‘My feeling is that we can win everything…’, Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp said on the 4th of December directly before being unluckily beaten by AFC Bournemouth. The first ever Liverpool loss to Bournemouth meant a four point deficit to then and still leading FC Chelsea. After the draw against rivals Manchester United and the bitter defeat to Swansea City, Klopp’s team sit at the fourth spot, ten points behind Chelsea. As the season is entering the decisive period, it is becoming clear that they won’t be able to win everything, at least not the Premier League.
Offensively there are nearly no limits
To do so, a team needs good scoring. The last five PL champions averaged 84.4 goals over the season, and only last year’s champion Leicester City scored less than 70. Liverpool had this offensive power in Klopp´s first full season. If the Merseyside team sustains its offensive outcome of the first 22 games, they would score more than 88 goals – nobody scored more goals than Liverpool so far. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho are a threat to every defence, and Daniel Sturridge, if healthy, might still be the best English striker.
A damaging weapon are set pieces, with 16 goals coming out of such situations, an unrivaled record by any team in the Premier League. James Milner converted the six penalties he has taken this season, and success has also come from corners, an attacking tactic that had lost its importance for many high-end teams. To make things comparable, Manchester City, the team of ‘corner hater’ Pep Guardiola (obviously Guardiola has different players, and he has proven that his tactic not to pay too much attention to corners might make sense), have scored two goals out of corners. Liverpool scored six, only beaten by West Bromwich Albion, who are scoring almost exclusively from the corner.
Typical Klopp at the Kop
The way Jürgen Klopp’s team plays since his appointment as coach over a year ago should not surprise anybody who followed Klopp during his seven year campaign with Borussia Dortmund. With an astonishing pace, Liverpool is overrunning many of its opponents. The available players fit perfectly into Klopp´s system, therefore the Reds are able to play the German manager’s favourite style of soccer – the counter-press.
Like Guardiola did since his early days in Barcelona, Klopp wants his players to regain the ball just four seconds after they lost it. Unlike the Manchester City manager, however, he likes to do so out of counter-attacks. While Guardiola wants to control the game with many short passes, Klopp sees a chance in winning and in losing the ball. With this high-pace strategy Liverpool created more chances (307) than any other team in the Premier League. Only Tottenham Hotspur, a team with an immense offensive potential, are coming even close with 290 created chances.
Controlling the game can still be a problem
This counter-attack strategy is most suitable against the best teams in the Premier League. Against these teams Liverpool has an impressive stat-line with Klopp. In seven games against the top 6 opposition, LFC has not lost once. The best Premier League teams are trying to control the game, which gives Klopp the opportunity to play his counter-pressing football. Problems begin as soon as Liverpool has to control the game – at least sometimes.
Against the bottom teams Liverpool has to find ways to score in the face of a huge defence. In these cases they mostly chose the same tactic. The most important role during the build-up takes team captain Jordan Henderson, who drops himself between the two centre-backs, while the wing-backs take a more offensive role to create a majority in numbers on the sidelines. But, again and again the Reds are struggling to create big time chances for themselves during several periods of the game. An indicator of this inability to create suitable chances, is the imperceptible number of Henderson passes, namely 1824 – Paul Pogba holds the second spot with more than 300 passes less! As shown, Henderson takes the most defensive role of all Liverpool midfielders, so this high number is an indicator for the long time of possession which LFC tries to find ways through the opponents’ defence – and fails.
Control the second ball
A picture-perfect example is the latest 2-3 loss to Swansea City. At halftime (0-0) the Reds had more than 70 percent ball possession, but the biggest chance was registered by the Welsh team with a shot against the post. Seven minutes after the opening whistle of the second half, Swansea was leading 2-0 at Anfield. The good news for Liverpool fans, as indicated, is that usually Jürgen Klopp’s team finds ways into the penalty area at some point of the game, it just takes them a while to deal with the sometimes old-fashioned and specific strategies of the Premier League. One of these is as simple as (sometimes) dangerous – the long ball. Most English teams are using this ‘weapon’, while not many do so in Germany or Spain. Asked about the biggest adjustment to the Premier League, Pep Guardiola answered only a few days ago: ‘You have to control the second ball’. The same counts for Liverpool. The first 20 minutes of the Christmas match, Stoke City was hurting the Reds with simple long balls that found former-Liverpool lanky stalwart Peter Crouch, who retained the ball. The crux about this strategy: Klopp´s and Guardiola´s pressing tactic is no longer possible.