Manchester City legend Vincent Kompany has admitted that Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané provided his hardest defensive test during his days at the club.
Vincent Kompany knows a thing or two about playing football at the highest level. The Manchester City legend won four Premier Leagues, two FA Cups and four Carabao Cups during his decorated career as a player at the Etihad Stadium, going down as one of the greatest central defenders in the history of English football.
The Belgian, who is now in charge of Burnley in a coaching capacity, talked to Gary Neville this week ahead of Manchester City’s high-profile Champions League bout against Inter Milan. In a short episode of The Overlap on Sky Sports, Kompany admitted his toughest opponents during his playing days under Pep Guardiola.
“For my days with Pep, the most difficult team was Liverpool,” he said. “Klopp’s Liverpool with Mané, Salah and Firmino at their best, it was the hardest by far. You know if you give away the ball, the transitions would be tremendous for them. It’s something that you can’t stop if you lose the ball.”
Indeed, Kompany failed to record a single victory at Anfield during his illustrious career, and Guardiola only has one win over Jürgen Klopp on Merseyside, and that happened in an empty stadium during Covid, when Liverpool had to play Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in the center of defense due to serious injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.
Kompany’s words are understandable and they perhaps offer an insight into the dilemma that Klopp has faced over the past 12 months. Last summer, Sadio Mané left for Bayern, with his replacement Darwin Núñez possessing a very different skill-set in the sense that he is more inclined to act as a poacher in the penalty box rather than contributing across multiple departments.
Since selling the Senegalese international and buying a new profile of attacker, though, Klopp has appeared somewhat reluctant to move away from his signature make-up consisting of a false nine being flanked by two pacey wide forwards. For much of this season, he kept his faith in 4-3-3, even though his players struggled to showcase consistent results and performances week after week.
Liverpool went unbeaten in the last 11 games of the season using the new-look 3-2-5 shape, yet ended up finishing fifth in the table due to their disappointing results earlier. Champions League football will not be witnessed at Anfield next year, with the Reds boss suffering from a lack of options in midfield due to injuries.
Núñez has been used out wide on a number of occasions, like Mané was, and he’s also been tested as an alternative to Roberto Firmino by dropping into more withdrawn spaces to help Liverpool’s midfield department. Rather than Klopp changing his approach to accommodate his new Uruguayan striker, he looked toward a new option when adopting the 3-2-5 shape in April.
The German signed Cody Gakpo from PSV Eindhoven in the January transfer window, and the Dutchman initially arrived as a left-sided forward who would cut inside and score goals, but Klopp has since used him like he’s a Firmino clone by playing him as a central forward and encouraging him to move back into midfield at times.
It remains to be seen how Liverpool will look next season, but moving away from the go-to template that was initially created for Salah, Mané and Firmino will be essential moving forward. As of next season, two of the original three players will have left the club, with only Salah remaining on Merseyside, which captures why Klopp must design a new offensive blueprint.
The original plan of attack was highly successful — as proven by Kompany’s praise — but this summer, the Reds must establish a new dawn.