Sunday, 22 November 2015

Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool overpowered Manchester City with intensity

This was the first time under the German manager that Liverpool combined their counterpressing without the ball with high intensity in possession and it paid handsome dividends.
Adam Lallana worked in wider areas without the ball but tucked in closer to Roberto Firmino when Liverpool had possession.
Adam Lallana worked in wider areas without the ball but tucked in closer to Roberto Firmino when Liverpool had possession.
From Jürgen Klopp’s first game in charge of Liverpool, it was clear his players understood their duties without the ball and the importance of gegenpressing to regain possession quickly. This 4-1 win over Manchester City, however, was the first time Liverpool have offered such cohesion and intensity with the ball, too – the result was an outstanding performance.

The pressing, of course, was often how Liverpool’s moves started. In a formation that looked sometimes like 4-3-2-1 and sometimes 4-3-3, Liverpool’s attacking midfielders Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana worked hard to pressure City’s full-backs, Bacary Sagna and Aleksandar Kolarov. Emre Can and James Milner concentrated on closing down Yaya Touré and Fernando, rather than shutting down the full-backs, as has been the case in previous games.

Coutinho robbed Sagna to start the move which led to Liverpool’s opener, a clumsy own goal by Eliaquim Mangala. “We gave them some questions in their buildup with our formation,” said Klopp. “So they couldn’t start the game how they wanted.”

In possession, Liverpool’s attacking charge was led by Roberto Firmino, again deployed in a slightly unusual centre-forward role. Whereas Christian Benteke would have engaged in a physical battle against City’s centre-backs and Daniel Sturridge would have sprinted in behind, Firmino started from deeper positions and pulled City’s central defenders up the pitch. Within the first 30 seconds Liverpool nearly got in behind through Lallana and Milner on the right, with City’s centre-backs moving towards Firmino in an inside-left position.

Whereas Lallana and Coutinho were often located out wide when they were attempting to win the ball, in possession they were usually in a position to support Firmino closely. Both are naturals at drifting between the lines but here they were instead sprinting into the channels to play quick combinations with Firmino. The two Brazilians were on the same wavelength. Firmino swept a lovely ball into Coutinho’s path for Liverpool’s second, before the roles were reversed as Coutinho’s neat, selfless layoff took Joe Hart out of the game and allowed Firmino to convert into an empty net for the third. Lone strikers can often become isolated but that was not a problem for Firmino.

With Lallana and Coutinho moving inside to take up central positions, the attacking roles of Milner and Can were crucial. They defended in central positions but then made overlapping runs towards the touchlines to ensure Liverpool retained width and continually filled the five channels around City’s four defenders.

Attacking with five players meant Liverpool risked being caught out on the counterattack but then that’s where their gegenpressing proved so useful – City continually struggled to play a positive first pass out of defence, often hurried and forced to turn back in possession. Kevin De Bruyne took up good positions by drifting either side of Lucas Leiva, but City could not find him quickly enough.

Liverpool’s system was so effective that when Manuel Pellegrini made changes at the break, introducing Fabian Delph and Fernandinho in place of Touré and Jesús Navas, he organised his players into a system not dissimilar to Liverpool’s, matching them in the centre of the pitch. City played few dangerous attacking combinations, however, and had nothing like Liverpool’s tenacity when possession was lost.

Klopp had already recorded an impressive victory at Chelsea, but this Liverpool performance offered so much more in possession. The dynamism and intensity of the attacking players meant the fabled gegenpressing was not simply a useful way to defend, but also a brilliant weapon in attack.
The Guardian