Liverpool’s right triangle returns just in time for the tie against Real Madrid

During Liverpool’s run to Champions League glory in 2019, an adjustment paved the way for future success.

After coming on as a right midfielder for the final 31 minutes against Southampton Jordan Henderson in April 2019, Jurgen Klopp used the England midfielder on the right side of his midfield four days later in the quarter-final first leg against Porto in the Champions League.

“He (Henderson) obviously likes the position so it’s my fault he played as No6 for a year and a half,” Klopp said after that game

Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold completed that right flank to form a triangle that would bring further trophies to Liverpool. The German manager described it as a “flexible triangle” at the beginning of last season.

The rotations between the three constantly caused problems for the opponents during this time. “There has been a lot of emphasis on the two triangles this season – so we have the No8 in midfield, the full-backs and the wingers on each side. It’s about someone always standing wide, someone high up on the last line and someone in the half-space or in the midfield eight,” Alexander-Arnold said in an interview the athlete last year.

“The manager says it doesn’t really matter who it is as long as we occupy those three spaces. With that flexibility, you can do whatever you want – just make sure there’s someone in those positions. There is flexibility and also an understanding of movements and patterns.”

This triangle of Alexander-Arnold, Henderson and Salah helped Liverpool lift two trophies and reach the Champions League final in 2022. This season, however, the trio have started just seven Premier League games together in their regular positions, in a 4-3-3 form. Fitness, form and change of form mean Liverpool’s flexible triangle is yet to get going.

The Merseyside derby was the first time all three had started together in the Premier League on the right side of a 4-3-3 since the turn of the year – when Klopp started with a back three against Brighton on January 14 before giving his at half-time shape changed -time. The second half against Everton provided positive evidence of a recurring link between this triangle.

That was evident in Liverpool’s away win at Newcastle United on Saturday. Two sucker-punch goals and a red card for Nick Pope gave Eddie Howe’s side a hard time on counterattacks and corners, despite Liverpool’s defensive weaknesses.

The goals all had fingerprints from Liverpool’s connection on the right side. Ahead of the first, Henderson, Alexander-Arnold and Salah are all in their normal positions…

…then after Liverpool reset attack, Henderson makes a forward move into space that pulls Joelinton out of position while Salah’s positioning stretches Newcastle’s back four. Behind him, Alexander-Arnold plays the ball to Fabinho…


…who carries the ball forward, dragging Elliot Anderson with him. Henderson and Fabinho’s movement attracts Joelinton and Anderson, creating space in midfield for Liverpool right-back to attack. So when Fabinho plays the pass into the falling Salah…


… the Egyptian finds Alexander-Arnold’s run into midfield with Allan Saint-Maximin too late to react.


From there, Alexander-Arnold Darwin finds Nunez behind the Newcastle defense with a brilliant pass…


… and the Uruguayan scores to put Liverpool ahead.


It wasn’t long before Klopp’s side scored their second goal and again it showed that flexible triangle down the right flank. In the attack that led to Cody Gakpo’s goal, the Dutchman is first on the ball on the left flank, while on the other side is Liverpool’s right triangle.


Then, as Gakpo drifts inside, Alexander-Arnold charges forward and Henderson runs into the pits, forcing Anderson lower. Salah meanwhile holds his position…


…and drops lower to offer himself as a passing option for Fabinho. The space Salah falls into is empty because Henderson’s move pulled Anderson to the back row, and Alexander-Arnold’s overlapping run creates confusion between Saint-Maximin and Dan Burn as both signal each other to switch markers.


The change of position between Henderson, Salah and Alexander-Arnold catches the Newcastle players and Fabinho manages to find the Egyptian striker between the lines…


…before Salah Gakpo’s escape finds a one-touch clip about Newcastle defenders…


… and the latter scored Liverpool’s second goal of the night.


It was thanks to Alisson that Klopp stayed ahead throughout the game as Newcastle recovered, even after Nick Pope’s red card, but the right triangle was crucial on both goals. That’s what Liverpool missed this season.

When asked after the game whether Liverpool worked on those goals in training, Klopp conceded the question. “Yes, unfortunately (for) months,” he said. “The guys… I don’t know exactly how often they play together in this formation now and that’s very important. You can train, but then you need the games and stuff like that. You have to work on details and I loved the goals.”

On Tuesday, Liverpool return to the Champions League where it all began. That triangle on the right is needed more than ever. Liverpool’s right triangle returns just in time for the tie against Real Madrid

Russell Falcon

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