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Elliott, Diaz or Gakpo? – How Liverpool can succeed without Salah and Trent

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With Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold absent for the rest of the month, Liverpool are likely to be without the pair for the next four matches. So, how will they adapt?

Jurgen Klopp is proving once again this season why he is arguably the best manager in the world. Liverpool sit top of the Premier League and are still in all three cup competitions, with the League Cup final agonisingly close.

This season, he has consistently shown his ability to adapt the team to different in-game situations.

Liverpool’s League Cup win over Fulham was the seventh time the Reds have won a match, despite conceding the first goal, in all competitions this season. That’s the most of any side in England’s top four tiers in 2023-24.

However, Alexander-Arnold and Salah both being out, for at least the next three games, poses a different question for Klopp and co.

 

Attempts so far

TOULOUSE, FRANCE - Thursday, November 9, 2023: Liverpool's Harvey Elliott during the UEFA Europa League Group E match-day 4 game between Toulouse FC and Liverpool FC at the Stadium de Toulouse. Toulouse won 3-2. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With Dominic Szoboszlai also missing for the League Cup match against Fulham, Liverpool fielded a new right side, featuring Conor Bradley, Ryan Gravenberch and Harvey Elliott.

The former was brilliant, providing width and working tirelessly to make a difference in the final third, as well as defending astutely.

Gravenberch toiled in midfield, producing moments in which his talent shone through, but ultimately didn’t bring the defensive edge that Szoboszlai does – the Dutchman lost 10 of his 12 duels on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Elliott continues to divide supporters, and perhaps the manager, as to where he would best be deployed in the coming weeks.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 7, 2024: Liverpool's Luis Díaz during the FA Cup 3rd Round match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at the Emirates Stadium. Liverpool won 2-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With Ben Doak injured and Kaide Gordon seemingly not a viable option, for Liverpool to play a left footer in Salah’s position, Elliott would have to take on the mantle.

He played this position against Arsenal, but Klopp was forced to change as the team were under pressure, and Elliott was unable to give Liverpool the out-ball they needed.

Similar happened against Fulham but, at home against lesser opposition, you would have expected him to be more effective – there were still times that Liverpool missed Salah’s speed when running into space.

Here is how Liverpool started against Fulham:

 

What changed in the games?

The coaching staff came up with slightly different solutions to Liverpool’s first-half woes in their last two games.

Against Arsenal, Elliott moved back into midfield, swapping with Gakpo who started there, before Jota came on for the Dutchman and Luis Diaz went to the right-hand side, where Elliott had began the game.

READ HERE: Curtis Jones excels as Klopp’s changes work again

The Fulham match saw similar, but this time Elliott was substituted for Gakpo as Liverpool switched to a formation closer to 4-2-3-1.

This meant an attacking lineup of Nunez on the left and Jota through the middle, with Diaz and Gakpo operating further right.

How Liverpool ended against Fulham:

 

Any other solutions?

Szoboszlai is a potential option to play on the right, where he played the majority of his minutes last season for RB Leipzig.

Gordon is another who could feature, but the fact he didn’t come on against Fulham or Arsenal suggests this won’t happen.

The key to Liverpool’s next few weeks will be their versatility and ability to adapt in-game, one of the Reds’ biggest strengths this season. The names on the teamsheet would be arbitrary in a perfect world.

Pep Lijnders spoke about how Liverpool’s greatest asset can be their system, and that individual quality comes second to the biggest method of chance creation, counter-pressing.

The assistant coach explained that the Reds have “many weapons so there is no-one irreplaceable,” before adding that “as long as counter-pressing is there everything else is replaceable.”

Without Alexander-Arnold playing defence-splitting passes, this is especially critical. While he is missing, which will only be for three games with any luck, it will be a case of grinding out wins.

Liverpool have a one-goal advantage going into the League Cup second leg, a tie they should win. The last time the Reds lost a game by more than one goal was April 1, 2023 – a 4-1 to Man City at the Etihad.

The FA Cup fourth round match, against Norwich or Bristol Rovers, is also a game that will hopefully cause no problems.

That leaves the trip to Bournemouth as the biggest conundrum for Klopp and his staff. This will be when they really earn their money.