Promising signs for Klopp's Liverpool rebuild

Trent’s new role works to perfection, Jones offers midfield balance and the dangerous front three £85m star Nunez can’t break into… how Klopp’s Liverpool rebuild is ALREADY showing promise

  • Liverpool’s revamp under Jurgen Klopp is already showing some positive signs 
  • The Reds have found a new midfield balance and an effective front three
  • Mail Sport looks at how and why Klopp’s rebuild seems to be working so well

After a miserable run of three successive losses in March which dumped them out of the Champions League and seemingly ended their hopes of qualifying for the competition next season, many were writing obituaries for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

The common consensus is he ran out of steam at both his previous clubs – Mainz and Borussia Dortmund – before leaving, feeling he was unable to take them any further. And there’s no question Liverpool are coming to the end of a cycle. They need a revamp.

But reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated – before that run of three defeats, they tore apart Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United 7-0 at Anfield, and have just won three straight games for only the second time this season, amid an unbeaten run of five, which included a clash with leaders Arsenal.

Klopp finally seems to have instilled defensive confidence into the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, discovered a midfield balance with Curtis Jones and has found success with a new-look front three spearheaded by Cody Gakpo – with no room for £85million summer signing Darwin Nunez.

Below, Mail Sport looks at how and why the German’s rebuild is already showing promising signs.

As Liverpool exited the Champions League, fans proclaimed the death of Jurgen Klopp’s side

But reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated, with a rebuild growing momentum

The Reds beat West Ham 2-1 on Wednesday night, their third successive Premier League win – below, Mail Sport looks at how and why Klopp’s revamp is already showing promising signs

Alexander-Arnold thriving in new role

How ironic that Liverpool’s great rivals Manchester City provided them with the answer to the long-standing question: How best to use Trent Alexander-Arnold? 

In the all-conquering juggernaut of previous years, Alexander-Arnold’s defensive fragilities were masked by their midfield power and his attacking and creative brilliance.

This season, still playing as an orthodox right back in a back four, his flaws have been brutally exposed by a lack of protection and the middling form of team-mates in the backline like Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip. 

Given England’s strength at right back with the likes of Reece James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, boss Gareth Southgate had tried Trent in at right wing-back and in central midfield, to little or no positive impact.

It turns it could be the 3-2 defensive system introduced by City’s Pep Guardiola this season that brings the best out of him. 

The likes of Rico Lewis and John Stones have shone for City in that role, and Klopp has mirrored the tactic, picking Alexander-Arnold as an ‘inverted full back’ – that is, tucking him inside and in front of the other members of the back four in possession.

Although it’s perhaps a little early to be making completely definitive judgements, the gifted 24-year-old has delivered five assists in his last four league games, outweighing the four from his other 27 league games this season.

Placing him next to defensive midfielder Fabinho (the other player in the 3-2’s defence-midfield double pivot) offers the defence more cover than just the Brazilian working alone. Trent’s new role looks to be optimising his attacking skills, for sure.

It does place more pressure on the ball-playing skills of the centre halves and slightly limit left back Andy Robertson’s attacking ambition and width, but that’s a reasonable price to pay to get Alexander-Arnold his mojo back. 

Trent Alexander-Arnold (pictured) is delivering lots of assists in an ‘inverted full-back role’

Gakpo is hitting his straps 

 Signing Dutch forward Cody Gakpo for £44million off the back of his impressive performances at the Qatar World Cup was, it’s fair to say, questioned by some.

It was a post-tournament signing (infamously difficult to get right). The midfield was probably more in need of strengthening than the attack. 

And it wasn’t 100 per cent clear what the best position was for Gakpo, who is tall but not especially good in the air, quick but not rapid, and is versatile enough to do a decent job in several roles but perhaps not a world-class job in one. Failing to score in his first six appearances only emphasised those doubts.

Yet Gakpo now seems an integral part of the Liverpool front three, one of Klopp’s first choices for the fearsome ‘Red Arrows’ triumvirate. With an in-form West Ham 1-0 up at a bouncing London Stadium, he picked up the ball on the half-turn around 25 yards out, took two small touches to set himself, and found the bottom corner.

His goals record of six in 20 appearances in all competitions isn’t exactly world-beating, but he averages a goal every 178 league minutes and has adapted nicely to the central striking role, dropping deep to link play and create chances for others. In short, he’s looking like the ideal replacement for the departing Roberto Firmino. 

While Dutch forward Cody Gakpo (left) is cementing the central spot in Liverpool’s front three

He told the Athletic: ‘It was a new position for me but it’s been good for me to develop as a player and I like it. 

‘Dropping a little is something I can do to become an extra man in midfield at times. I just have to find my spaces to help the midfielders and the attackers as much as I can.’

Only Andy Robertson (10) won the ball back on more occasions than Gakpo’s seven, proving his contribution in the defensive sphere as well as the attacking one, and he received a deserved standing ovation from the Anfield faithful when taken off.

With a resurgent Mohamed Salah back on song on the right and Luis Diaz set to return for Diogo Jota on the left, Gakpo is proving himself a key member of Liverpool’s front three.

No room for raw Nunez 

Even though £85m man Darwin Nunez cost nearly twice as much as Gakpo, he is the one struggling to secure a regular starting spot.

His goalscoring record is slightly more impressive than Gakpo’s, with 15 in 38 games in all competitions, but those figures belie the quality of the opportunities Nunez has received – and spurned. He should have more goals.

The Uruguayan, 23, is clearly a talented attacker but is visibly still raw in terms of his positioning and defensive awareness, assets Klopp values extremely highly in his front three.

He said: ‘Counter-pressing is your ticket into this team. We had so many games where I didn’t like that and it’s a pretty strict thing. If you do it in a game you play then you’ll have a good chance of starting again.

But there is no room in the starting side for £85million summer signing Darwin Nunez  (left)

‘Everyone will play, everyone is super important to us. But the ticket will be the desire to win the ball back after we’ve lost it because we had so many times where that made the difference in games. It’s super important against deep defending sides.’

That’s why Gakpo, Diaz when fit, and to an extent Jota are all potentially ahead of Nunez in the pecking order.

The new-found aggressive, high-pitch pressing – a staple of Klopp’s (hugely successful) gegenpressing, heavy-metal football – after a clear drop-off earlier this season has been hugely important.

Klopp credited it for their 3-2 win against Nottingham Forest on Saturday and the importance of leading from the front could see Darwin out of the team for even longer – until he adapts.

Curtis Jones’ fresh legs in midfield 

Liverpool’s midfield is stale, and needs fresh blood. Two, if not three, new signings are planned this summer, with a long list of stars lined up to fix their engine room woes.

The exertions of last season, which involved the club playing every game possible, saw Jordan Henderson play 57 times in all competitions, Fabinho 48, Naby Keita 40 and Thiago and James Milner 39 each.

With Milner now 37, Henderson and Thiago 32, and Fabinho 29 but with plenty of miles in his legs, the current midfield is unable to carry out Klopp’s high-intensity, high-octane, high-pressing system. As such, introducing younger stars is needed to maintain the club’s desire for a dynamic, combative midfield. 

Teenager Stefan Bajcetic showed a lot of promise before suffering a serious injury but is only 18, while Harvey Elliott is supremely talented but is perhaps not best suited to a deeper playmaking role.

Step forward Curtis Jones. The 22-year-old has been beset by injury problems recently, but the new five-year contract he signed in November proved the club’s long-term commitment to him, and him to it.

Curtis Jones can do a bit of everything in midfield for Liverpool and offers great balance

Now, after five months without a start in the league, he has finally had a prolonged run in the team to build up sharpness and match fitness. He’s started their last five – and the Reds are unbeaten during that time, with a much better midfield balance.

In the 2-1 win against West Ham on Wednesday, he created more chances and won more tackles than any player on either team, impressing with his work rate, energy, positive intent and ball progression – and his passing accuracy of 90.4 per cent is the highest in the squad.

After the game, Klopp said: ‘Curtis had a super difficult season this year with a freakish injury. We had to deal with him super carefully and his recovery was a session here and there but from when he could train properly, since he’s fully fit and ready, he’s doing really well.

‘He set the tone with the first counter-pressing situation and he’s a really good player. He knows he has to improve but he’s in a really good moment and with the defensive work there’s a ticket into the team. On top of that, we are able to play good football and Curtis is part of that as well, absolutely.’

Several additions are expected this summer, but with several more midfielders set to leave this summer at the end of their contracts, Jones could play a serious role in future if he can continue to stay fit.

Manager Klopp has found a nice balance in midfield with the introduction of Curtis Jones, 22

How the table is looking

So how are things shaping up? At the time of writing, Liverpool are sixth on 53 points and will overtake fifth-placed Aston Villa (54) if they avoid defeat in their game in hand.

However, Manchester United in fourth have 59 points and two games in hand on Liverpool. They are also looking to chase down third-placed Newcastle, level on points with United, with one game in hand on the Reds.

It may seem pretty ambitious to be targeting a top-four spot. But Liverpool’s fixtures are kind: Tottenham, Fulham and Brentford, all at home, Leicester away, Aston Villa at Anfield and then bottom club Southampton at home.

Six wins from six is not unachievable. That would take Klopp’s men to 71 points – a total that has been enough to qualify for Champions League football in each and every one of the last five campaigns.

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