There was a misconception when Jurgen Klopp took charge of Liverpool that he would immediately transform the club into Borussia Dortmund mark II. This misconception was propagated mainly by the mainstream media but also by fans and amateur bloggers. The first few weeks of Klopp’s reign however have given us a glimpse of what we can expect from the German and it looks as though it is time for fans to get excited.
In the Capital One Cup Quarter-Final against Liverpool there was a seemingly weakened team, with Brazilian duo Coutinho and Roberto Firmino sitting out. We saw this weakened side go down in the first minute and have to respond to adversity. The remainder of the match saw the high energy and high intensity football that we were led to expect when Klopp took charge but this style was nuanced with the style of the Liverpool of old.
Instead of the new Borussia Dortmund what we seem to be getting is something of an amalgamation of German and English footballing history with elements of both sides footballing cultures being drawn together to form a unit that will looks to be preparing for an assault on the top of the Premier League.
Structure In Possession
The first concept that became apparent in the match with Southampton is that there is a clear structured approach to the way that Klopp wants Liverpool to build an attack when in possession of the ball. There are several ways that a team can approach this phase of play and different platforms from which they begin to build. Klopp likes to begin with a platform from the defensive midfield strata, meaning that the central defenders and the central midfielders will all be involved with the building of the initial phase of attack.
In this example we can see that as Liverpool are building their attack the players around the man in possession of the ball create angles to receive the ball and support the attack. These angles tend to form diamonds and triangles across the different areas of the pitch meaning that the ball can travel through the vertical as well as the horizontal areas. This ease of ball movement makes it very easy for the angle and depth of attack to shift quickly. This means that the opposition’s defensive structure can be pulled apart easily.
Again here you can see that structurally Liverpool have set up in a loose diamond around the man in possession of the ball. This time though we can see a combination of concepts with the movement of the attackers showing how Liverpool build from their platform. There is a space ahead of the man in possession and one of the attackers drops deep to fill the space. This simple move forces the Southampton defender to decide whether to track the run and attack the space or stay in position and defend his zone. This choice is further complicated by the presence of a Liverpool attacker off his shoulder on the touchline.
The combination of different tactical concepts in this way will start to show the identity that we are looking to see from Liverpool under Klopp.
To this point we have not seen gegenpressing from Liverpool under Klopp. This is not to say however that we will not see that most famous aspect of Dortmund’s play at Anfield, I just think that Klopp will need at the very least a full pre-season with the squad and perhaps a few more signings with specific duties in mind before we see Liverpool counter pressing opponents. That does not however mean that Liverpool are not using pressing strategies in game at the moment.
One of the main pressing triggers that we saw against Southampton was the most simple of all, pressing the man in possession when he is in a wide position and pinned to the touchline.
Southampton are trying to build an attack on the right side of the pitch and Liverpool have created a chain that has cut the three opposition players off from any support. In terms of positional play there are still mistakes and a good opponent will still play through the chain. For the most part however teams will either try to force the ball through the defence leading to a turnover or they will be forced to turn back and try to build again.
Again, there are three Liverpool players that engage in the initial press on the man with the ball in the wide area. Positionally Liverpool are in a stronger position this time around as they have two free players that have the scope to add to the press in a secondary movement. They are also able to sweep up any loose balls that are played in to the centre of the pitch.
As I said before this is effective pressing although no matter what anyone tells you it is not gegenpressing, yet.
Compact Attacking Shape
This is a concept that was one of the keys to Klopp’s tenure at Dortmund and it is the one thing that Klopp seems to have transported wholesale almost straight away. The concept is to attack in a wave of players that are closely connected to one another positionally meaning that there are numerous passing options for the man in possession with runners attacking the oppositions defensive structure at different angles. Ironically having already stated that Klopp is not utilising gegenpressing this is a concept and a structure that would enable that to be used.
There are six attacking players in a very narrow formation through the centre of the field. We would generally see the width being provided by the fullbacks who are free to move in to attacking areas as part of a secondary wave. By playing in such a narrow and compact structure you also force the opposition to mirror that creating space one the edges that intelligent players like Coutinho and Firmino in particular can exploit.
The compact shape does not have to be central as you can see above. With the ball being located out on the right side there are still five Liverpool players that are closely connected to the ball and once again if Klopp did want to counter press then this would be an ideal structure.
There is absolutely no doubt that we are still in the very early stages of Klopp’s project at Liverpool. There are still aspects of their tactical approach that are hangovers from the Brendan Rodgers era but we are gradually seeing concepts and tweaks that are showing the personality of Klopp. I believe that we will not see the real plan until next season with a full pre season and a full recruitment cycle in place, the 6-1 victory over Southampton however shows that Liverpool fans should be more than optimistic.