The gasps inside the Etihad were pretty much audible.
As the two team sheets digitally dropped at around 3.30pm on Sunday, November 8, eyebrows were raised as it was discovered that Jurgen Klopp was going bold.
Caution was thrown to the wind as the Reds boss named an adventurous lineup that included all four of his main frontmen.
The traditional incumbents of Liverpool’s front three in Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane all started, but there was an inclusion for Diogo Jota, who had hit the ground running at Anfield just a few weeks earlier.
The tactical tweak appeared to catch Pep Guardiola off guard as the Reds started well, taking the lead from a Salah penalty as they created a number of presentable openings.
The visiting Reds would be forced to settle for a share of the spoils as they tired in the second half, but the attacking lineup proved that Klopp was not afraid to mix things up.
This season, fresh from an injury-hit campaign that had him hammering square pegs into round holes for much of it, Klopp has the chance to further his tactical evolution at Anfield.
With the arrival of Ibrahima Konate bolstering a backline that has already been boosted with the impending returns of Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez, Klopp has plenty to choose from.
In midfield, too, the departure of Gini Wijnaldum may leave many feeling that a replacement needs to be sourced, but Thiago Alcantara could be about to take flight once he plays more in a midfield alongside regulars Fabinho and captain Jordan Henderson.
The Spain international started just once alongside those two in the engine room last season, in a 2-2 draw with Everton way back in October.
Elsewhere, Portugal international Jota will be looking to force himself further into the first-team reckoning at Anfield after a 13-goal debut campaign with the Reds.
Liverpool are set to spend the next four weeks on a pre-season tour of Austria and Klopp may have much to consider about his tactical plans as he and his staff search for more unpredictability.
The traditional Klopp setup at Anfield.
It is hoped a fully-fit squad will enable the team to return to the kind of form that saw them win the Premier League by 18 points a little over a year ago.
A lot has happened since Jordan Henderson lifted the Reds’ first title in 30 years at Anfield in July 2020.
Perhaps one constant, though, is Klopp’s regular use of the 4-3-3 system.
With a full complement of players to choose from, he could get set to name over £110million worth of centre-back talent, with Konate and Van Dijk both in the frame.
The players’ pace and power will allow Liverpool to squeeze the pitch, particularly at Anfield, and utilise a high line that while under fire at times has stood the Reds in good stead these past three years.
The assured presence of Van Dijk at the back will also give full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson the freedom to push forward without too much fear also.
It’s a risky strategy that comes with ample reward.
The defenders have combined for a total of 62 assists between them over the last three full seasons, effectively making the three up top a front five when Liverpool are on the attack.
That stretches backlines to the breaking point and creates space for the likes of Mane, Salah and Firmino to work their magic.
With the team pushing up, it also condenses the space that midfield pressers like Henderson and Fabinho have to cover to win the ball back as quickly as possible.
From there, the likes of Salah, Mane and Firmino are serviced sharply, marking Liverpool’s starting XI out as one of the most feared in Europe when truly in form.
While Liverpool struggled for any semblance of consistency in defence last term, this time around may be markedly different.
Injuries to Van Dijk, Matip and Gomez left Klopp being forced to name the likes of Henderson and Fabinho at the back at times, as well as untried rookies like Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips.
The mid-season stop-gaps of Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies also pulled up towards the end of the campaign injured, giving Phillips and Williams a chance to help their more established colleagues to a third-place finish in the Premier League.
Where once there was famine, however, now there is a feast for Klopp.
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The £36m arrival of Konate and the imminent returns of Gomez, Van Dijk and Matip give Liverpool’s defensive department – one that was virtually non-existent last season – a new, fearsome look about it.
When all are fully fit, Klopp may even be able to name three centre-backs, pushing up the full-backs even higher in their swashbuckling pursuits.
A roving pair of midfielders should be enough, in games where Liverpool dominate possession, to cover the back three as the strikers and full-backs go in search of the goals up the other end.
It would represent new ground for Klopp, but one that would be easy to implement given the recovery pace possessed by defenders like Konate, Gomez and Van Dijk.
Another potential system with three at the back.
The 3-5-2 setup is probably best suited for attacking midfielders in squad like Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the emerging Curtis Jones.
It was not a vintage campaign two of those three last time out and Keita made the last of 16 appearances in Madrid in early April.
After a disappointing first half, the Guinea international was hauled off shortly before the interval of the 3-1 loss to Real Madrid on April 6 and wasn’t seen on the pitch again that season.
An impressive few weeks are likely to be needed then to remind his manager why he was so convinced to make him a £52m midfielder.
This particular version of the 3-5-2 would require Salah and Mane to push more in-field from their traditional wide areas.
It also takes away the foil of Firmino, who dovetails so well with both players when the collective tails are up.
Both have operated as the ‘No.9’ for Liverpool before, but would Klopp be prepared to use both in there next season and drop Firmino to the bench?
It is an option, at least.
Liverpool’s most attack-minded system sees all four of Klopp’s main frontmen involved.
After starting it against City in November, the Reds boss was reluctant to utilise it more often going forward.
Klopp named the quartet in the same lineup just one more time that season, again in a 1-1 draw, this time to Newcastle.
A side with more quality than the Magpies might have found more joy with a counter-attacking gameplan, but Liverpool still had more than enough chances to have won that game comfortably on April 24.
With the Reds’ confidence at a low ebb having recently come off a six-game losing streak at Anfield, Jota, Salah and Mane all spurned big chances before a they conceded a stoppage-time equaliser.
It is perhaps a system that could be introduced more than it was last term, even if Klopp’s default formation will remain 4-3-3.
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