JURGEN Klopp’s message has been consistent.
“Football is not a fairytale,” he said after Liverpool drew 1-1 with Southampton on Monday morning (AEDT).
The former Borussia Dortmund manager has been billed as the Reds’ messiah by some, keen to see him return Liverpool to their former glories. But it hasn’t been that simple.
Three draws in three games continues the run of form started by Brendan Rodgers. Yet despite this, and despite the calls for time and patience from Klopp, there have been some immediate signs of change since he took charge of his first game against Tottenham last week.
The differences were even more pronounced mid-week in the Europa League game against Rubin Kazan, although Southampton made sure not to fall into the same trap as Liverpool’s two previous opponents.
Looking beyond the clear lift in intensity — “heavy metal football” as Klopp calls it — Fox Sports’ Kate Cohen looks at Liverpool’s two main patterns under their new boss so far.
There has been a lot of focus on Klopp’s ability to motivate his players, a quality immediately visible in the first minutes of Liverpool’s trip to Spurs, but there has been less focus on how Klopp has been able to set his side up to ‘press’ (work without the ball) effectively.
Using a 4-3-2-1 formation Klopp has been able to ensure the players understand their individual roles within the system when they are defending.
Essentially, Liverpool attempt to funnel opponents down the flanks, setting a trap where they can then look to win the ball back. To coin a phrase used by Pep Guardiola, Liverpool are using the sideline as an extra defender, which is why setting up with a narrow formation is actually effective.
This is because the slew of red shirts through the centre of the field tempt the opposition to pass the ball wider, to their fullbacks in space. But there’s the catch – when they do so, Liverpool’s players are anticipating the pass and immediately applying pressure.
In the defensive structure under Klopp, it is the striker — in these games Divock Origi — who positions himself between the two opposition centre backs, preventing them from passing to each other.
He will then arc his run to force them down one side of the field and towards the free fullback. In the meantime, the two players behind Origi — Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho — will start in a narrow position and block passes into the opposition’s two central midfielders. This again tempts the centre backs out towards the flanks.
Once this pass is played, the outside central midfielders — James Milner and Emre Can — use that as the cue to apply immediate pressure, using the sideline to their advantage.
While the amount of distance covered against Tottenham — a statistic without context — was used to show Liverpool pressing, a more effective way to demonstrate Liverpool’s “heavy metal” football was to highlight where they won the ball back from pressing.
Against Tottenham it was clear they had a lot of joy winning the ball back out wide. Liverpool also forced Spurs’ centre backs into long balls forward under pressure. And even when Tottenham’s midfield rotated, with Christian Eriksen drifting out wide to try and pick up possession, Liverpool reacted. In those instances, it would then be Lallana or Countinho who closed down the fullback, leaving the central midfielder to pick up the floating playmaker.
So effective was this pressing, when Liverpool later came up against Rubin Kazan and Southampton, the opposition centre backs rarely looked to play out — instead opting to play the ball long early. They didn’t dare back themselves and risk playing into Liverpool’s trap.
While Rubin Kazan played with 10-men for the majority of the game, there were four examples in the first 20 minutes against Southampton of Jose Fonte playing the ball up towards Graziano Pelle under pressure from Origi.
ATTACKING TWEAKS: WHO’S MOVING WHERE
It isn’t just without the ball where Klopp has already introduced some tweaks. There is now a rotation in attack which proved particularly potent against Rubin Kazan.
With some more time to work with the players, Liverpool’s right-sided trio — Milner, Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne — were in tune with each other’s movements to create a number of decent openings.
The basic pattern would begin when Milner dropped into a right back position from midfield, freeing up Clyne to advance high up the pitch. This caused confusion for the Rubin Kazan winger, who would tentatively step forward to apply pressure on Milner. The opposition fullback in turn then came forward to close down Clyne.
As soon as this happened, Lallana constantly took full advantage, bursting into the space between the out of position fullback and the opposition centre back to receive a pass from Milner.
Time and time again Lallana was played in dangerously, but rarely could Liverpool then find the final pass or finish needed to get their reward. And then against Southampton, they actively worked to prevent Liverpool from doing the same thing against them.
It was a quick lesson for the Liverpool players still learning what Klopp wants from them. Just two games into his reign and already they faced a team, Southampton, who refused to play into their two strengths shown. The Saints had no time for getting trapped by Liverpool’s press, instead playing up to their big striker, and they worked diligently to nullify Lallana in attack.
So just three games in, Klopp will have to continue to adapt and improve his side to make them less predictable. And as he reiterated again — doing this will take time.
© 2015 Fox Sports | This article was written by Kate Cohen on 27 October 2015.