A new-look Liverpool returned to winning ways with an improved performance and a couple of well-taken set pieces.
Liverpool 2-0 Rangers
Champions League (3), Anfield
October 4, 2022
Goals: Alexander-Arnold 7′, Salah 53′ (pen).
A change in formation
Jurgen Klopp had promised changes after the Napoli game when he spoke of his team needing to reinvent themselves.
But there had been no obvious alterations to the team shape or tactics… until now.
Both Diogo Jota and Darwin Nunez started up front and neither was a number 10, making the formation more 4-2-4 than 4-2-3-1. Post-match Trent Alexander-Arnold referred to it as 4-4-2.
Liverpool formation vs Rangers – 4-2-4 pic.twitter.com/4NtFTctCIm
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) October 4, 2022
The two forwards did take turns dropping into pockets of space when needed, and Nunez was fouled by Ben Davies in one such moment, leading to the goal from Alexander-Arnold’s free kick.
The formation generally worked well and meant Liverpool were able to attack from all angles.
That said, both goals came from set-pieces, though it could be said that it was the extra attacking numbers that helped win them.
It will be interesting to see how this formation holds up against tougher opposition, and indeed whether Klopp uses it in either of the next two league games.
Trent shows his quality
During Liverpool’s run of bad run of form, few players have been spoken about more than Alexander-Arnold.
His below-par performances for Liverpool have also blended into an England narrative, and there was a whole segment of analysis on his defensive work by Gary Neville on the most recent episode of Monday Night Football.
He was able to show his quality immediately in this game with a perfectly placed free-kick to open the scoring.
To his credit there was no cupping of ears or shushing of lips in the celebration, as has been seen by other criticised England players recently. He just welcomed the adulation following his touch of class from the free-kick.
“It’s been a slow start to the season for me,” he said post-match. “But I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
He sat back slightly during build-up play, almost forming a back three with Van Dijk and Matip, before sometimes drifting into midfield and occasionally into an attacking position out wide.
This formation, though it seemed more attacking, meant his teammates were able to give him a bit more help than usual, but his own performance was also much-improved.
After this game, the only Trent talk will be about how good he was.
Darwin Nunez vs Alan McGregor
Liverpool’s new Uruguayan forward hasn’t scored since the opening game of the season. In his only other league start for the club — the subsequent game against Palace — he was sent off and suspended for three games.
This was his first start since that day, and a chance for him to recover some confidence having looked a bit untidy in his other appearances to date.
The 23-year-old had several half-chances but was thwarted on each occasion by Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor. All four of his first-half shots were saved by the Scottish stopper.
Nunez sent one over the bar in the second half when fewer chances fell to him.
There was to be no second goal for the club, but it was good for him to get 80 minutes under his belt regardless. Maybe get one off the bench vs Arsenal?
The police were out in force around Anfield as Rangers fans descended on Liverpool. Trouble was expected but generally avoided as visiting fans were accommodated. Their flags flew in the away end and they sang throughout.
There were rumours that Liverpool’s Irish pubs had been encouraged to remove their flags ahead of the arrival of Rangers fans in town — ridiculous if true — but Irish flags flew in the Kop before kickoff.
Rangers fans marched to the ground from Goodison and were singing “God Save The King” in Anfield an hour before kickoff along with “Rule Britannia”.
Liverpool fans eventually replied with their usual repertoire of anti-establishment songs, including an addition to the set: “you can stick your royal family up your arse.”
You won’t get two more opposite fanbases, apart from maybe Rangers and their city rivals Celtic, but this added to the atmosphere on an otherwise routine Champions League win for the Reds.
Next – to north London
Arsenal are next up, but there are a few days off with the game not coming until later on Sunday afternoon.
Regardless of the break, Klopp is unlikely to stick with this same lineup, and most would probably predict a return to the lineup for Roberto Firmino.
But this 4-2-4 setup was very encouraging, and it could well be a case of dropping Firmino into it in place of one of the four who started tonight, as was the case when he replaced Jota in this game.
They would have to watch out for being overrun in midfield, making sure there are contributions in defence from both full-backs, and Klopp will no doubt be tempted to return to 4-3-3 against stronger opposition away from home.
A win against Arsenal wouldn’t put Liverpool back in the title race, but it would be a statement win against the form team in the Premier League so far along with City, who the Reds will face in the subsequent league game with another clash with Rangers in between.