Defence is the best form of attack: Decoding the Liverpool Gegenpress under Jurgen Klopp
“I’m not here today to speak too much about football and I didn’t meet my team until now. First of all I want to talk to them about football. It’s emotion inside, it’s speed. It’s a transition game.” – Jurgen Klopp , first press conference as Liverpool manager
4th in the Premier League and arguably the favourites to win the upcoming blockbuster clash against Manchester United, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have transformed themselves from also-rans to one of the Premier League’s most exciting sides in just a year.
One word which is bandied about when someone speaks about Jurgen Klopp is Gegenpressing. So what actually is Gegenpressing?
Gegenpressing basically involves a team which springs forward into position and cuts off any passing lines for the opposition immediately when the ball is lost. Defending from the front is the best way Gegenpressing can be described and Klopp’s Liverpool have displayed it plenty of times already this season.
“Pressing is the best playmaker in my team” – Jurgen Klopp, MNF with Jamie Carragher
Gegenpressing for all its hype can be extremely dangerous if not applied properly. When Klopp’s Liverpool lose the ball, first and foremost the passing lanes for the opposition players are cut out after which the player on the ball is closed down by 2-3 players. The deeper this is applied in the opposition half, the better it is for Liverpool as there will be a herd of fellow Liverpool shirts providing options to start immediately moving the ball again.
This pressing in the opposition is called the ‘first press’ and is extremely vital. However, where it gets risky is if the opposition defence is able to find their way out of the first press, then they can cut through the Liverpool midfield with just one defence-splitting pass or one mazy run.
If you closely observe the second goal, pausing the video at 0.39, you see that when Sturridge is robbed off the ball, since Liverpool defend from the front with plenty of numbers in the opposition half, Wijnaldum, Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino and Clyne have all pressed ahead allowing Defour to go on a good run and set up Gray for the second goal.
And yet, Jurgen Klopp keeps sticking to this aggressive style of pressing from the front. Why does he persist? Because when it comes together, it can absolutely blow teams away. One of Liverpool’s best performances this season was the impressive 5-1 victory against Hull where Firmino, Lallana, Coutinho and Mane absolutely harried the Hull defenders and forced them to either lump the ball forward to Abel Hernandez or lose possession in their own half.
So what type of players are required to apply the attacking pressing shown by Liverpool? Quick, agile midfielders with the ability to perform lung-busting long runs at amazing pace are required. Klopp’s signings of Wijnaldum and especially Mane, accomplish just that and the duo along with Coutinho, Firmino, Lallana and Henderson best epitomise the ‘counter-pressing’ Jurgen Klopp is so famous for.
If you have observed Liverpool matches closely, one thing you will hear pundits often say is that Liverpool attack a small space while defending a big space. For this system to work, the positioning of the full-backs (Clyne and Milner) are absolutely vital.
Clyne and Milner often position themselves in an attacking sense in relation to one and another. For example, if Milner is hugging the touchline, Clyne will take up the inside-right-forward position and vice-versa. Klopp’s full-backs are often seen playing high up the pitch and positioning becomes extremely vital in such scenarios.
Also another key facet in Klopp’s pressing from the front is having more numbers in midfield than their opponents. Both Adam Lallana and Wijnaldum are actually traditional number 10s, but they are played in midfield by Klopp, which crowds an already narrow place.
Why Jurgen Klopp prefers Roberto Firmino over Daniel Sturridge?
“Roberto is a player who is always involved, offensively and defensively” – Jurgen Klopp
Blessed with immense creativity and skills, Firmino, Lallana and Mane are probably the most Klopp type of players in this Liverpool side. What Firmino lacks in pace and sometimes finishing, he makes it up with his hard work, brilliant positioning and being a nuisance to the opposition defenders throughout the game.
While Daniel Sturridge is undoubtedly a supremely talented footballer blessed with brilliant finishing, he does not have the defensive skills of Firmino and that is why the Brazilian forward usually gets the nod ahead of Sturridge for the crucial games.
Nipping in always to win the ball back for his team, it is no surprise that Firmino leads the list for most chances created this season for Liverpool. After all, pressing is the best playmaker in Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Jurgen Klopp has really got Liverpool playing the way he wants them to and while many will be thrilled with the attacking displays put up so far, it is actually defending from the front which has made this Liverpool side so threatening and dangerous.
If Liverpool sort out their problems in defending against set-pieces, they might well become genuine Premier League title contenders this season. One year since Klopp took over, this quote which is arguably his most famous yet as a Liverpool manager has certainly come true.
“It’s important that we play our own game. It’s important that the player feels the difference from now on. We have to change from doubter to believer. We have to change something and then see what we can achieve.”
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