In the wake of Liverpool’s 5-1 win over Brighton, fans will be applauding Jurgen Klopp’s team selection. However, the opposite was occurring pre-match, as Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can lined up in a back three and fans were concerned. In arguably the strangest defence under Klopp’s reign, the midfielders turned centre-backs excelled in their unfamiliar roles.
While Emre Can began his Liverpool career as a defender, flaws were revealed within this side of his game in both Germany and England. As for Wijnaldum, the Dutchman has never featured in a defensive capacity at any point in his career. Which shows were all the fans worries stemmed from and I doubt there were many that were overwhelmingly confident in the lineup.
So why did this system work so well against Brighton? Well, the stats go some way towards proving why, as Liverpool had 57% possession and accumulated a pass accuracy of 88%. Klopp had predicted Brighton’s plan, the infamous “low block” that Liverpool have struggled against consistently the last few years. Brighton manager Chris Hughton intended to concede possession to the away side – with the aim to absorb pressure and hit Liverpool on the break.
This is where Klopp’s team selection profited. By placing Wijnaldum and Emre Can in a back three, Liverpool had four midfielders in the side – making them superior in the passing aspect of the match and able to keep the ball consistently. The pair looked to progress play when receiving the ball, driving the team forward from the back – something that is hard to achieve with a four at the back.
Robertson and Alexander-Arnold stretched the play, while Wijnaldum and Can’s incisive and positive passing was the catalyst for a wave of pressure from the back. As for the midfield two of Milner and Henderson, they provided stability and an axis for Liverpool to play from. Central to the action, the duo gave the Reds a simple escape pass should the alternative pass prove to be too risky.
Moreover, Emre Can’s driving runs from defence maintained Liverpool’s dominance and pressure in Brighton’s half – with the home side penned in for the majority of the 90 minutes. Obviously, the German will be pleased to also bag himself a goal as he opened the scoring with a bullet header 30 minutes in.
Rightfully so, it will be Philippe Coutinho that will steal the headlines with his man-of-the-match performance, with a goal and three assists proving his instrumental role within this win. The Brazilian produced some of his best football within this system, given full reign to create given the defensive stability behind him. Coutinho was at the heart of almost every Liverpool attack – featuring on the left, Coutinho was given license to roam inside and caused havoc all game.
There’s no doubt about it, while Klopp’s selection seemed to lack logic on paper – you can’t fault the result it produced on this afternoon.