Anatomy of a goal: Liverpool’s opening goal against Manchester United on Sunday helped fulfil a fantasy thatJürgen Klopp has held since signing Thiago Alcantara in the summer.

Liverpool have scored a goal. At times like these, that is something to celebrate.
After back-to-back-to-back duds, Liverpool opened the scoring against Manchester United with a move that was right out of Jurgen Klopps summer fantasy: Thiago, the ultimate problem solver, dropping in to correct the teams through-the-line issue; Roberto Firmino dropping off, ever the space finder, twisting and contorting in front of a settled backline; Mohamed Salah nipping in behind, a constant, buzzing, ever-present threat; the cool finish.
If you asked Klopp to diagram his ideal goal, it would probably look a little like Salahs opener.
Klopp experimented on Sunday. With Rhys Williams at the back alongside Fabinho, he once again dropped Thiago into that now traditional three-at-the-back look.
A big part of any pass-and-move system is playing with three at the back. Not in the traditional sense — with three centre-backs in that quintessential, Italian defensive block — but by dropping a player between the centre-backs or to either side of a standard back-two.
Its all about having players occupying the central area so that they can have a superiority of numbers in the middle while pressing as high and wide as possible up the pitch. Everything flows from this kind of look:
Thats the classic, though it obviously differs if a team is sitting in, using a staggered press, or set-up with a different shape. But the principle is the same. Usually, if a team sits in, say in a low 4-4-2 block, the mechanism for moving the ball forward is the same, only it takes place higher up the pitch. The centre-backs will start higher or they will carry the ball, looking to draw the press towards them. Whenever that press is triggered, the six will slot between the two.
With Fabinho at the six, Liverpool typically adopt the more traditional Barcelona-with-Busquets-or-Klopp, Cruyffian style: Fabinho splitting the two centre backs. With Henderson, its a bit different: Henderson likes to shuffle to the right side of the three to encourage greater inter-play with Trent Alexander-Arnold and to find a more natural between-the-lines path giving his tempo-based passing game.
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Thiago offers the best of all the world. He likes to slide in-between to centre-backs. He likes to slide to the left side. He will drop in on the right every now and then, but he does so based on the skill-set of his fullback. At Bayern Munich, his drop was typically based on the corresponding passing ability of the fullbacks, with Thiago setting up base camp on the side opposite the fullback with the best passing range — that would open up the vaunted reverse switch.
Against United, the impact was more profound. Klopp really split his centre-backs while his team had possession of the ball, pushing his fullbacks up into an out-and-out 3-4-3 look.
Then the real fun began in midfield. Klopp embraced his most freewheelin persona, opting for a roll the ball out and play style of attack. The midfield was allowed to play narrow. The strike partnership, even narrower: Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino played as a true little-and-large, central pairing. Behind the two, Klopp allowed the midfield freedom to roam. Sometimes it was a triangle; sometimes it was a box. Sometimes it was three in-behind with one link man a little deeper.
That player was typically Gini Wijnaldum, as it was for Salahs opener. Thiago gathered the ball and did what he does best: He injected pace into the attack and he burst the first line of the press.
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The ball was fizzed into Wijnaldum. From there, Wijnaldum did Wijnaldum things. He bobbed into space, head always up trying to find a corridor to slither the ball (or himself) through:
Uniteds defensive line sagged off into a tight, narrow, four-man block. Characteristically, Roberto Firmino dropped off into the space between a holding midfielder but in front of the back-four, creating that classic one-one-one vertical line — with free movement on either side — that has come to define Jurgen Klopps Liverpool: Press breaker; link man; creator.
It might not have been the traditional diamond that Firmino likes to create — the forward withdrawing from the defensive line and working with the number six and two eights to create a midfield diamond while the two wide-forwards drive in on-the-angle into the vacated space — but the effect was similar.
Or not. Firmino found his pocket of space but Uniteds backline remained disciplined. Nobody jumped out to follow Firmino. Nobody vacated the space. No one offered a simple passing lane. Harry Maguire stood in, set the line, and passed off responsibility to the descending Firmino to his midfield.
No bother. Firmino has no time for such quibbles. He has space and he has the ball, thats all that matters.
As Firmino gathered, Salah started to back his classic outside-in run, darting between the gulf in the left-back and left-sided centre-back.
Uniteds left back, Luke Shaw, dawdled. He paused, just for a second, allowing Salah to steal inside position and a half-a-beat on the defender.
That was all Salah and Firmino needed. Firmino cleared the ball out from his feet, picked his spot, and ripped the ball behind the left-sided centre-back and in front of Shaw, right into the path of the onrushing Salah.
From there, it was all up to the teams star finisher to slip the ball behind the United goalkeeper to give his side the lead.
It was a vintage Salah finish, not the gather and strike variety weve been treated to this season. The classic: Hit a beat later than anyone expects, giving the keeper no time to adjust to whatever Salah has decided.
It was an elegant move, one dripping in all the hallmarks of a peak Klopp side.
The result on Sunday did not go Klopps way. But his teams opener showed signs of life. It was a tidy marriage of the old and new; of the staples that have come to define his team and the evolution that he carefully mapped out last summer.