Versatile Liverpool show they can find different ways to win as Diogo Jota becomes part of new formation

Ian Whittell
·4-min read
Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with Trent Alexander-Arnold (right) during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.  - PA
Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game with Trent Alexander-Arnold (right) during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. - PA

The prolonged absence of an injured Virgil van Dijk will doubtless be keenly felt over the course of this season but, for this weekend at least, Jurgen Klopp could bask in a summer signing that he did make and a new tactical formation that came with it.

A failure to replace the departing Dejan Lovren as defensive cover may yet come to haunt Liverpool, given the serious nature of Van Dijk’s knee ligament injury, but with Diogo Jota in this kind of form, perhaps it will not matter.

Klopp eschewed his default 4-3-3 formation, opting instead for a 4-2-3-1 that featured Mohamed Salah up front, Roberto Firmino behind him and Jota and Sadio Mane wide.

Pundits purr daily about the attacking options Pep Guardiola can summon at Manchester City but is there a better front four at any club in Europe?

“It was not so much about getting Diogo on the pitch because he can play a lot of positions in our usual formation,” Klopp said.

“It was like, ‘How can we start? How can we change? How can we do all the stuff which is important in a game? How can we cause them problems?’

“Sheffield United have a big advantage obviously that they prepare a full week for our game. So we thought with a slight change we could at least give them some problems as well, which we did.”

Even if that formation was not selected by Klopp specifically to accommodate the 23-year-old Portuguese, a surprise deadline-week signing for £41 million from Wolves, it certainly suited him, as his 64th-minute headed winner proved.

This was the supplementary attacking role that Xherdan Shaqiri was signed to fill two years ago although, for a variety of reasons, his spell at Anfield has been largely unproductive, while Japanese forward Takumi Minamino has two league starts, and zero goals, 10 months after arriving.

Jota, now with two goals on his two Anfield league appearances, already looks a cut above that pair. If he is to be the “fourth Beatle” to Liverpool’s sublime front three, he is not a bad one.

“He’s a good player huh?” Klopp said. “It’s not too much about what he has brought to the club; it’s that he’s a good player – that’s what I really love – and it’s why we signed him. I said to the coaching staff that it’s so easy with him because he’s such a likeable person, it’s so easy to like him, it makes everything easier.

“As a player, he is quick, he has physicality, he is strong, good in the air, good on the ground. He has exactly the quality we need, so that helps a lot.

“He is still adapting. A lot of things we do are not natural to him but that’s only because Wolves play different. That he is that close already is just a sign how good a player he is. He stays fit, he’s 23 and the future is bright. We will need his quality and I am really happy that he settled nicely so far.”

Chris Bascombe's Liverpool briefing
Chris Bascombe's Liverpool briefing

An ability to score goals in abundance could certainly come in useful as Liverpool forge on with midfielder Fabinho the primary option for Klopp in central defence.

Joe Gomez and the injured Joel Matip remain Klopp’s only specialist centre-halves and, much as the manager talked up the Gomez-Fabinho pairing against United, the visitors created numerous chances and exploited the lack of Van Dijk’s aerial dominance.

In such company, Oli McBurnie looked virtually unplayable, won the penalty – from a Fabinho foul – that Sander Berge converted and Klopp could be thankful that Alisson declared himself fit and was able to replace his hapless goalkeeping deputy Adrian to keep Liverpool in the game.

“I was really happy when he gave the green light and said, ‘Yes, I am ready’ because it was his decision,” Klopp said.

“I cannot make the decision for him and tell him, ‘Do you still feel pain or too much pain when you bounce on the ground or whatever?’ So it was his decision and he said thumbs-up, so we were happy.”

Meanwhile, Rhian Brewster, a Liverpool academy product who became Sheffield United’s record signing when he moved across the Pennines for £23.5 million at the start of the month, was put in the position of having to make his debut at Anfield.

Despite Scotland international McBurnie’s strong showing alongside him, Brewster looked understandably overwhelmed by the occasion.

“Rhian is the future of the club,” manager Chris Wilder said. “Unfortunately, the first opportunity he got to start was against his old club and I can understand that’s a weird situation for him as a 20-year-old.

“He will be better for the experience and having come through it and McBurnie held his hand all night. That will be a decent partnership for us.”