Liverpool’s current success has been constructed on the citadel of the gegenpress – a method the place a staff loses possession however instantly wins the ball again by some lung-bursting and tactically astute closing down. Usually, this counter-pressure is utilized within the remaining third of the pitch with the idea that profitable the ball in that a part of the sphere permits the ‘gegenpress to become the best playmaker in the team’ – Liverpool supervisor Jurgen Klopp’s personal phrases.
For Liverpool’s success, this has meant some earth-shaking effort. It has required their staff to run and chase their opponents. It has required sacrifices – corresponding to Roberto Firmino, who as striker focuses much less on targets and extra on closing down the passing lanes of the defensive midfielder tasked to cease him. It has required the squad to be of a smaller type – one of their depth and high quality – but in addition collectively in accidents, arduous miles and the wear-and-tear of their lifestyle.
The end result – the Reds have chased success throughout Europe, discovering it in a Champions League title. They have, beneath their German supervisor, taken each trophy that may very well be received domestically – key of all of the English Premier League, a title that got here after 30 years of wait and weight.
“80% of modern football teams press. We don’t press. We chase. Our idea of pressing is not to force them one way. Our idea of pressing is not to force bad passes. Our idea of pressing is to steal the ball. Steal the ball to attack – steal the ball to create. It’s all about the last two metres. We go there to steal the ball.” This is Liverpool assistant coach Pep Lijnders speaking to The Coaches’ Voice, particularly describing the English membership’s mentality after they beat Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield – arguably the best affirmation from the footballing gods that their methods and means had been bringing the success they had been coaching for.
But the yr is 2022 and Klopp has been at Liverpool for the final six and a crack or two have began to make their look recognized. Chief amongst them, the very facet of soccer that makes them nice, their relentless gegenpress has endured a breakdown of types. The breakdown, merely put, is that they aren’t urgent sufficient anymore.
The magic quantity is 148. That was the variety of presses per recreation that Liverpool achieved of their EPL title profitable season in 2019-2020, as per the web site FBRef. Last season, that quantity was at 141. The begin of this season has seen a pointy decline to 113 presses per recreation – the least of which got here after they had 85 of their loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Liverpool normally employs a 4-4-3 and, on this system, their three forwards are important to all pc techniques being a go. But the summer season’s protracted contract negotiations got here with some stingy choices, chief amongst them being that the membership selected to not break their wage construction and bought left winger Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich and ended up preserving Mohammad Salah.
Mane, a participant who stood bang center within the three-way intersection of being a relentless ball-chaser, a prolific finisher and glorious in his link-up play, was thought of the lesser of the 2 losses. But such is the best way that the Reds are constructed that bringing in a substitute – regardless of the 100-million-pound price – was not going to fill the opening left by their Senegalese ahead.
Darwin Nunez, recent from Benfica, has tried 10 presses within the remaining third of the pitch in 9 video games – a horrible statistic for a staff that’s closely reliant on its forwards to place in defensive work. This isn’t to say that Nunez is not going to develop into the participant that Klopp needs him to be. But simply that the value tag now not ensures a completed product and time and coaching should take priority on this situation.
The lack of quantity urgent on the high is immediately accountable for Liverpool’s excessive defensive position changing into an open sale. When opposition groups can escape Liverpool’s ahead line with ease, the time and house allowed will be deadly. Case in level, Manchester United instructed David de Gea to try lengthy kicks ahead, particularly in direction of his left to focus on Trent Alexander Arnold. Completely bypassing a midfield and ahead line that isn’t placing as many miles in, and pitting a quick ahead line in opposition to one of many highest defensive traces within the league, United coasted to a win that will have been so much more durable beneath completely different circumstances final yr.
The different issue to Liverpool’s dismal begin this season has been the damage to Thiago. If Jordan Henderson is the engine to the gegenpress then Thiago is the reply to life after it. The Brazilian-Spanish participant lives as much as his ancestry – being within the 99th percentile for progressive passes, the 97th percentile for progressive carries and the 93rd percentile for passes accomplished. A midfielder that may carry, go and hold the ball transferring ahead at an correct tick.
Missing the genius of Thiago has pressured Liverpool into a number of midfield iterations, principally involving Henderson, James Milner and Harvey Elliot. None of them have been in a position to successfully transition the ball from the second half of the pitch to the ultimate at an everyday tempo.
Signs of life
Despite warnings of Liverpool’s gegenpress fading, Klopp and employees already appeared to have discovered an answer that may very well be labored upon. Thiago has returned from damage however extra importantly, a entrance three of Salah, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz clicked in opposition to Ajax within the Champions League final weel. The trio mixed for 43 presses within the remaining third of the pitch – 22 of them coming from Diaz, who changed Nunez. Liverpool in whole carried out 160 pressures on Ajax.
The depth of Diaz in urgent, coupled with the return of Thiago, provides Klopp and his teaching employees some respiratory house. It permits the staff time to tinker and analyse which choice works greatest. Against Ajax, Jota confirmed sufficient in tandem together with his strike companions to dislodge Firmino from the shadow striker spot.
The indicators of life are in at a vital time for the Reds. Their subsequent three Premier League video games are all at house to Brighton (at the moment fourth within the EPL), Arsenal and Manchester City – three groups which can be in peak type in the mean time. Judging by the best way the current Premier League title run-ins have tended to go, groups hardly ever have any room to offer at first of the season. One loss can finish a season and a draw might draw doubt. The new ahead line experiment might pull Liverpool from a depressing begin or hand the keys of the automobile to Manchester City for yet one more yr.