Liverpool boasted 74% of the possession in their convincing win against Hull, but this was as much to do with what happened when they lost the ball as it was with how well they kept it.
“We were really strong in possession today. But I think the most impressive thing was the counter-pressing,” said Klopp post-match.
“The first half was brilliant. That’s how football should be if you are able to do it.”
On giving the ball away, his players would relentlessly harass the opponent to stop them mounting any kind of counter attack.
It was a quintessential display of the gegenpressing, or counter-pressing football Klopp has become synonymous with.
“I think it was the best game of counter-pressing we’ve played until now,” added the German.
The fact that players are pressing can make the formation can look staggered, but the side are as close knit as they’ve ever been, operating as one unit in both attack and defence.
There is a rough 4-3-3 shape, and because the midfield is a 1-2 setup this formation can also end up being more of a 4-1-4-1.
However, the numerical formation is secondary to the role each player is operating in within the team unit.
If one player steps out then the rest will react, as if they’re all joined together, and this makes the formation appear fluid while at the same time being incredibly disciplined.
Well drilled and physically fit, the system brings to mind those used by legendary soviet coaches Valeriy Lobanovskyi and Konstantin Beskov, and by extension Viktor Maslov.
These men were pioneers of a well organised zonal pressing game, and Maslov’s Dynamo Kiev side are one of the earliest examples of this style.
It was carried on in Kiev by Lobanovskyi’s meticulous, almost military style physical preparation, while his rival Beskov brought similar ideas to Moscow, albeit with more emphasis on technique.
Their ideas are widespread in the modern game thanks to managers like Klopp, and the Hull game was, as the manager said himself, the best example of this system we’ve seen from his Liverpool side.
In the first half especially their work was relentless, and they didn’t let up when the opposition went down to ten men, as can often be the case.
Coutinho could be seen roaming in midfield alongside Jordan Henderson, pulling the strings from a deep lying playmaker position. He also likes to burst inside, either to shoot or play one of his more advanced team-mates in on goal. Both of which he did to great effect today.
Lallana meanwhile will bound forward, Cruyff turning and dancing his way around the opposition box with silky touches and effortless movement.
The pair are experts at letting the ball beat their marker for them. They glide past with just the slightest of touches, dropping shoulders, turning defenders.
They also pull their weight when it comes to the defensive side of the game, and can often be seen leading the charge at hapless opposition midfielders or defenders, regularly winning the ball back for their team.
“Winning the ball back in these moments is so important and it’s really difficult for the opponent to increase confidence,” emphasised Klopp.
The key in all of this is support. Should the unit fail to support an individual press, then gaps appear, leaving the counter press open to the counter attack.
One American football analogy is often used to describe midfield playmakers. The term “quarterback” is trotted out regularly to describe those deeper lying players who ping long passes forward to strikers or wingers, as a quarterback would throw long to his wide receiver.
But Klopp’s Liverpool bring to mind another element of the American version of football, and this time it’s a defensive one — the safety blitz.
In this play, the deeper defenders whose usual job is to cover at the back, will “blitz” forward to put pressure on the quarterback.
It’s a high risk play as it can leave the defence exposed, and should a quarterback evade the defenders he can easily find a receiver in the space previously occupied by the safety.
If carried out correctly, however, this play puts pressure on the quarterback and can often lead to a turnover or a sack.
Liverpool’s version of this involves an intense press from the a deeper midfielders such as Lallana, Wijnaldum, or Henderson, and occasionally involves one of the full-backs too.
If the opposition work their way around it they can break forward onto an exposed defence, but if the press is well organised and well executed then possession is usually regained.
In the first half against Hull Liverpool’s pressing was spot on, working as a whole to lower the risk of being counter-attacked.
From Henderson, who has now settled into his deeper role, to Firmino who is the atypical pressing striker, the methodical work on the training pitch is now paying off in games.
Whether it’s influenced by pioneering Soviet coaches or gridiron defensive playbooks, for now Klopp’s Liverpool are definitely winning the pressing game.