Memorable, symbolic, significant; you can take your pick of the superlatives used to describe Liverpool's 5-2 derby victory over Everton, and there's a good chance it applies to one side or the other. 


For Everton, their most recent Anfield humbling will go down in infamy for all the wrong reasons. It moved them beneath Southampton into the relegation zone at the 15-game mark and served as a sobering reality check that cost a defeated, desensitised Marco Silva his job.


For the home side, however, the picture could hardly be further removed.

While the Toffees are left only vaguely recalling what a league win feels like, ​Liverpool have taken 14 from 15, and sit eight points clear in their bid to end a 30-year wait for the title. 


Their only issue so far has not been winning games well enough. Eight of those 14 have been decided by just a single goal, and one or two defensive issues find themselves highlighted from just two clean sheets in 15 league games.


But while those inefficiencies at the back, a cause for concern by their own standards, once again had a part to play at Anfield on Wednesday night, you'd be hard pushed to argue this win wasn't convincing. 

The nature of the victory was hugely encouraging and welcome at a key junction in the season. The Reds had scored upwards of three goals just once in the league going into this game, a feat they achieved nine times over the course of the 2018/19 campaign, so to see them once again put a rival to the sword with a signature attacking masterclass was more than welcome. 


We knew, though, this was something Liverpool were capable of. There was little doubt in anyone's mind that at some stage they would get back to their attacking best, and start killing games off before half-time, at some point throughout the season.


A 5-2 victory over one of the division's weakest sides, then, at face value at least, didn't really teach us anything new. For the lessons we learned about the Reds from this one, you have to look beneath the surface. 

Jurgen Klopp,Trent Alexander-Arnold

Much was made of the starting lineup going in. Wedged awkwardly between a testing victory over Brighton and a potential banana skin of an away trip to Bournemouth, the familiar faces of ​Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Jordan Henderson found themselves sitting out. In from the cold came Xherdan Shaqiri and Adam Lallana, with just three league starts between them, and the serial rotation beneficiary that is Divock Origi. 


The absence of Alisson and Fabinho to suspension and injury completed the pieced-together aesthetic of the side, and while Jurgen Klopp has enough credit in the bank for most fans to reserve their judgement on his decisions, questions were raised over the 11 players on the pitch. Largely lacking in the effervescent quality of their missing colleagues, how were going to pull off the high-pressing 4-3-3 for which Klopp typically opts in these games?


Well, they didn't.


Instead, they were asked to do something completely, almost unrecognisably different, with parallels from the Liverpool we're all used to apparent only in the efficiency, mentality and commitment of the players who went to battle.

Gini Wijnaldum

Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Lallana played as a dynamic number ten - a position Klopp has very rarely utilised in his time at Anfield - the Reds were able to play a different ball game altogether. 


In a tactical masterstroke that became apparent only in hindsight, the decision to break the team up into four broad sections rather than three increased the area covered and defended by the base positions of the players. This, coupled with the changed shape of midfield, meant less running was required by the collective three in the middle - handy when you're fielding a 33-year-old ​James Milner and an attacking midfielder.


The use of Lallana, though - who turned in his best performance in recent memory - as an attacking midfielder, also allowed Divock Origi to play on the shoulder of the defence. He wasn't required to drop deep and emulate the inimitable Firmino, and his two goals highlighted the effectiveness of that strategy. 

As a whole, the 4-3-3 normally used by Liverpool depends on intelligent, rapid passing from back to front, often resulting in one of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andy Robertson bursting onto through-balls on the flanks. The revamped tactical set-up on display here lent itself more to long balls from the back to find the forwards in space.


And it worked - devastatingly. 


"You could declare Liverpool a long-ball team... but not that kind of long-ball team," said Sky Sports co-commentator Jim Beglin, as the score sat at 2-1. As he said it, Dejan Lovren dropped a 70-yard pass into the path of Origi, who obliged with a lovely lobbed finish to double the Reds' lead once more. 

Divock Origi

14 minutes earlier, he had watched Trent Alexander-Arnold pick out Sadio Mané with a piercing cross-field ball immediately prior to Shaqiri's strike. He had a point; for 90 minutes, they were a long-ball team, just not with the usual connotations it carries. 


All in, it was a brand of football we hadn't yet seen from Liverpool, and a brand of football we may not see again for a while. But it was a brand of football that very clearly suits a number of the fringe players at Anfield, and a brand of football that underlines how criminally underrated and influential Klopp's tactical awareness actually is to this side.

Might the long-ball 4-2-3-1 be the way forward, once the effectiveness of the default system and status quo personnel begins to wane? There's every chance.


Previous criticisms of Liverpool have pointed to their lack of versatility, their lack of a contingency strategy for when plan A isn't working. The Merseyside Derby showed in no uncertain terms that this manager and these players are not standing still; they know how to change it up, and they're not afraid to. 


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