THE message from the players off the field is as synchronised as their counter-pressing on it.
From Dejan Lovren to Philippe Coutinho, from Lucas to Jordon Ibe, we’ve heard about Jürgen Klopp’s twin policy of belief and work. “If you put that together, the result is a win,” said the Croatian defender, who pointed to the aways against Chelsea and Manchester City as examples of that equation in effect.
We’ve been told about “playing with big hearts” and having the “bravery to make faults.” We’ve seen the Reds morph into a side that is more compact and harder to beat. Scorelines like the 3-1 at Old Trafford and the 3-0 at home to West Ham look foreign to Klopp’s Liverpool and it must feel like a lifetime ago to the personnel who featured on those dark days.
The manager hates to go into detail about what is different now. The squad have never delved into it either under his instruction. “I don’t want them to be talking about our training and what we’re doing because it’s our training, it’s not for everybody,” the German said at Melwood ahead of the Bordeaux clash.
While they are not saying much, they’re definitely showing more on the pitch. And that’s the way we like it.
So what exactly has altered?
RUN LIVERPOOL, RUN
It was evident from Klopp’s first game against Tottenham: Liverpool would put in a greater shift than the opposition as a matter of routine.
The Reds boss saw his side cover more ground and make more sprints than in any of their previous Premier League games this season prior to his arrival. In doing that, they neutralised the most effective English top-flight pressing team in Spurs.
1 – Liverpool made 50 more sprints than Spurs (614 v 564) & were the 1st team to run further in a PL game than Spurs this season. Gegenpress
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 17, 2015
And that was not a one-off. Assessing the club’s two trips to Manchester in the campaign is telling: the team stretched themselves to 73 miles against City, while they managed 67.8 at United.
Running alone is not a formidable tactic, but combined with the other key facets of Klopp’s fighting football, it is essential. If you work more, you win more.
WIN IT BACK, QUICK
We’ve had gegenpress for breakfast, lunch and dinner since the 48-year-old flew in from Dortmund on a private flight, but it is the underpinning of his process.
“The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it,” Klopp has said. “The opponent is still looking for orientation where to pass the ball. He will have taken his eyes off the game to make his tackle or interception and he will have expended energy. Both make him vulnerable.”
Swarming your opponents and dispossessing them increases the flow of your game and disrupts theirs — as seen at the Etihad.
On Monday Night Football, Gary Neville observed how on a few occasions, City had a pass on that would have created defensive problems for Liverpool. He couldn’t understand why a team of that quality couldn’t spot those plays. Manuel Pellegrini’s men had tunnel vision because they were forced into it: the Reds did not give them time or space to employ their natural game. They felt rushed, they felt against it and they felt anxious.
As Klopp explained: “We had to disturb their build-up play, because if you let them play how they want, no chance.” City struggled against Spurs’ high press and they could not live with Liverpool’s either.
On Saturday evening, the Reds made 32 interceptions compared to the 12 at Old Trafford in September.
Liverpool are averaging 15.8 interceptions per game in the league under Klopp, up from 13.6 recorded with Brendan Rodgers.
READY, SET, TACKLE
Liverpool harass and hound the ball carrier. Then they tackle. And they’ve been tackling.
The 23 pulled off at United became 32 at the Etihad. Liverpool are now averaging 27.8 tackles per game.
That figure was at 22 under the previous manager.
POSSESSION VERSUS PLAY IT FORWARD
While Rodgers was an advocate of intense pressing, he wanted his side to dominate the ball above all. Possession, pass success and such was paramount to him. It is not under Klopp.
Liverpool do not fight to possess the ball, they brawl so they can move it forward at pace. The transition to attack once they’ve got it back is vital. The first three goals against City came from rapid movements up the pitch once the hosts had been robbed. The intelligence and speed of the motions from Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino was sublime.
The charismatic trainer is not fussed about the faults that come with this sort of style.
122 out of 385 passes were misplaced against City, which is a success rate of just 68.3 per cent. That is lower than any Liverpool game last season. While Rodgers valued more safety with the ball, Klopp encourages the risk for reward.
Liverpool’s transition from defence to attack was so thorough against the champions-elect, that they could’ve easily posted at least three more goals at the Etihad.
Klopp revelled in both their counter-press and counter-attack. More please, can we have some more?
AWAY FROM THE BOARD
The tactical elements do not take shape in isolation. The full-throttle football enthusiast has transformed Liverpool individually and collectively. He has turned a question like ‘what does Firmino do?’ into ‘what can’t Firmino do?’.
He literally slapped the confidence back into Ibe, who is now a throwback to the dynamic player who was so problematic for Everton and Spurs to deal with last season.
Lucas’ Liverpool career was on life support again at the start of the campaign, but his energy and industry levels under Klopp have been staggering. The Brazilian is not just stopping attacks, he has been encouraged to start them too.
The list of the manager’s effect on individual players is lengthy. His reconstruction of the collective has been immense too.
Liverpool’s high-risk approach at City produces a riveting victory because the players believed in it, and worked together for it.
Sat at the Etihad, it was incredible to watch their choreography in applying pressure — they all seemed attached by a thread; the movement of one resulting in that of another and another…
Everything they executed was in unison. Everything they executed was an evolution from Klopp’s first encounter against Tottenham.
At White Hart Lane, Liverpool nailed the press and the diligence, but they offered nothing after winning the ball back.
In the next away league game at Stamford Bridge, the factors that worked at Spurs was married with greater threat in transition.
Against City, Liverpool amplified their pressure and were irresistible pouring forward.
The progress is clear and welcomed. The next step? Making it happen at Anfield.
Storming a stacked defence, showing more patience and composure, tucking into that new belief deeper and greater.
If Liverpool can remedy their home form and continue their exploits away, in Klopp’s favourite newly-discovered phrase, that would be: “Boss tha’”.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo