Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool’s contribution to the high-quality Premier League this season, is just 2 games away from completing a whole domestic league season since his move to the Merseyside. His exploits at Dortmund were a treat to watch as they claimed the Bundesliga title in successive seasons, a few years ago. But not until the start of this season have his methods made an impact on the Anfield outfit.
At the start of his managerial career, Klopp was aware of the huge mountain he was attempting to climb at his new club and it now looks like he is well on his way to the summit.
Just 5 games into the league, Liverpool’s odds of winning the title have gone up. This, in a season that started after a transfer window with a positive net spent. It is clear that the German has a plan to face the challenges that are ahead of him this season and there are many reasons why there might be glory at the end of the campaign.
In many interviews, Klopp has spoken about the importance of a team, and not the individuals and the positions they take in the starting lineup. His ‘geggenpress’ in his words is the ‘best playmaker in the world’. He is a manager who gives a lot of importance to the drawing board on the training ground. This is where Klopp’s game resembles a game of chess, and a high quality one at that.
A ‘press’ in football is a method used to put pressure on an opponent in possession of the ball. But Jürgen Klopp has taken it a step further and has already reaped benefits from it. In a game of chess, the main objective of the players is to try and corner as many pieces (eventually killing them) as possible and put them out of the game. It requires an ability to think ahead of the game and trying to give the opponent as few options as possible (all this while freeing up space for your pieces).
Klopp, the tactician he is, likes to use a similar method by forcing the opponents in possession to areas that are remote in their own half. His number 9, in his words, ‘splits the centre-backs’ and blocks the pass from the middle of the field. They are then forced to the flanks with limited options to get out.
Once on the flank, Klopp’s attacking winger, his central midfielder, and his fullback are all in tandem waiting to pounce on –not the player in possession of the ball but – the only option the player in possession has for a simple pass. It is similar to situations in chess when you go for the kill and do not want to leave too many options to safety for the opponent. You set up your bait, wait for his move and then pounce on him in the most vulnerable time, where you can go at him hard. You place your pieces in positions that are best suited to attack your opponent and wait for one wrong move to spring on them.
At Liverpool, Firmino (most effective) will split the centre-backs forcing them to either thump the ball ahead (which will give some time for the defenders to react) or pass to the full-back. If the pass is made, Coutinho from the left (or Mane from the right), Lallana from the midfield (or Wijnaldum) and James Milner from left-back (or Clyne from the other side) are ready to corner the only player who the opposition’s left-back can pass to. Henderson, the holding midfielder and Wijnaldum (or Lallana) will be close to the other options, while the centre-backs are ready to deal with any ball to the men up front.
The margin of error is minimal and one wrong move can hurt very hard. But when you get it right, it can be a treat to watch. 6 games into the season, Klopp has got the Liverpool players to buy into his system, and is now putting on enviable performances most weeks.
The talk of a title may too premature this early in the season, but if the German tactics are not solved properly, he will be on his merry way of fulfilling his promise of giving his club their first Premier League title.