Andrew Ronan outlines the importance of Liverpool’s attacking players to the ‘gegenpressing’ game of Jurgen Klopp, and how it will be pointless if the forward men don’t do their jobs.
Very early days indeed, but there was enough evidence from Saturday’s stalemate at White Hart Lane to suggest that Jurgen Klopp’s philosophy has already got through to his Liverpool players. He asked for intense pressing, and he got it for almost three-quarters of the game against a side who made short work of Man City not too long ago.
Tottenham may have already clocked up five draws in the league so far this season, but they’ve only been beaten once. Much has been made of the fitness levels of Mauricio Pochettino’s men and rightly so; as the advantage they seem to have in stamina over most teams is probably the reason those five draws aren’t defeats.
The much relied upon Harry Kane has yet to find his goal scoring touch. Before this season started, many predicted that if Kane’s goals dried up Spurs’ frailties would be exposed, but the workman-like ethos that Pochettino has patiently instilled in his troops is beginning to pay-off.
They play a similar pressing game to that which Klopp will want his players to perfect, and they have the stamina to do it for ninety minutes. A bit more quality and experience added to this Spurs side would perhaps enable them to challenge for a top four spot.
Make no mistake, though, the listless, casual attitude of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool wouldn’t have made it out of London with a result on Saturday. If Rodgers had to put up with the high-pressing Spurs game with an injury hit Liverpool side, his men no doubt would have buckled and leaked goals.
The Reds’ performance against Spurs certainly wasn’t without its faults; they inevitably tired under the new demands of Klopp’s ‘gegenpressing’ game, and they were wasteful on the ball in Spurs’ half. However, there were enough encouraging aspects from this performance to suggest that a consistently hard working Liverpool team beckons.
As the weeks go on, and fitness levels improve to deal with a week-in week-out pressing game, the hope is that there is enough quality in this Liverpool side to turn chances into goals.
How will the so-called flair players in Liverpool’s ranks deal with the demands of Klopp’s regime? They won’t be expected to simply create chances and score goals, they’ll be expected to press teams from the front and defend when needed. There is enough physique and quality in Liverpool’s defence and midfield to make them a hard team to beat.
With the likes of Mamadou Sakho, Nathaniel Clyne, Jordan Henderson and James Milner, Klopp has enough to work with in order to fully implement his high intensity pressing game. It’s no use, though, if Liverpool’s attacking players aren’t doing the business in the opposing half.
A hard to beat but ultimately impotent Liverpool side won’t crack the top four, and they’ll end up battling it out with Spurs and Everton for a Europa League spot. Spurs have struggled to score goals this season yet they have become a hard team to beat, but their current position of seventh is probably where they’ll end up if they continue to struggle for goals.
It won’t be any different for Liverpool. Can the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Christian Benteke, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino raise their games to a consistent level which sees them excel at scoring and working for the team?
Those players – along with the likes of Adam Lallana, Jordon Ibe and Divock Origi – may very well be the difference between another frustrating sixth place finish and a return to the Champions League next season. Had Liverpool scored more last season they could very well have got into the top four.
The absence of Sturridge through injury, of course, was crucial to Liverpool’s poor return of goals last season. Although there is more ammunition in the ranks this season, Sturridge is still the go-to man for goals, but will his brittleness be able to deal with the promise of more training sessions and ninety minutes of pressing football?
Benteke, too, never seems far away from an injury. How will he respond to his new manager’s demands? The big Belgian has probably never had a more demanding manager than Klopp, and it will be interesting to see if he is willing to adjust. If Liverpool have to deal with a season of on-off injuries to Sturridge and Benteke they may well struggle for goals. Perhaps the pair will respond positively to the extra demands which will be placed on them.
There are certainly enough able bodied players at Klopp’s disposal which he can use to turn Liverpool into a solid, hard to beat team. The big question is whether he will be able to get the best from his attacking players, and if they will be both physically and mentally up to the challenges of the new regime at Anfield.