempted five more dribbles than any other player, and completed nine take-ons, with only Alexis Sanchez finding success with more at the weekend. With Hazard restored as the centrepiece of the attack, Chelsea looked as good as they have all season.
‘Employ a 4-4-2 with Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa as your two strikers and get banged’ – Jamie Vardy.
Leicester have more often than not favoured a successful 4-2-3-1 formation with Vardy leading the line and Riyad Mahrez supplying the chances behind him, but Saturday brought a marked change from Claudio Ranieri. The Italian fostered a reputation as ‘The Tinkerman’ in his previous Premier League spell with Chelsea, but the Foxes made only one change in personnel from their 2-1 win over Watford when they visited Newcastle. The tinkering was done with the system, with the league leaders (mental) deploying a more counter-attack based system with Ulloa providing the perfect foil for the pace of Vardy, Mahrez and Marc Albrighton. Newcastle boasted the most possession, but that simply played into Leicester’s game plan.
In the build-up to West Brom’s game against Arsenal on Saturday, the Baggies had faced the Premier League’s current top two in their previous fixtures, using a 4-4-2 in defeat to Leicester and a 4-5-1 as they lost at Manchester United. A home clash with the Gunners would rarely be considered reason to stray from a defensive formation to a slightly more fluid system – particularly considering West Brom hadn’t beaten Arsenal since 2010 – but Pepulis Guardiola saw otherwise. Pulis employed a 4-2-3-1 formation against Arsenal to great success, with Claudio Yacob and Darren Fletcher comfortably succeeding in a midfield battle upon Francis Coquelin’s early withdrawal. Salomon Rondon was provided with far more support in attack than he had been afforded against United (although they did hilariously have only one shot on target in a 2-1 win), and was instrumental for the hosts.