Hamoudi Fayad tactically analyses Jurgen Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool against an in-form Spurs side.
The Premier League debut of Jurgen Klopp sparked a plethora of attention towards the clash between North London’s Tottenham Hotspur and the disappointing Liverpool. Could Jurgen Klopp finally revive a squad that has been subject to a mixture of formations, positions and situation over the past couple of years?
Much of the talk surrounded Liverpool’s actual team sheet. Danny Ings and Joe Gomez, two players who could have suited this Liverpool side in the match, are out for the rest of the season. Liverpool now lack depth in certain areas, which could be concerning for their new boss as the season progresses.
On the contrary, Mauricio Pochettino looked to take advantage of all the hype surrounding Klopp. With all the pressure mounting on the latter, Pochettino was a Brendan Rodgers’ decision away from a win. That is, Dejan Lovren robbing a place over the excellent Mamadou Sakho.
Liverpool looked different, vibrant but ultimately unsuccessful. The squad is weak: mentally, physically and literally. However, the clean sheet is a sign of optimism.
Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Liverpool
Spurs: 1. Lloris, 2. Walker, 4. Alderweireld, 5. Verthongen, 3. Rose, 19. Dembele, 20. Alli, 22. Chadli (N’Jie), 11. Lamela (Townsend), 23. Eriksen, 10. Kane
Liverpool: 22. Mignolet, 2. Clyne, 37. Skrtel, 17. Sakho, 18. Moreno, 21. Lucas, 23. Can, 7. Milner, 20. Lallana (Allen), 10. Coutinho (Ibe), 27. Origi
Liverpool compact with fresh shape
Jurgen Klopp set his team out in a 4-3-2-1, with Lallana and Coutinho interchanging behind the striker. One would pose the question to Brendan Rodgers (consistently), why not set up with this shape at an earlier stage, if ever? Looking at the times where Liverpool struggled with the 4-3-3 – a variation to this certain 4-3-2-1 – seeing Coutinho shifted out wide, this was certainly a mystery. Lallana and Coutinho are both adept in attacking midfield. There should be no reason to move them out wide in a 4-3-3, especially with wingbacks of the perfect mould to overlap and creative width.
This shape increased central access in pressing situations, as well as preventing Tottenham from creating any significant chances. They could only get a (clean) shot on goal after 28 minutes, as a result of Liverpool’s protection of their defence. It is to be said that Tottenham’s first chance came after cornering Adam Lallana near the liability Martin Skrtel, only for Simon Mignolet to save the day.
As we can see from the first image of the article, the roles of Can and Milner were very flexible. Both were central midfielders essentially working in the half space. Despite their central position during partial pressing phases, or in Liverpool’s case, when Tottenham had the ball in their defensive third as above, they move out wide to press on the sidelines or in the case of Spurs’ progression through the half spaces.
In the image above, it is clear to see Liverpool’s improved compactness. Although not perfect yet, for Premier League’s standards this is a very decent shape. All options are blocked for Rose, and one of the only players to fit Liverpool’s system from the get go with Klopp is Milner. Milner eliminates any chance of a deep completion, specifically a pass into Delle Alli who is talented when keeping the ball.
Also notice how Eriksen has dropped deeper than Spurs’ double pivot to aid in the build up play, which already had signs of being halted by Liverpool’s compact shape early on.
The attacking midfielders also had their fair share of duties in pressing. This saw Coutinho and Lallana both come off “knackered” after the match. An image that went around Twitter was where Klopp embraced the overworked Lallana.
In the case of Spurs’ deeper progression onto the flanks, Coutinho or Lallana would press on their respective side of the pitch. Coutinho is known for his bursts when defending, but it is imperative to highlight his inability to keep that level of pressing ability that Klopp desires.
Origi’s role was the final piece to the puzzle, and how he made pressing movements relative to his teammates were crucial. Often, Origi would step out of the compact shape to press one of the Spurs’ centre backs. This is fine if the space behind Origi is taken into account, and how he presses the centre backs. Surprisingly, Origi executed it well and used his cover shadow to fantastic use, not allowing Spurs’ defenders any breathing room.
N’jie causes friction in Liverpool defensive line
It was up to Spurs, who are a pressing team (in phases) under Pochettino, to be the first team to break down a Klopp-managed side this season. Despite not having the individual quality, the German’s side did compensate those losses with their unit. Spurs’ central defenders are excellent at using the ball, with their ability to play in a variety of positions across the back line (and defensive midfield) key to their capabilities on the ball.
With Chadli exiting the proceedings early on, Spurs’ needed to supply N’jie – not necessarily to a dynamic winger, yet – with balls to his feet. His first touch was poor on this occasion, yet he was still able to influence the game with relative ease. Importantly, his positioning on the left side allowed for movement across the frontline and saw him pop up in spaces in and around Skrtel’s zone.
The praise has to go to his movement and awareness that saw him able to receive passes in dangerous situations. Individual quality prevented him from taking full advantage of Skrtel’s disastrous outing. This was unlike Lamela, who failed to provide anything memorable in attack, though he was vital for the overall system to function.
Tottenham attacking midfielders crucial in breaking compactness
There were only two ways that Tottenham could have successfully thwart the Liverpool back line and that was via their attacking midfielders. Lamela positioned himself in an unorthodox position, higher than N’jie and Eriksen, to prevent passes from Sakho into Can or Moreno. The latter two did provide a spark for Liverpool and that side was no doubt the most dangerous flank for the Reds.
While away from the ball and in the defensive phase, the attacking midfielders were tasked to win the ball off of Liverpool’s defenders and more so corner their midfielders into facing their centre backs – Skrtel, perhaps. Lamela’s higher positioning allowed him to alternate between Sakho and Moreno as close options to press in this situation, while Kane and N’jie trapped Clyne and/or Skrtel. This was battled – although rarely – by Clyne and Skrtel driving forward out of defence. Clyne drove forward exceptionally, even tricking us into almost losing the ball before coolly sliding past his man.
An alternative to winning the ball to break forward on Liverpool was the use of their ball playing centre backs. Delle Alli and Moussa Dembele are two underrated players (the latter, at least) on the ball and can be classified as pressing-resistant players on a decent level. However, drawing attention to them centrally would be detrimental against this Liverpool side.
Despite the absence of Henderson, Milner and Can proved viable options off the ball. They totally suited Klopp’s system unlike Coutinho and Lallana, who need more time to familiarize with such demanding strategies.
Therefore, what they needed to do was get the ball to their attacking midfielders by bypassing their own midfield. Pochettino used Rose effectively to get the ball to the forwards. All of Kane, Eriksen and N’jie moved towards the left half space to receive the ball, targeting Skrtel in the process. Rose completed 28 passes to these 3 over the course of the game and combined with N’jie 13 times – the third-most common pass combination.
A tactical game it was, but not necessarily an entertaining one for the neutral looking to watch a heavy metal concert. It will take time for Klopp to blood in his principles into this Liverpool team. One thing that I stressed on was compactness. It is vital for Liverpool to grow into the compact shapes seen in Champions League winning teams and it is one reason why English teams fail to reach the latter stages of the Champions League in recent years.
Meanwhile, Spurs will look to take a positive insight on their play this game, which was faced by the in form Mignolet, lackluster Kane and raw N’jie. This side has definitely improved, and the top four race will – hopefully – be one that goes down until the last day.
Written by Hamoudi Fayad
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