Over the years various managers from Roy Evans, Rafa Benitez, and even Brendan Rodgers have got close to winning Liverpool’s nineteenth league title but just couldn’t make it past the post. Ironically the latter two finished with more points than the 1989-90 team that last won the league. Even Gerard Houllier in 2001-02 finished on 80 pts as the reds finished runners-up.
Jurgen Klopp is now the latest coach who has to deal with the history of expectation whilst having to handle Liverpool’s current standing in the current climate.
Liverpool under his tutelage are one of the most entertaining teams around but equally they also have supporters pulling their hair out in frustration. Brilliant one week and the next looking woeful. Equally there have been instances where Liverpool can be three up, but end up hanging on near the end, like a punch drunk boxer after conceding soft goals to let the opposition back into the game.
Klopp has certainly got the best out of the current crop of players and undoubtedly is still one of the best coaches around. Under him Liverpool press the opposition using pace and aggression. This system brought Klopp two back to back Bundesliga titles and the German cup. It was a remarkable achievement considering the financial mess Dortmund were in when Klopp took charge.
As a result Klopp implemented an aggressive pressing system with Liverpool encouraged to press and work the opposition hard. It is a system were even the forwards are expected to put in a shift by constantly hassling the back line and equally being the first form of defence when losing the ball.
It certainly brought Liverpool big wins on the pitch especially against teams who like to play a bit more expansive. In Klopp’s first full season in charge they literally blew teams away who didn’t know how to cope with the speedy aggressive play that was unleashed.
Reaction to Liverpool’s pressing tactics
With teams being smashed like a door by a battering ram due to Liverpool’s aggressive and skilful forward play, some have changed their tactics in order to obtain a positive result. Knowing that if they attempt to try to outplay Liverpool they will get overrun they play deep instead.
Although Liverpool may have the quality players and certainly in Salah, Mane, and Firmino they have a trio that would test the best of defences it is hard to get behind an organised defence.
Depending on your football philosophy you don’t necessarily have to possess the ball in order to control the game. If you have your players restricting space and knowing where to move in order to restrict Liverpool’s movement and opportunities to split the defence.
This has seen many teams adopting this tactic especially as it has frustrated Liverpool and won points. Recently Swansea used it to good effect and even took their opportunities to win the game despite Liverpool obtaining possession for the majority of the match.
As stated by some critics it is what you do with the possession and how you unlock the defences in front of you. Midfield is an area that is quite crucial in that respect and where Liverpool can let themselves down. Sometimes the midfielders have been too slow or lack the guile and imagination to get between the lines.
For example against Everton in the 1-1 draw, Henderson received the ball with a gap in the Toffee’s midfield. Mane was free but the pass needed to be hit straight away for him to make that run. Instead Henderson took that extra touch and although it was only a few seconds the Everton players were quickly able to get back into position to pick up the ball.
It’s not just Henderson who at times slows the midfield but Wijnaldum, Milner and Can. When teams are defending deep it is a case of trying to stretch the opposition and to try to use a bit of vision to open up gaps. That’s why Lallana has been a major miss this season as he has the ability to thread the ball through tight channels for teammates to exploit.
Defence has been an issue for Liverpool for the last few years. Klopp has been trying to rectify this enigma with set-pieces also causing problems for Liverpool. The idea of pressing when losing the ball is to defend from the front to retain the ball by restricting space and closing down avenues in order to obtain the ball and hit quickly on the break.
Liverpool for some reason appear to wilt under the slightest pressure. The two goals Rodriguez scored for West Brom that helped knock Liverpool saw the middle of Liverpool’s defence break away too easily.
Composure is what is required when defending and although easier said than done due to the amount of energy required to press, it is vital to restrict space and look to regain the ball as quickly as possible. In Honigstein’s book ‘Klopp bring the noise,’ coaching assistant and chief scout Peter Krawietz states that winning the ball back from the opposition is when they are at the most vulnerable. The idea being that they may be slightly out of position ready to attack and therefore you can exploit that bit of space if everybody presses forward to gain the advantage.
The frustration can be seen on Klopp’s face as the team no doubt are put through their paces in training to eradicate these mistakes. Yet under the pressure of a proper match Liverpool struggle to do what is required.
It doesn’t help that the goalkeeper is still a major issue for Liverpool. Neither Karius or Mignolet appear to be the answer. Positioning, decision-making, and distribution are something lacking. The defence do not appear to trust the keeper which in turn has a domino affect as it causes nervousness amongst the back four.
Expectation and the history of the club weighs heavily on each manager to deliver what is now the holy grail of Liverpool becoming league champions for the nineteenth time. Trophies have been won in that period although the last time Liverpool lifted any silverware was the league cup in 2012.
Klopp is the latest manager to deal with the pressure of the past and at the same time compete in the current climate against sides who have bigger resources. Matters are not helped by some fans who expect instant success.
Liverpool are still competing for a top four finish and are in the last sixteen of the champions league. The latter of course could still see Liverpool produce high drama such as the Europa cup run in 2016. For Klopp it is all about the adventure and enjoying the roller-coaster ride.
Yet progress still has to be seen in making that step towards challenging for the league. Van Dijk has been signed for a record fee of £75 million with Keita set to join in July from Leipzig. There will probably be more signings especially if players such as Can and Sturridge leave.
The question then will be whether they have the ability required to make Liverpool more organised when defending as well as having the intelligence to break teams down. All of this is easier said than done and there have been too many times of trying to get the right jigsaw piece only for it not to fit.
Jürgen Klopp despite the debates and opinions is the one who has the final say and only time will tell if he can successfully bridge that gap so many others have faltered.