Jürgen Klopp is famed for his gegenpressing tactic. His Borussia Dortmund side used to swarm the opposition like wasps protecting their hive while his Liverpool team are like the red arrows – organised chaos but it’s a work of art.
It would be naive to suggest his entire system depends on the execution of such a tactic but it is heavily reliant on it. After all, the 50-year-old manager insists counter pressing is the best playmaker and one of the best ways to defend.
It’s why Klopp and his coaching team have spent hours ensuring his players know their routine. There are countless pressing traps and it’s a synchronised assault on the opposition.
The primary aim is to win the ball back high up the pitch but they’ll settle for foiling a potential attack. And to pull off such a complex dance, to which only few players can pick up the rhythm, you need a lead choreographer. It’s all about timing.
If a player is one beat behind then it exposes the team. If they move prematurely, it exposes the team. There really isn’t time for individualism when part of a counter-pressing side because, as Rudyard Kipling one said: “the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
It’s pretty evident when you watch Liverpool play that they buy into this idea. The Reds don’t have the best XI players in the world but the way they play as a team enables them to defeat greater individuals on a regular basis.
Klopp said it in his very first press conference as Liverpool manager: “If opponents are better you have to bring them to your level and then you can kill every team.”
The Reds did just that against Manchester City in January. Pep Guardiola’s team had been utterly dominant until their trip to Anfield. They regularly control the ball and the space as Kevin de Bruyne dictates the play for the champions-elect. To put it bluntly, he’s hard to stop.
Liverpool weren’t able to stop the Belgian from doing de Bruyne things but they didn’t allow him to set the tempo. It was a frantic game because Klopp’s men made it that way.
It was like watching a long distance runner participate in a 200m race – City are used to a more calculated approach and can go the distance whereas Liverpool just went full throttle during intervals.
Individualism isn’t bad
It’s clear that a pack mentality runs deep in this Liverpool team. It’s why it’s peculiar that the many, if not all, of the goals scored by the Reds since the turn of the year have been moments of individual brilliance.
Mohamed Salah created both of his goals against Tottenham Hotspur. He anticipated the ball back to Hugo Lloris and capitalised. The Egyptian then weaved his way through the Spurs backline before stabbing it past the Frenchman late on.
A moment of genius on Roberto Firmino‘s part backed up Emre Can‘s superbly struck drive against Huddersfield Town. The Brazilian also lofted a delightful effort over Ben Foster during the loss to West Brom. The other goal for the Reds in that defeat occurred when a cross ricocheted around in the area before Salah was able to fire home.
It was a similar story against Man City. Liverpool scored four wonderful goals but all four arrived after individuals moments. The opener came after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain picked up the ball in midfield, drove towards goal and fired past Ederson.
The second was all Firmino after he chased an Oxlade-Chamberlain pass, shrugged off John Stones and chipped the stranded City goalkeeper. Sadio Mané smashed home a third and Salah made the most of a poor Ederson clearance to really rub salt into the wound.
Meanwhile, a penalty and a set piece goal was enough to overcome Everton in the derby and Ragnar Klavan snatched a winner against Burnley after Mané’s thunderous effort was cancelled out late on.
So since the start of 2018 there have been a number of goal of the season contenders and while you pay extra for these moments of magic, can they be replied upon?
No two goals are the same but all of the top sides in the world have a tried and tested formula for when they’re going forward.
Liverpool are seemingly needing what many would consider to be luxury goals on a regular basis. The sort of goal you see two or three times a season to win close matches.
It’s a far cry from the destructive unit many witnessed in December.
The second Philippe Coutinho goal against Spartak Moscow was picture perfect. Mané picked the ball up in a deep area and resisted the urge to pass early. Firmino made a run from the middle of the pitch into a wide area to create space for Salah, allowing Mané to make the pass. Salah played a first time ball to Firmino and continued his run in the middle. The Liverpool No.9 played the ball across goal to his compatriot and he fired home.
That’s the sort of goal you can see being repeated.
Liverpool may be the second highest goalscorers in the Premier League but just how sustainable is their run of form in front of goal?
It’s not luck to score these goals but, at the same time, they’re not the sort you should be banking on. It’s risky if a side is needing high class goals on a regular basis to win games. Which is why Klopp needs his forward line find their rhythm again. Sooner rather than later.