Liverpool have made a number of adjustments and improvements to their game over the past year-and-a-half to steel them for success in the Premier League.
Since the beginning of last season, the Reds have been noticeably different side: no longer gung-ho in attack and flawed at the back, they are now proficient all over the pitch.
Jurgen Klopp does not often speak with detail on his tactics, but taking his place in Liverpool’s pre-match press conference on Tuesday was Pepijn Linders, an engaging, insightful character when it comes to methodology.
Asked to compare the start to the new campaign with the bar set in 2018/19, the Dutchman explained why he believes the Reds have begun even stronger.
“We always want to build on the best games we had, what characterises our best games,” he said.
“For me, we are much further than we were last year at the same time.
“We can dictate play much better, our last line feels much more comfortable being higher, we are much more front-footed defensively, and of course we can control games better and control spaces better.
“The team absorbed the way we want to play, it became a natural skill of theirs.
“Of course, we had a short pre-season so we have to keep building in the season and find our ‘machine’ again. But for sure we are in the right way.
“It’s not easy, because many teams change their setup [against us], for example we analysed Chelsea [as a] 4-5-1, and they came with a 4-3-3.
“So many teams change their setup, play a more counter-attacking game against us, or [give us] less space. We had to become better with the ball ourselves.
“But [we are] much further now than we were last year.”
Lijnders returned to Liverpool last summer after a short stint back in his native Netherlands as a manager, and he was questioned on the improvements made during his spell as Klopp’s assistant.
“I think our team became better in really dictating the play, in speeding up the positional play, finding the right players between the lines and from there being really creative,” he detailed.
“We made some adjustments in that, by having our full-backs more involved in the attack, by having our midfielders more in control.
“Our last line made huge steps with the ball, in terms of the speed, how they play, how they step in with the ball, find direction, the variety from out the back is good but finding the ball in behind or playing through the pitch.
“Without losing our identity of course, but the better you attack, the easier it becomes to play really good counter-pressing, which is of course our identity.
“So I think there as well we really improved.”
It is certainly interesting to hear Lijnders speak so in-depth about Liverpool’s changes on the pitch, and these are clear to see, particularly in the control in midfield and the role of the full-backs.
Furthermore, while it may not have been a tactical shift this season, his referencing how Klopp’s defensive line are “much more comfortable being higher” touches on a key topic from the early weeks of 2019/20.
Lijnders effectively replaced Zeljko Buvac as Klopp’s right-hand man at Anfield on his return.
And while the Bosnian was nicknamed ‘The Brain’, his successor is clearly similarly influential.