How Liverpool’s switch to a rotating front five has revitalised their attack


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When Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are remembered in years to come, there are certain features of that side that will be impossible to forget.

Their pressing, counter-pressing, aggressive offside line, the creative full-backs, Roberto Firmino’s false nine role, goalscoring wide forwards, Virgil van Dijk’s raking diagonals, set-piece invention and the flexible triangles out wide.

Liverpool’s triangular rotations down the wing had been a signature of their attacking game since Klopp decided to move Jordan Henderson to a right-sided midfielder role towards the end of their Champions League winning season in 2018-19.


Liverpool’s right-side triangle returns just in time for Real Madrid tie

For the next four seasons, these rotations between the No 8, full-back and wide player had been a cornerstone of Liverpool’s attacking game; helping Trent Alexander-Arnold to rampage forward and create from dangerous positions while Henderson covered his space. This also allowed the England midfielder to overlap with well-timed movement behind the opposition defence and enabled Mohamed Salah to drift centrally and find better goalscoring positions.

“There has been a lot of focus this season (2021-22) on the two triangles out wide — so, we have the No 8 in midfield, the full-backs and the wingers on each side. It is about making sure, at all times, there should be someone occupying the width, someone high up on the last line and someone in a half-space or in a midfield No 8,” said Alexander-Arnold in an interview with The Athletic last year.



My game in my words. By Trent Alexander-Arnold

“The manager says it is not too important who it is, just as long as we are occupying those three spaces. With that flexibility, you can do what you want — just make sure that there is someone in those positions. There’s flexibility and also an understanding of movement and patterns.”

Klopp’s “flexible triangle”, as he himself called it, had been successful, but a change in Liverpool’s shape on the ball towards the end of the 2022-23 season means that the rotations have moved from out wide to the central spaces. Before Liverpool hosted Arsenal on April 9, Klopp explained to his players how the new shape would work when they were in possession of the ball.

“We were on the training pitch when the gaffer got out the tactics sheet and showed me it,” Alexander-Arnold told The Athletic.

“Everything was normal defensively. And then with the ball, he wanted me as a second No 6. The idea around it, as it was explained to me, was about improving our inside play. Controlling the centre. Getting an extra player in that area.”

In the final 10 games of 2022-23, it was a 3-2-4-1 shape when Liverpool had the ball rather than their regular 4-3-3. Alexander-Arnold joined Fabinho at the base of a box midfield behind two No 10s.

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That adjustment brought a halt to the right-side rotations. However, Liverpool didn’t lose their flexibility edge; it just came from a different part of the system.

In those 10 games, Liverpool’s front three and the two No 10s rotated positions to try and catch opponents off guard. In this example against Nottingham Forest on April 22, Diogo Jota moves inside to complete the midfield box…

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… while Curtis Jones occupies Jota’s initial position on the left wing.

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Jones, who mainly operated as a left-sided No 10 when Liverpool were in possession, has been the main beneficiary of these rotations. His goals against Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur were the best examples of how the front five’s rotations worked.

Away to Leicester on May 15, Liverpool’s box midfield is in place with Alexander-Arnold (red) joining Fabinho at the base behind Henderson and Jones.

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Further forward, Liverpool’s front line consists of Salah, Luis Diaz and Cody Gakpo, who is dropping deeper from his central position with the ball at Alisson’s feet.

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Gakpo’s movement moves Leicester’s defensive line higher up the pitch, and Diaz makes a diagonal run in behind which is found by Alisson…

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… before the Colombian heads the ball back towards Henderson. Meanwhile, Jones is attacking the space vacated by Diaz out wide…

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… with Leicester’s right-back, Ricardo Pereira (No 21) completely focused on the Liverpool winger. Henderson then plays the ball into Salah as Jones is calling for the ball to be played into his path.

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The Egyptian finds Jones’ run down the left with Diaz’s central positioning dragging Pereira inside…

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… and the English midfielder scores to make it 1-0.

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Three minutes later, it’s a similar scenario. Here, the box midfield is slightly stretched with Henderson wider than Salah, but it’s Gakpo and Jones who are behind this goal.

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As Henderson plays the ball into the dropping Gakpo, Jones attacks the central space previously occupied by the Dutchman…

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… resulting in him being the highest Liverpool forward up the pitch. Gakpo then finds Salah….

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… who plays a one-touch pass into Jones after the rotations befuddle Leicester’s back line once more.

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From here, Jones strikes the ball into the far corner to double his tally on the night.

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In another example against Tottenham on April 30, it’s Harvey Elliott and Jones as the No 10s in front of Fabinho and Alexander-Arnold, who finds Salah out wide before the forward chips the ball towards Gakpo.

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Seconds later, Diaz (white) moves diagonally into a central position knowing that Jones (yellow) can occupy his space out wide. While that is happening, Gakpo plays the ball back to Salah on the other side…

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… and makes a run into the right half-space. Momentarily, Liverpool’s box midfield is still present but the rotations mean that the players are in different positions. Diaz (white) is now the centre-forward, Gakpo is making a run as a right-sided No 10, Elliott has switched to the left side of the box, and Jones is the widest player on the left.

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This rotation from the front five gives them a minor advantage with Tottenham’s right wing-back, Pedro Porro, attracted to the movement of Diaz, meaning that Jones is free towards the far post. Down the right side, Salah plays the ball back to Alexander-Arnold…

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… who whips in a cross towards the far post that is met by Jones’ run…

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… and the Liverpool midfielder opens the scoring.

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Liverpool’s right-sided triangle was all about the timing of the movements and understanding the patterns. The rotations between the front five are pretty much the same. In addition to that, the arrival of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai — two players who are suited to playing as No 10s in a box midfield — should be key to Liverpool’s new shape on the ball despite Henderson’s departure to Saudi Arabia.

In one form or another, Liverpool are maintaining — and evolving — the flexibility that has brought them so much success under Klopp.

(Header photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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