How Jurgen Klopp helped Cody Gakpo shine in Liverpool’s rout of Manchester United

He was not one of the quartet of strikers who scored, but Harvey Elliott’s presence in Liverpool’s starting XI proved crucial in their historic 7-0 thrashing against Manchester United yesterday.

Elliott was a surprise starter in a game where many would have expected Jurgen Klopp to use his strongest and most disciplined midfield trio. But the decision to start Elliott hinted that Klopp was trying something different in terms of training. Manchester United never quite understood Liverpool’s approach and Elliott helped keep Casemiro busy and allowed Cody Gakpo to shine.

While it was a 4-3-3 on paper and defensively, when Liverpool had possession it looked more like a 4-2-2-2. Jordan Henderson played alongside Fabinho on the left, while Elliott acted more like a secondary No.10 than a right central midfielder. Here in the first minute you can see Liverpool’s form.

Also in the first minute, a long ball fell on Casemiro, under pressure from Elliott. The Brazilian took a heavy touch and Gakpo stepped in to intercept. He spun Casemiro and was brought down for a free kick. That would be the story of the first half – those two players either side of Casemiro causing problems United never solved.

Here, as Liverpool hit a long ball downfield, there is an interesting example of United’s problem. The defenders got into a curious shape – full-backs behind centre-backs, partly to follow the runs of Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez from inside to inside. Further up, Casemiro is close to Elliott and Fred is running back with Jordan. Henderson. But Gakpo remains free.

The question was who would stop him. Here, with Fabinho on the ball and shut down by Fred, Casemiro is on the left again, keeping an eye on Elliott. Raphael Varane is tempted to step forward and shut down Gakpo, who is positioned next to the referee, but it’s dangerous as it would create space for Nunez.

He’s already trailing Diogo Dalot very close and that was part of United’s problem throughout the first half – the threat from Nunez made it difficult for Varane to advance.

A minute later, Varane is the man in charge of closing Gakpo. And underneath – with the Liverpool midfielder a diamond rather than a box – it’s Lisandro Martinez who has to move away from the defense to score him.

And there, with Gakpo again in the central position between the lines, it is right-back Dalot who goes far up the field, level with Casemiro, to mark Gakpo.

Three Manchester United defenders are dragged onto the pitch by Gakpo because Casemiro looks almost exclusively at Elliott. There’s nothing wrong with United taking turns marking Gakpo as he moves through different areas, of course, but the problem was that he often went unmarked. Here he claims a square ball from Elliott.

Here he finds room for a change of game – again Manchester United’s midfield trio are concerned about Liverpool’s other three midfielders.

And, little by little, Liverpool began to find Gakpo in dangerous positions. Here, Salah receives a ball forward and sweeps it towards Gakpo, who feeds Nunez.

Here’s another situation where United’s midfield trio are looking at Fabinho, Henderson and Elliott. Antony is around but only looks at Andy Robertson. Henderson can get the ball to Gakpo and Liverpool have great attacking options.

This was almost the time when Gakpo’s freedom proved crucial. Henderson nods to Gakpo, who only has to play a relatively straightforward pass to Salah and Liverpool are in. But he plays it too close to Martinez, who intercepts.

But eventually the opener came. Again, it starts with Gakpo positioning himself in that inside left position, between the lines.

But first, Liverpool transferred the ball to Robertson on the near side. With Antony out of the picture, Dalot moves to close it. For the first time, Gakpo is now watched by Fred, retiring from his midfield role.

Robertson smartly dribbles inside and waits for the right angle for a pass. Dalot follows him. Fred has now moved into right-back but is badly mistaken anticipating the wide pass to Gakpo when he should stay in line with the ball. He tries to recover his position, stumbles and the pass is played behind him.

And from there it’s a classic finish – Gakpo checks inside Varane and bends the ball home to give Liverpool a crucial 1-0 advantage at half-time.

After the break, Liverpool were rampant. Elliott crossed for Nunez to complete a scrappy second, then Salah and Gakpo combined brilliantly on the break to make it 3-0.

From there Manchester United fell apart and, unlike last season’s game at Old Trafford when Liverpool went out 5-0 up, they played on. Gakpo, Nunez and Salah all finished with two goals, while substitute Roberto Firmino netted seven.

This second half will live long in the memory of Liverpool fans. But the first half could satisfy Klopp more. In a difficult campaign, where his approach was often questioned, his tactical plan worked perfectly.

(Top photo: Wyscout)

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