Naby Keita Keep Ups

How Liverpool’s Left Flank Can Still Be Effective Without Sadio Mané – #BURLIV

It’s that time of the year again, Liverpool’s fixture list is coming thick and fast. The Reds’ next test is against a struggling Burnley side away from home at the Turf Moor. In the past, Burnley away has been a difficult test for many teams in the Premier League however with their recent inclusion in UEFA’s Europa League, they’ve struggled to maintain their aggressive style of play that got them into the competition in the first place.

Klopp loves to rotate. Sadio Mané is a doubt for this game with a foot injury and Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson is also a doubt. It’s time for Klopp to introduce some fresh faces to the line-up.

Liverpool’s only real wingers/wide-forwards consist of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain is capable of playing out wide but has been injured all season and will be out for the remainder of the campaign. Liverpool’s new boy, Xherdan Shaqiri, has hit the ground running but lacks the pace of a wide forward and continues to impress coming in off the right flank into a central attacking mid position playing cute through balls to Liverpool’s front men, shooting from range, and playing inswinging crosses into the oppositions penalty area.

The big question is… who do Liverpool play on the left side of the attack now that Mané is a major doubt for Burnley?

There are a number of options:

A New Role For Shaqiri:

As mentioned before, Shaqiri has excelled in the right half space for Jürgen Klopp. A new role for him on the left half space could potentially still see him play delicate through balls into the likes of Sturridge and also Moreno on the overlap, who we know loves to get forward. Shaqiri’s crossing ability and over the top pass is of great quality so picking out the likes of Sturridge and Salah from that position is another way Liverpool can great goal scoring opportunities with him in that position.

Naby Keïta generally occupies the left half space but seeing him centrally as a part of a midfield 2 just advanced of Fabinho would allow the likes of Shaqiri, Keïta, Moreno to create chances for the likes of Salah and Sturridge who will look to get into goal scoring positions. Salah will drift to the right occasionally when the width is necessary on the right, however, we know how much the Egyptian loves to play on the inside and get into the box.

Milner holding the left back spot like we’ve seen him do for Liverpool so often when Liverpool have possession gives license to Moreno to bomb forward knowing there’s someone covering that space if he were to lose the ball high up the pitch.

A Combination of Keïta and Moreno Could Be the Winning Formula

Naby Keïta is seen as a box to box midfielder amongst the majority of Liverpool fans, which he is, however, there’s another term for what the midfielder is, a mezzala. The Guinean thrives with his creative ability on the ball – driving past defenders, playing through balls into forwards, & shooting from outside and inside the box; the main attributes of a mezzala – they occupy the half-space where most #10’s like to affect the game.

As you can see, he’s one of the most creative players in the Liverpool team despite playing significantly fewer games than the majority of his teammates and is heavily involved in the transition build up.

Keïta is a very versatile player who can play in a number of positions. Against West Ham when Mané was substituted, Keïta played a variation of left winger/left midfielder. Keïta on the left in Mané’s absence getting in the left half space allows space for Moreno to bomb forward which is a huge bonus for Liverpool as Moreno is a massive threat getting down the byline. 

This set-up allows Keïta to drift inwards off the flank and play in the half-space so Moreno can get on the overlap. In attack, the right side seems narrow but if necessary, Salah can drift to the flank – we generally play a very narrow style of football anyways. Moreno being the left wing back & Keïta as a mezzala gives us width on the left with Wijnaldum shifting over to the left to hold the left back/left defensive mid position.

If Klopp selects Moreno against Burnley, he’s going to want to get him in advanced positions as the Spaniard thrives in the final third of the pitch. Moreno so high up only works if Klopp plays Gomez at right back to tuck in and assists the other 2 center backs as a 3rd center back to provide defensive numbers so we have defensive solidity, allowing Moreno to run freely down the left flank and cause havoc for Burnley’s right-hand side. 

Moreno can provide width in Mané’s absence on the left creating an overlapping crossing outlet whose sole purpose is to create goal scoring opportunities and not worry too much about the defensive side of the game, where he normally faulters. Note: Moreno has the highest # of key passes per game in the Premier League for Liverpool with 3 albeit he‘s only played a total of 90 minutes. 

A back 3 of Van Dijk, Lovren, and Gomez with a midfield base of Wijnaldum and Fabinho gives license to the likes of Keïta, Shaqiri, Moreno, Sturridge, and Salah to create and score goals without worrying about possession turnover and being hit on the break with a long pass. 

Gomez at Rightback Again? 

We all know Burnley love to be direct with their long passes and crosses into the box and play in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1. Many disagree with playing Gomez at right back but I feel in this game, he will be key against Burnley as he would be the 3rd center back to help with the aerial threat of both of Burnley’s target men. Klopp should look to create a 3v2 situation instead of accepting a 2v2. We should look to outnumber their strikers in the air so we are more likely to win the 1st ball, have Fabinho and Wijnaldum pick up the 2nd ball, and then Liverpool can smoothly transition into the 3rd phase with the likes of Keïta, Shaqiri, Salah, and Sturridge looking to create an attack.

Defensive reassurance with a back 3 and a 5 solid setup to keep the ball in Burnley's half

Against Arsenal, Liverpool’s back line struggled once Unai Emery brought on another strike creating a 2v2 situation and Liverpool’s center backs didn’t know who to pick up. With 3 center backs, this relieves pressure from the back line who know they will always have an extra man when challenging for the first ball, that way if they lose the first challenge for the first ball, they aren’t caught out in a 2v1 situation. 

The setup above gives us defensive reassurance with a back 3 with 2 of the CB’s sticking to the strikers whereas Gomez, Fabinho, and Wijnaldum are all in proximity to pick up the loose balls and keep the play in Burnley’s half.

Fabinho can even join in the attack and aid in outnumbering Burnley’s center mid’s of Cork and Defour to create a 3 man midfield including Shaqiri and Keïta, who are both in attacking midfield positions, where they can keep possession and create for the front 2 of Sturridge and Salah. Also, Gomez is able to pin Brady back/address him if Brady were to pick up the ball as well as fire passes into the feet of Shaqiri and Salah.

Moreno would constantly be on the overlap stretching Burnley so the switch from Shaqiri will likely be on if we can move the ball quick enough from the right to the left.

It will be very interesting to see what Klopp does rotationally and with the absence of Mané if he plays Keïta or Shaqiri on the left-hand side.

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