Jurgen Klopp’s new plan for Liverpool attack gives first real hint of exciting next era

After Roberto Firmino confirmed his pending departure, only Mohamed Salah remains of Liverpool’s recent all-conquering attack - but Cody Gakpo and Darwin Nunez contributed enormously to the thrashing of Man Utd

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 06 March 2023 12:55 GMT
Klopp on Liverpool's seventh heaven drubbing of Manchester Utd

If Jurgen Klopp naturally admitted he couldn’t quite see that coming, he did insist there were signings that things were coming together behind the scenes. This, the Liverpool manager stated, was one of the biggest differences from a month ago. His side have gone from Brighton seemingly being able to score at will against them to being able to score whenever they wanted against Manchester United due to other numbers. That was the extent of the players they had in full training, where Klopp described the level as “outstanding”.

It is the first time they have had that all campaign. The German pointed to how even the availability of Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino had an energising effect, all of these elements adding up to something much greater - and the biggest win the club have ever enjoyed over their greatest rivals.

“We know we can play good football and better than we show at times this season but there are reasons why we did not,” Klopp explained. “The main difference is we have now pretty much all the players available, which is helpful. You saw the other night having Diogo is super helpful and now Bobby, you saw the reception he got. In the last line, we have options again.

“We have for the first time this season four or five players not in the squad who are training outstanding. Before that, we had nine to ten players injured and that is not helpful, when you are not on a good run. We started this season and never could get out of it. Really special night tonight but we have to keep going.”

This was something Klopp kept stressing. It is also worth bearing in mind over the scale of the performance, and how significant it is as regards what next. It was as if the full commitment of the group in training at last translated into a display of striking completeness, with that further compounded by other factors.

Klopp did say it was a “freak result” as well as a top performance, and this was down to a number of unique elements.

It was first of all a meeting between a side who had overexerted themselves in recent weeks and one who had underperformed for a long time, with both coming together for a bit of a balancing out. The scales were further tilted since United last week had the emotional satiation of a first trophy in six years, bookended by two demanding second-half displays against Barcelona and West Ham United.

They were running out of steam, while Liverpool were just picking up pace. Unlike United on the back of so many wins, Klopp’s side had a point to prove. Once they started to make that point in pretty vigorous terms, too, it was like Erik ten Hag’s side were afflicted by recent memories of results against Liverpool. It all caved in, as Liverpool piled on.

It was a release Klopp’s side haven’t enjoyed for some time… well, at least since that start of the season, when they broke a bad spell by unleashing nine goals on Bournemouth. Klopp made another point of asking the assembled press what happened next there.

It was actually a late 2-1 win over Newcastle United, but the meaning was more how it didn’t exactly fix the season.

Liverpool still have issues.

But the real significance of this was the psychology, and also the signs. This is much more than a 9-0 over Bournemouth, after all. It is a historic humiliation of your greatest rivals, and one when they have very much been on the up.

(Getty Images)

It wasn’t like last season, when they were facing a United in crisis.

That will have the players “flying”, as Klopp put it, but part of that flow was because things are starting to fit together more smoothly. It was most noticeable with that attack, which for the first time suggested a new era beyond the old trident.

Cody Gakpo was exceptional, the elegance of his movement and finishing so gloriously dovetailing with Mo Salah’s running. The third goal, and Gakpo’s second, was the most luscious illustration of this. It was Liverpool at their best. It had suggestions of the frightening Salah-Sadio Mane pace but in a different way. In the middle, far from being a force of chaos, Darwin Nunez’s strength complemented all of this. It was like you could see the logic of it all for the first time.

That isn’t to say all solutions have been found. The midfield is still a work in progress but was more important here was the progress up the pitch - as well as the evolution in the team.

They still had seven players from the 2017-22 era but it was as if there was more change - and electric charge - around them. Trent Alexander-Arnold and, above all, Andy Robertson looked revitalised.

(Getty Images)

Fabinho was again better but no longer felt irreplaceable, or as if there was a massive hole without the Brazilian midfielder on form. Jordan Henderson was replaced by Stefan Bajcetic, who clearly represents the future.

Liverpool’s immediate future is suddenly that bit more interesting, and maybe yet season-defining. They have that return against Real Madrid in ten days, needing at least three goals but suddenly looking like they can score any number. It was put to Klopp that he said that tie was “over” after the first leg and whether he has now changed his mind.

In-keeping with his earlier comments, the German wasn’t going that far.

“We have to bring the boys in the right shape for Bournemouth.”

It’s now just about the next step, despite what felt a historic leap.

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