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Liverpool’s rise to the top and tactics under Jürgen Klopp

Before the suspension of football due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Liverpool were at the top of the table. Having played 29 league games, the Reds had amassed a 25-point gap of last season’s champions, but they have recently been crowned champions for the 2019/20 season. This coupled with winning the Champions League in 2019 having lost the final the year before has got everyone talking about Liverpool.

The players and staff have relationships built on understanding each other and trust which has brough back the community and good feel to Liverpool. Many credit Klopp for this and whilst he has undoubtedly been a big factor, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have been arguably a bigger factor in this.

Since buying the club in October of 2010, FSG have ran the Merseyside club with clear intentions, to bring them back to the top. FSG have made some mistakes such as supporting Luis Suárez following allegations he racially abused Patrice Evra which is inexcusable, trying to copyright the word “Liverpool” following their sixth Champions League win, trying to increase ticket prices to £77 and most recently was placing their non-playing staff on furlough. They have righted these but since apologising about supporting Suárez and doing a U-turn on the others which also had apologies. They might not have captured the club’s spirit as they often try to run Liverpool like an American sports club but one thing they have done right is recruitment.

Recruitment has mainly been done by Damien Comolli and Michael Edwards; the Reds have recently been known for smart signings from Jordan Henderson to Andrew Robertson. Apart from Van Dijk and Alisson, most of Liverpool’s signings have been for £35 million or less which in comparison to signings by other clubs, this is cheap. FSG have one of the best analytics departments in sports as further shown by their recruitment and coaching with the Boston Red Sox.

Klopp’s tactics

It is no secret that Klopp’s philosophy is built on a direct approach with intensity and pace whilst without the ball it relies on pressing and counter-pressing which Klopp has described as “the best playmaker in football”. However, during their time under Klopp, Liverpool have pressed less as shown by stats such as pressures. Every season, Liverpool have pressed less and moved their back line further up the pitch which is a clear tactical shift which could be down to the players pressing more affectively and with athletic defenders such as Van Dijk and Gomez, they can afford to push up further as they know they can recover.

The most talked about parts of Liverpool’s side are the front line and the full backs. Klopp has turned Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold into playmakers with the latter taking up an attacking position and role similar to that of Kevin De Bruyne’s at Manchester City.

Klopp has brought in coaches to give his side an edge, most notably was Thomas Gronnemark who is Liverpool’s throw-in coach. Gronnemark holds the Guiness World Record for the longest throw-in. It’s these small details that can give Liverpool an edge in games.

The formation has been fairly consistent. Liverpool have rolled out in a 4-3-3 in most games, however, have occasionally gone to a 4-2-3-1, the latter being used mainly to help double up defensively in the wide areas.

The 4-3-3 has a narrow and compact midfield and forward line with most of the ball progression being done by the full backs who offer width.

Roberto Firmino often drops between the lines. This helps Liverpool create space for the wingers but also gives another passing option for the midfielders. If Naby Keïta or Alex Oxlade-Chaimberlain are playing, they will push up between the lines to offer another option in attack. This makes Liverpool more difficult to defend against as the fluidity and passing options make it almost impossible to stop. This is why they have scored in all but one Premier League game in 2019/20.

The pressing that Klopp is so well associated with is still very affective, not only as a way of winning possession back but also at springing counterattacks. This pressing is blended with direct play that could be labelled as “old fashioned”. As Alisson and Van Dijk are good long passers, they can utilise this to get the ball up the pitch as quickly as possible.

Liverpool play a lot of long diagonal passes to the wide areas. The receivers are often a winger, a full back getting forward or a midfielder that has drifted out wide. The long ball to Salah is most common but Liverpool aren’t afraid to switch it up.

During a 4-0 home win over Southampton in 2019/20, the direct play was in show. For their third goal, Alisson cleared the ball out to the right-hand side of Liverpool’s attack. Firmino’s movement dragged a defender with him which meant Henderson could pick up the ball in space. Henderson then angled a pass inside to the half space into the run of Salah who put the ball in the back of the net.

As well as using the direct route Liverpool also like to open defences up with cross-field passes to switch the play, often between the full backs. Van Gaal’s Man United were known for shutting the ball from side to side in the defence with many passes whilst Liverpool do it in one, with most a pass to the other full back running into space as they play with clear attacking intent. This quick play makes it harder to defend against.

Liverpool will sometimes hit a long ball into Firmino who loses it. This is so they can “gegenpress” the opposition player who has just won possession as you are most vulnerable when you have just won the ball.

This mix of direct passes and quick pressing is a mix of old fashioned and modern, a blend they seem to have perfected this season.


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