Jurgen Klopp faced a stern test in his first game in charge at Liverpool Football Club. Joel McMaster looks at the German’s early impact on the side following the 0-0 draw between Tottenham and Liverpool.
The widespread belief was that Klopp would play his regular 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid formation, his ultimate preference at Borussia Dortmund. But instead, the Stephen-Merchant-look-a-like surprised many by evoking memories of Carlo Ancelotti’s famous AC Milan side and fielding the Liverpool eleven in the 4-3-2-1 (Christmas Tree) shape.
The midfield three was most interesting. Lucas Leiva was flanked by Emre Can and James Milner. My initial impression was that it was a brilliant way to get the best out of all three players. I’ve long believed that Lucas is better utilised as a defensive midfield pivot on his own rather than in a two. Conversely, James Milner has done nothing to convince that he is the central midfielder of the standard Liverpool require, but his right-of-centre position looked a good compromise between playing in the middle and out wide, depending on circumstances. Thirdly, in his left of centre position, it was the most comfortable Emre Can has been since his arrived at the club.
The overall shape leant itself to choking the central areas and forcing the opposition wide, and that’s exactly what Liverpool did.
In the post-match press conference Klopp said he didn’t want the team to go on the first ball, but the second. Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham like to play out from the back and there was a clear intent to force Spurs to play wide or into midfield. The trigger was Divock Origi, who started the match up front after Daniel Sturridge picked up a knee injury the night before.
This example from the second half shows Liverpool’s approach for the majority of the match. Origi almost waits for Alderweirald to move beyond him, before coming round to cut off any options the centre back may have to pass backwards. As soon as Origi did this, Liverpool’s midfield presses hard with Coutinho on Kyle Walker, Lucas moving high towards Delle Alli and even Adam Lallana coming across the pitch.
This resulted in a number of turnovers during the match, however Liverpool were unable to take advantage of them as they looked less than fluid in attack, possibly due to Klopp’s focus on his side’s defensive discipline.
Additionally, the Reds covered the most distance and made the most sprints in a game of any Premier League team this season, greater indication that the manager’s famed gegenpressing philosophy has begun to take hold.
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
Another sign that Klopp and his coaching staff had focused on how Liverpool defended during their limited time with the squad was how compact the side was. While defending in their own half, they did their best to reduce Spurs to playing on one side of the pitch. Just look at how far across James Milner and Adam Lallana have come in an effort to keep Tottenham penned in. In this case, there are four Liverpool players around two Tottenham players:
4. Attacking Build-Up
In Ancelotti’s Christmas Tree, the fullbacks pushed beyond the midfield as soon as their central defenders received the ball. In Klopp’s system, the fullbacks were more conservative initially before pushing on.
In the second half, after the winning the ball, Liverpool’s back line fan out to open up the pitch, and Skrtel receives the ball from Sakho.
As Skrtel receives the pass from Sakho and looks for his options, Clyne begins his movement upfield. Milner, his closest midfield teammate, moves into the space vacated by the fullback.
Milner’s movement allows Lallana to drop into his space as Skrtel now has three or four options from which to choose from – Milner, Lucas, plus Lallana and Coutinho who can look to combine further up the pitch with Clyne, who has now motored forward in support.
It will take time for Klopp’s philosophy to be instilled amongst the Liverpool squad. History shows that this was the case with both his Mainz and Dortmund sides. The signs are clear, however, that the German has already began to make his mark on the Anfield team.