I know I said not to read into pre-season results much but I’m a liar. Words did no justice to the performance Liverpool put in on Saturday against Barcelona and I resorted to just making the odd animalistic noise to show my approval. I’m not ashamed by it. Shame implies I was embarrassed by my hypocritical ways. I wasn’t.
The 4-0 humbling of the La Liga champions was the culmination of a successful pre-season for Jurgen Klopp’s handsome Reds. For the entirerity of the pre-season Liverpool played with an identity and an intensity fans aren’t familiar with. There was a clear style and the players knew exactly their role was.
Liverpool started the match with Gini Wijnaldum, Emre Can and Adam Lallana in midfield with Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in attack. On paper it looks a little imbalanced and very attacking but as a six man unit, because that’s what it is is, a unit, it worked. Liverpool defended from the front so the lack of ‘defensive’ players wasn’t an issue and this should be encouraging for Liverpool fans.
When Lallana pressed ahead of Mane the Senegalese attacker filled in and backed up Lallana. It was fluid because five of the six players mentioned are all interchangeable. These are Klopp players. They’re all able to press high, they’re all energetic, powerful, quick and there was a blitz mentality that Barcelona just couldn’t cope with. It was a rotisserie of tenacious pressing.
It wasn’t a one-off result simply because the chances Liverpool created are all easily replicated. It doesn’t matter who the opposition is, if you’re breaking at such pace and getting bodies into the box you’re bound to score.
The screenshots above are the lead up to the Sadio Mane opener. Lallana has pushed on from his position and Mane is filling in behind for if Barcelona play through the Lallana press. It’s worth noting here that the initial presser isn’t expected to get the ball, being the trigger Lallana is tasked with making the player pass the ball into an area Liverpool are happy to defend from. If he wins the ball it’s a bonus.
Lallana steals the ball and gets Liverpool on the attack. It’s credit to him just how much he’s developed under Klopp that even though there aren’t really many players ahead of him he still looks to drive forward. No Cruyff turns and holding onto the ball when it’s not necessary. He was direct.
There are a few encouraging signs to take away from this goal. Firmino’s movement is a big plus as he drags the Barcelona centre-back wide and frees up space centrally. Another positive is just how many players Liverpool get forward in this attack. Lallana continues his run after winning the ball, Mane breaks from deep and Coutinho is supporting from the left.
Getting bodies into the box was an isolated incident. It was continuous throughout the 90 minutes. The screenshot above is of Coutinho cutting inside and lashing a shot just wide. Liverpool are 3 vs 3 inside the penalty area with Lallana joining play late. How often last season did Liverpool have so many bodies getting forward like that? How many times did we as fans see Coutinho having shots inside the area? The movement of the Liverpool attack allowed Coutinho to be 10 yards further forward before taking a shot. Positives.
The picture above is just before Mane puts the ball into the danger zone for the Henderson goal. Once again look how many players Liverpool have getting into the penalty area. Support your attackers and you’re going to get chances. Far too often last season the lone striker was isolated.
The four shots above are the lead up to the Origi goal. What’s good to see here is just how well drilled the midfield are. The midfield are in their defensive shape as Busquets picks the ball up but as soon as Stewart pinches the ball all four players are breaking from deep. It’s not just for show either as both Wijnaldum and Mane are breaking their necks to get into the area as Origi lines up the shot. There’s a desire to support the striker and there’s a hunger from the entire midfield to get onto the scoresheet.
This sort of play lends itself to the Gegenpress that Klopp will set up. If Liverpool have players in attacking positions having broke at pace then they have players in areas ready to press if the opposition are able to repel the first phase of the attack. Had Mascherano managed to tackle Origi then he immediately has Wijanldum and Mane backing up Origi and pressing him. Behind those two is Firmino, Henderson and Stewart then behind them is the back four. If Liverpool win the ball back before it reaches their defence they then have the attacking players in dangerous areas. There is basically six lines of Liverpool defence to get through meaning theres a chance the players will win the ball back before it reaches the ‘keeper. Setting up the counter attack and the Gegenpress.
The two screenshots above are the build up to the Firmino chance that he puts wide. In the first shot Liverpool are in a 451 formation with both wide midfielders deeper than the central midfielders. Yet as soon as Liverpool win the ball back and Origi lays the ball off it’s Firmino and Mane who are breaking ahead of the Liverpool no27. The first thought from the two wide midfielders are to get central and exploit the space vacated by Origi. They’re getting into areas to score goals.
These instances are all easily replicated no matter who the opposition is. People may claim Barcelona were easy to counter because they dominated the ball and looked to attack us. To an extent it’s true but Liverpool can press any team. If they can press a team then they can counter a team regardless of how low their defensive line is. Liverpool fans should be excited after such a performance and oppositions fans should be worried.
Before anybody mentions it, the Mainz result doesn’t matter. It was only pre-season.