Tactical analysis: How realistic is Liverpool’s top four chance?


Liverpool has now got Jurgen Klopp as manager, famously nicknamed ‘The Harry Potter of Bundesliga’; more importantly the gaffer has got a full pre-season to train the Reds. So, can Liverpool get a top 4 finish or can be a Title challenger?

Jurgen Klopp and how he is improving the team tactically

Getting that Brendan Rodgers team to the Europa Final, was nothing short of a miracle. If you take a look back into the Tottenham game, Klopp’s first Premier League game after taking charge, Klopp introduced counter-pressing, the endeavour to regain the ball immediately after losing possession. Ball regaining improved spectacularly. Klopp did not have the players to get a clean post-counterpress transition, as a result individual duels and second balls were created.

But, Klopp clearly defined the triggers for ultra-aggressive counter-pressing, evident from Liverpool games. Whenever opposition were receiving the ball with his back to Liverpool goal, Klopp used to signal the trigger as it was difficult for the receiving player to access the game behind him and his passing options were reduced. Jurgen’s simple but clear instruction of intense pressing in the wide areas made the players properly co-ordinate the pressing. Liverpool were ultra-aggressive in flooding area around ball, but lacked structure for clean ball-regaining, being marred by injuries did not help their cause either.

Klopp introduced some tricks to fool the opponents, like to force them into a wider area, and allow only 1 available passing lane into the halfspace. Depending on the ball position, this player was compelled to have an outwards-facing field vision, and then Liverpool players pressed heavily from all directions upon receiving the ball. Backwards pressing of the ball’s side attacking midfielder played a crucial role to ensure that the opposition would not be able to recycle possession easily.

Jurgen Klopp successfully implemented much improved ball-oriented shifting in Liverpool’s pressing. Brendan Rodgers’ pressing did not have proper ball-orientation. When the ball was  in the centre of the pitch, Klopp instructed his team to often disregard the wing and focus almost solely on defending the half-spaces (both) and the centre.

Example- when one opposition centre-half had the ball – Liverpool forward disallowed the pass to the other centre-back, whilst his teammates occupy the centre. Once the pass was  forced back to the opposition left/right back, Liverpool’s outwards CM aggressively pressed while closing the inside passing lane. The ball’s side attacking midfielder then used to  curve his movement to ensure that the opposition cannot recycle possession by  their centre-backs. Klopp’s Liverpool forced build-up into wide areas, then attempted for quick transition into the newly opened spaces on the pitch.

Some other things Jurgen has successfully instilled in the team are – quick vertical passing, sharp combination play, backward pressing into immediate combination play (instigated by Firmino and Lallana). If Klopp can bring such  radical changes and improvements without a pre-season and time, imagine what he can offer with this pre-season and ample time he got. His intense 2/3 shifts a day training is supposed to improve the players’ technical sides of the game and keep them at the best of fitness and mental bent ”even at the 88th minute”.

Strength and Weakness of Liverpool defense

Newbie Joel Matip is an answer to Liverpool’s aerial-defending woes, he has pace, is a ball-winner, aerially strong, has great technique, agility, versatility. Ball interception and tackling are his strengths, plus the ex-Schalke man is a real threat at set-pieces. Another newbie ex-Augsburg CB, Ragnar Klavan is a veteran, proactive defender. Klavan has a brilliant left-foot and his ability with the ball can not be questioned.

With oldboys Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren too at Klopp’s disposal, Liverpool’s four CB options look sound but Lovren has been performing poorly since the Europa final and even in the pre-seasons. England’s best right-back right now, Clyne is a decent right-back option for Liverpool. But, Liverpool is at dire need of a decent left-back. Though James Milner and Klavan can be make-shift left-backs, but the first-choice left-back Alberto Moreno is certainly not good enough at defending. If Liverpool do not buy a decent full-back, tough times are probably ahead.

Strength and Weakness of Liverpool Midfield and Attack

Liverpool’s central midfield of Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and James Miner need to be consistent. In times of pressure, Henderson-Miner could not play the tempo-changing game, never dribbled with the ball as the last man. Required third man runs, one-touch passes, late runs in the box- were missing. After injury, Henderson seems to be half the player, he used to be and he got this tendency to constantly back-pass.

Can is expected to get the number-6, for the number-8 role in the midfield 2, Klopp has decided to buy Wijnaldum, a proven goalscorer, but he is basically a 10, who can also play decently in a midfield 3, not in a 2 though. With newbie Marko Grujic’s meteoric rise and Milner-Henderson’s experience, Can’s grit – Klopp is expected to sort the central midfield. Liverpool’s attack seems sorted with Brazilian Philippe Coutinho at the left flank, Roberto Firmino as the 10 (with Wijnaldum-Lallana as backups), proven goalscoring winger and speed-merchant Sadio Mane should excel at the right flank. Mane is expected to combine with Firmino-Coutinho-Origi/Sturridge in the ’10 space’ for spectacular results. With the strikers of  Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings’s calibre, Liverpool forward line seems sound. Fans are in for a scintillating display of Liverpool front four’s quick transition, position interchanging, high-pressing and dominance in opponent box, apparently.

Liverpool may not have the world-class squad like a Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal or a Chelsea, but football is not played on papers. Who in their right mind could imagine Leicester lifting the PL trophy? With the significant rise of Tottenham, Leicester, West Ham and the influx of World-class managers like Klopp,Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte with Wengers, Mourinhos and Pochettinos already present, this Premier League is probably going to be the toughest PL. But the passion of Jurgen Klopp and no Europe, less games- more time scenario can surely drive Liverpool in top four glory. As they say, ”Doubter to Believer”.