THINK back to Tottenham away last season, it’s a huge compliment to Jürgen Klopp that his aura and reputation went before him and had such a positive impact on the players. It’s easy to take that for granted when a new manager comes in.
It took him so little time after the international break, with some of the players travelling back, to put across what he wanted his players to do and he probably didn’t even have to say very much for them to want to impress him.
Even now, with all the games we’ve had under Klopp that stands out to me as one of the top three performances. I don’t know whether the stats back that up, but visually it stood out — it was a marked improvement. We were absolutely flying out the traps, closing the opposition down and putting enormous pressure on the Spurs players.
That was one of the first things to come out of Klopp’s reign and, despite all the changes that have happened since, the characteristics of that very first game are the same characteristics that people associate with this Liverpool team to this day — rightly or wrongly.
The 2-1 win over Swansea was the least distance we’ve covered this season. Jürgen references this 120km mark as being the utopia for his teams, in terms of distance covered. Against Swansea it was slightly lower yet in sprints we were among the highest we’ve been this season, which was likely dominated by the second half. None of that has changed in a year under Klopp.
When Klopp came in, I wasn’t sure how flexible he would be. I was expecting him to stick to playing with a 4-4-1-1, similar to how Rafa Benitez came in and played a 4-2-3-1. He has used that formation on a few occasions, but he’s also been inclined to change the system and this season he’s been using a really aggressive version of the 4-3-3. It’s a real credit to him how creative he has been in using different formations and certain other things he’s doing.
I expect him to stick with the 4-3-3 for now but he did say to The Anfield Wrap over summer that we shouldn’t expect him to stick to that one formation for the whole season. I don’t think he said that to play mind games or anything, he will change and tweak things. It will be very interesting to see how he will go about doing that.
Manchester City v A High Press
I struggle to remember many occasions, in recent years, where Manchester City haven’t come flying out the traps and quickly established themselves as the bookies’ favourites for the title — barring perhaps 2014/15 where Chelsea established themselves ridiculously quickly. That has once again been the case this season, when most were pretty much saying “give them the league title now.” There was almost a defeatist attitude in the Premier League.
Now, they’ve had three away games in the space of a week without their best player — Kevin De Bruyne — which is by no means easy. However, the key thing about the three teams they’ve faced is that all three used the same blueprint. It was a little bit similar for what Manchester United tried to do to them in the second half, and that game will likely be used as a reference point for a lot of teams this season. That is close to the toughest that City have had it, before they met Swansea.
Swansea had half an hour against City where they adopted a really high press, similar to what they did against Liverpool. What was also similar in that game is that Swansea seemed to just run out of legs and didn’t have the adequate pace in the team to really hurt City.
People talk about fitness a lot when referring to pressing, but they don’t talk about pace enough. There are also other factors, a lot of mental factors in terms of how a player reads the game, but a player could run all day and if he didn’t have that pace he wouldn’t be able to effectively press his opposite number. There has to be a combination. It’s not as easy as people think to execute an effective press throughout 90 minutes.
Swansea caused City problems in that first half an hour but couldn’t sustain it. What that does mean, however, is that teams now have both the United and Swansea games to use as reference points in trying to figure out how to hurt City. A lot of teams will have the belief they can cause City problems.
You can see the problems that Celtic caused. It was in typical Brendan Rodgers fashion really, that when it was high intensity and when they were pressing they cause problems but when that tempo dropped they were cut wide open. But Celtic did leave them with a bloody nose.
Tottenham were the best of the bunch in shutting City down. Mauricio Pochettino is actually very similar to Klopp, in terms of his tactical approach. His tactics were clever and he used Heung-Min Son in that ‘false nine’ role that Roberto Firmino operates in for Liverpool. I wonder if Pochettino watched our game at City last season and that influenced his decision. But, once again, when they applied pressure they cause problems.
The international break has perhaps come at the right time for Pep Guardiola. When he managed Barca in Spain, most teams didn’t press them like that and didn’t really have the tools to do so. Pep is on record as saying that one of his toughest games was always away at Valencia, he hated that first half an hour at the Mestalla because the press Unai Emery’s side operated was the fiercest he faced in Spain. To counteract that he would go long for the first 10-15 minutes, using the likes of David Villa and Thierry Henry to give him width, and split the centre halves to give them room to play down the middle. Naturally the opposition would start to drop off, with the defenders not wanting to get caught by the long ball over their heads.
The only problem is that, at City, he doesn’t have the tools to be able to do this as effectively. They lack a bit of an aerial presence up top. He might decide to go three at the back, to outnumber the opposition in the key pressing areas and try to play through them, but he might just see whether they can weather the storm for that first 30 in the hope that teams will burn themselves out. That early goal can be vital for the opposition, it gives them something to hang on to.
These are important considerations for both City and Liverpool, in terms of finding ways to beat the press. It may be that a potential injury to Adam Lallana actually helps Liverpool, as they can move Philippe Coutinho into midfield, put Daniel Sturridge up top and play Firmino out wide. Firmino will likely give more width, and is more of an aerial threat, than Coutinho so the potential to go longer to counter the press is there.
Divock Origi v Danny Ings
It’s clear that Klopp’s first choice front three is Sadio Mane, Firmino and Coutinho. Injury to one of them, or the current potential injury to Lallana, would mean that Sturridge would come in. We saw that against Burnley, Leicester, Chelsea and Swansea.
On paper Divock Origi provides the ideal option on the bench. When we’re winning the game, he can come on and be a battering ram — somebody we can go long to and he can turn his man and shield the ball well. Even when we’re losing, he has goals in him and has got a bit of everything as a finisher.
For whatever reason, he’s been pretty poor nearly every time he’s come off the bench this season. Against Arsenal, in particular, he made really selfish runs and he looked like he just wanted a goal rather than trying to help the team. On Saturday he came on and nearly set Sturridge up but his final ball was just slightly off. That’s fine, for the most part, but if you’re going to play for a club like Liverpool you have to have better end product than that.
The fans, rightly, have a lot of belief in Origi and I fully expect him to develop into a good player for Liverpool but, if the stories over summer are to be believed, we rejected several bids for Danny Ings only to play him in the under-23s and his performances have been fantastic.
When you look at the photos of him with the academy lads on Instagram, and the effort he’s putting into those games, it’s clear that Ings is a top professional and it seems like he’s genuine — despite the fact he might not want to be there. What more can he do?
Liverpool haven’t got loads of games this season, so Klopp has big decisions to make in terms of squad management. He needs to make sure that Ings still has the incentive to keep performing. But, if he continues to not be rewarded for his efforts with the youngsters, he might start to become demotivated.
If Klopp decided to put him on the bench for United, and made Origi move down to the under-23s to get some game time and a few goals, and then brought Ings on in that game, he’d be like a man possessed. He’d give 110% to impress, if given that chance.
Klopp wouldn’t have much to lose and it would send a message to the squad, similar to the Mamadou Sakho situation, that if you’re behaviour isn’t as it should be you will be punished. Alternatively if you’re behaviour is good and you display professionalism you will be rewarded.
If Origi and Ings switched roles, the hope would be that Origi would react positively and then the manager has got a good problem to have.