How Jurgen Klopp and his pressing Liverpool have been found out in just two months

How Jurgen Klopp and his pressing Liverpool have been found out in...

dirk vanadidas
dirk vanadidas
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found this article after the Europa final,

What happened to the great Jürgen Klopp bubble? Why has it burst? How has the Liverpool team that beat Chelsea and Manchester City in the space of three weeks managed to take one point from their last three Premier League games? It feels like the great mystery of the last month, though there’s actually a perfectly tangible reason. It’s is tactical one (of course!) and it reveals the incredibly short period of time that a manager has to employ a new strategy before his opponents find a way of counteracting it.

We talked here only a few weeks ago about the way that Klopp’s philosophy involved pressing in two areas of the field. If Liverpool believe they can win the ball in the opponents’ defensive third, they will go for it. If not, they will leave the no man’s land in central midfield, retreat straight back into their own defensive third and attempt to dispossess the opposition and win it back there. It’s not a constant press: just a press in the key areas.

Initially this worked well, because when Liverpool played at Chelsea and Manchester City they found teams who wanted to pass the ball through them, from the back, and were susceptible to being dispossessed by the high press. But their opponents have discovered a way of beating that strategy – quite simply by going long. The teams Liverpool have struggled against – Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion and Watford in the past few weeks and Crystal Palace before that – are, just like Chelsea and City, finding five Liverpool players pushing up on them in that high press but are taking those five out of the equation and bypassing them with the long ball.

Liverpool are then facing a race to get those players back to defend against that long ball: a race they cannot win because, to express things at their simplest, a ball travels faster than a man. A characteristic of those teams they have struggled against is their ability to get men forward quickly. With two of their midfielders already committed to the high press, Liverpool have only Lucas Leiva and the defenders left to cope. Lucas is being outnumbered two or three to one. That no man’s land we talked about is suddenly very important indeed.

Liverpool’s opponents are consistently winning the second ball: by which we mean the ball is played long, a Liverpool defender makes a header, but there with the absence of Liverpool men, the opposing player wins the next – or, second – ball. So, rather than do what we saw them do when we last wrote on this subject – outnumber opposition in two key areas – Liverpool are finding themselves outnumbered instead, with their players running back towards their own goal when Klopp’s philosophy is very much about facing the opposition.

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The data very much bears out this pattern. First, let’s look at long balls. Chelsea, playing the ball out from the back and falling into Klopp’s trap, played just 59 long balls when the sides met. West Bromwich, by comparison, went long 77 times, Watford 86 times, Newcastle 82 times and Crystal Palace 84 times. In fact, there is evidence that these teams – all of whom deployed a big striker against Liverpool – are specifically tailoring their long-ball game to counter their pressing threat. The number of long passes Newcastle made against Klopp’s players was their second-highest total of the season, as was Palace’s. West Bromwich’s was their fifth highest. And as we have seen in our examination of Leicester City on these pages, Claudio Ranieri’s team will certainly deploy the long pass when the two teams meet at Anfield today.

The possession stats develop the picture, because they show us that another part of the strategy for counter-attacking the pressing is to allow Liverpool lots of the ball and sit back – ensuring that Klopp’s players do not outnumber them. The Watford, Newcastle, Palace and West Bromwich games have brought Liverpool their four biggest possession percentages since Klopp took over. And who was the lowest possession percentage (42 per cent) against? Manchester City, whom they destroyed at the Etihad. We can confidently predict that Liverpool will be receiving 60 or 65 per cent of possession against Leicester today.


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