The opening game of the current campaign might have been a shock for the red half of Merseyside but Liverpool's dominant showing against Chelsea reiterated the fact they are the force to be reckoned with in English football. What is even more frightening is that they finished that game in second gear... this is team that looked like they have in them and the potential to get even better.
Ever since taking the reins on 2015, Klopp has evolved his approach to games even though his core philosophy has remained the same. Like his previous teams, Liverpool like to counter press but in comparison to the previous systems, the current pressing system involves closing of spaces around the opposition player and cutting off passing lanes rather than targeting the man in possession himself.
Another key aspect is the recent addition of the diagonal pass from the back directly to the front line. Liverpool's front 3 possess pace and intelligence in abundance and that encourages the team to play the quick pass into space. That pass is usually played by the wing back and it is focused on the space in the opposing flank where the forward is free to create a 1v1 against the opposition defender with room to work with.
Klopp’s 4-3-3 set up has seen his team rely heavily on the guile and skill of the front 3 with Firmino playing deeper in a false #9 role. Their midfield, however, has been workman-like with 2 Box to Box players (Henderson and Wijnaldum) alongside a defensive pivot who possesses elite defensive IQ as well as deep lying playmaker characteristics in Fabinho.
Against Chelsea, Liverpool were short in defense which prompted Klopp to play Fabinho as a makeshift central defender alongside the ever present Virgil Van Dijk. This meant another rare start for Keita in the middle 3. He played his part well as Liverpool were on top for most of the game but in the second half they took it to another level by bringing in their new star signing.
Thiago’s introduction in the middle of the park changed the dynamics of the game. He played in the center of midfield. But unlike his compatriots, Thiago was given the responsibility to control the tempo of the game and use his vision to find space to pass the ball. Thiago’s sophistication was a breath of fresh air to an already accomplished side. Klopp added a dimension to his Liverpool team that his rivals never saw coming.
If there were any doubts over the adaptability of the new signing into Klopp’s system (or the Premier League), the statistics show a completely different picture. With 75 successful passes more than any other Chelsea despite playing only 45 minutes, Thiago did not take long to make an impact. It is the most passes completed by a player who played a maximum of 45 minutes since Opta started producing passing statistics at the start of the 2003-04 season.
Thiago’s addition to the Liverpool squad will help free up Firmino’s responsibility as the creative hub and his dynamism will also shift Klopp’s tactics to a more possession based football. This could be the upgrade Liverpool and Klopp needed to defend their title as it allows them to exercise greater control week in week out. It also puts them in a better position to put away defensively disciplined outfits like Atletico in the Champions League. Expect Thiago to be Liverpool's equivalent of Gundogan in Klopp's Dortmund V1.0.
Arsenal fans have endured difficult times in recent years whether that has been the club’s inability to sign big players in the transfer market or their subsequent failure to compete for titles (and most recently Champions league places). Arsenal have had a humble few years. But it is not for lack of trying. The board has hired some worthy names in the dugout but the results just have not been favorable. The club has now turned to a new coach. A familiar name.
Mikel Arteta might not have the experience of a top class coach. The Gunners in fact are his first club. Nevertheless the coach brings with him specialist knowledge and insight after having worked with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. The signs have been positive so far. Players have shown a liking for their new coach and that in turn has translated on the pitch. Arteta might not have the players of top billing but his system has generated results. They have won the FA Cup and have followed it up with a win over defending Champions Liverpool in the Community Shield.
Over the months, Arteta’s biggest task was to build a “team” without having too many individuals playing for themselves. The players are beginning to show camaraderie, in addition to versatility and understanding. Training has by all accounts been hard but enjoyable. The atmosphere at the club has been very positive. The process is slow and it will take time to bear fruit but if Arteta manages to keep this squad happy then we can expect big things from the London club in the upcoming seasons.
Arteta likes to play his side with a 3-man defensive line. Overall, Arsenal plays in a 3-4-3 system with the midfield being flanked by wing backs on either or both sides. This set up allows them to work as a unit. It gives them a good defensive shape and solidity. And with personnel gradually fitting in, the team is slowly beginning to show flair as well. The vital part of it is the presence of important players in key areas of the pitch.
Aubameyang, who has just signed a new contract, starts on the left side of the forward line up and always looks to move in towards goal. Lacazette plays down the middle but he is not there just for the finishes or tap ins - the Frenchman is very good at dropping deep and finding space for the midfielders to pass.
Another important player for Arteta’s team is Dani Ceballos. Arsenal were both delighted and relieved to have extended the Spaniard’s loan deal. He is their main orchestrator in the middle of the park and dictates the rhythm of proceedings. He is capable of driving at opponents, injecting pace and drive to the possession whilst also being a nightmare to win the ball off as he is incredibly press-resistant.
No prizes for guessing how both coaches will approach the game. We expect both teams to line up in their favored tactical set up and try their best to impose themselves on the game. A start for Thiago Alcantara would see Liverpool dominate the midfield and overall possession.
With Aubameyang being the obvious threat, Arteta will try to play the quick pass to the forward as much as possible. With Andy Robertson and Alexander Trent both attacking at every given chance Aubameyang might just find the space he needs on the counter.
Arsenal’s biggest drawback is their central midfield. In fast paced vertical games, Arsenal’s anchormen tend to be overran. The pace is sometimes too much to handle and slowing the game down becomes extremely difficult. Klopp will target Xhaka as the weak link.
This will be a very difficult test for Arteta and his squad. Liverpool will stretch the game as much as possible and we might see the front line interchange during attacking patterns. After a wonderful performance against Chelsea, Fabinho might start again in defense.
Liverpool: Alison, Virgil Van Dyke, Alexander Trent, Andy Robertson, G. Winaldum, Fabinho, J. Henderson, Thiago A., R. Firmino, M. Salah, Sadio Mane (Formation: 4-3-3).
Arsenal: B. Leno., Gabriel, Holding, S. Kolasinac, H. Bellerin, D. Ceballos, G. Xhaka, B. Saka, Willian, A. Lacazette, P. Aubameyang (Formation: 4-3-3).
Predicted Outcome: 3-1 Liverpool win