Ben Bocsák: From Portugal to Anfield, A New Era?

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Amorim’s Blueprint – Liverpool’s Future?

Alas there will be no magical return to Anfield for Xabi Alonso this summer. The Spaniard has made his decision clear. He will not be the man to succeed Jurgen Klopp. But then, who will?

All signs seem to point towards Ruben Amorim for Liverpool. The Sporting CP manager has a bigger sample size than Alonso at the game’s elite level. He has already delivered Sporting CP’s first league title in almost two decades and is on course to repeat that achievement this season.

Only 39 years old, on paper, he would arrive with an exciting CV and someone with the potential makings of a top-level coach—even if he isn’t quite there yet. The numbers are encouraging, and his record at Sporting CP means there are few others in world football who would suit taking Klopp’s throne over Amorim.

Amorim’s Defensive Structure

One of the first things that stands out about Amorim’s Sporting is his defensive stability. Over the course of the last four seasons in the Portugal top flight (since Amorim has been in charge of Sporting), his club has conceded the fewest expected goals against them three times.

Amorim plays a high line and has a compact midfield in front of them, which makes Sporting challenging to beat. That’s why teams like Arsenal have struggled against Amorim in Europe recently.

On top of that, Amorim does like his team to press and defend from the front—similarly to the principles of Klopp’s gegenpress. However, Amorim’s side certainly isn’t as effective nor as intense in its pressing yet in comparison to Klopp’s Liverpool.

In the Portuguese top flight this season, Amorim’s Sporting rank only fourth place for PPDA (9.3), which stands for passes allowed per defensive action and can be used to measure a pressing team’s intensity and effectiveness. All three of Benfica (8.7), Braga (8.4) and Porto (6.83) rank above Sporting in the league for this metric.

Both Benfica (83) and Porto (61) also rank above Sporting (55) for tackles made in the opposition’s final third. Meanwhile, Sporting only ranks 7th in the league for recoveries (1292).

Where Sporting do resemble Klopp’s defensive shape a little bit more is their aerial prowess. Amorim deploys defenders who are vital in the air. Sebastian Coates and Ousmande Diomande both excel in this area. Overall, Sporting ranks fourth in the league for successful aerial duels (52.2%) – above their rivals Benfica (51.8) and Porto (51.7).

Amorim in Possession

On the ball, Amorim’s team is very good at keeping possession and advancing into the right areas. They deal with the opposition’s press well – and complete the highest number of passes per defensive action against them in the league (15.18).

Per 90 minutes – only Benfica attempted more passes (498) than Amorim’s side (460) on average.

Amorim’s Sporting is quite versatile. They like to play through central channels, and as a result, they average the most through balls in the league (8.1 per 90). However, they will also exploit the flanks.

Sporting this season has averaged the second most crosses in the league (16.67 per 90) behind only Braga (16.95 per 90). They also make the second most crosses into the six-yard boss (72) behind Benfica (82), very much utilising the aerial prowess of Viktor Gyokeres.

Interestingly, Amorim’s Sporting this season favours crosses from the left. They have made 265 crosses from the left flank, the most in the league. Meanwhile, they’ve only made 191 crosses from the right flank, which ranks them in 13th place in the league.

The Concerns

Amorim’s record in Europe with Sporting does leave a few question marks. In the past, he has managed to knock Arsenal out. However, the further he has ever gotten in Europe is the quarter-finals – that was last season when Juventus ultimately eliminated him in the Europa League.

During his previous season, he was knocked out by Manchester City in the round of 16 of the Champions League, and this season, he was eliminated by Atalanta in the round of 16 of the Europa League.

In that match against Atalanta, Sporting’s weaknesses were definitely exposed. Amorim plays with a high-risk and high-reward strategy. That means encouraging his players to push forward as much as possible and playing with a high line.

Sometimes, this can backfire, and it did at times throughout the two legs with Atalanta.

There were numerous examples, like the images above, where Atalanta were able to exploit a quick turnover and counterattack Sporting, exposing Amorim’s defence completely and getting into goal-scoring opportunities.

The Positives

Apart from a playing style similar to Klopp’s, Amorim is also someone who, like the Liverpool manager, embraces playing the youth.

During his four seasons at the club, he gave debuts to 25 players in the Portuguese top flight who were aged 21 or younger. This includes Matheus Nunes, Nuno Mendes, and Goncalo Inacio, who all became key players for Sporting directly from the club’s academy under Amorim.

Like Klopp, Amorim has made history at Sporting. Before he arrived, Cristiano Ronaldo was the youngest debutant in the club’s history, 17 years, six months, and nine days old. However, Amorim has helped three Sporting Academy graduates break that record since then.

Amorim’s willingness to embrace youth and play with a similar high-intensity attacking football style means there are few better placed to continue Klopp’s work at Liverpool.

He may not be the finished article. You don’t expect him to be 39 years old after just five seasons managing in the top flight. But he has a lot of exciting potential and a proven track record of delivering silverware. You can’t ask for much more in the current managerial market.

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