Liverpool’s Major Flaws
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, the team which when on full flow demolishes tough opponents, but gets stuck at mid table or lower opponents, has earned the nickname of Robin Hood among certain fan circles. The reason being taking points from top six clubs and losing to bottom clubs. Liverpool did not lose any of their matches against top six rivals last season.
This season Liverpool strengthened their side with the acquisitions of decent players like Salah, Solanke etc and also managed to retain Coutinho which is a major boost for their domestic and continental aspirations. Things were looking good when after their draw at Watford, they bounced back with victories over Hoffenheim, Crystal palace and a 4-0 demolition of Arsenal.
However, Liverpool started fluttering, losing to Man City, drawing with Sevilla and Burnley and then losing to Leicester. What are the reasons causing such problems? Liverpool certainly is a very good side with good, fast and hardworking technical players who are very well suited to Klopp’s idea of gegenpressing. Why such outcomes are happening on field is a question that bothers many.
First of all , Liverpool did not strengthen their defence enough by not going for a center-back (CB) this summer. They put all their eggs in a single basket named Van Dijk and in the end did not bring any one else. A little bit of prudence was required since CB was a must for Liverpool and there are other options available in the market who can fit the profile Klopp was looking for.
Another tactical aspect is still the missing instigator in Klopp’s gegenpressing set up. During his Dortmund days, Klopp always had an assigned player deep in midfield who initiated attacks. Players like Nuri Sahin and later Mats Hummels who had vision and passing range. To cater the problem and also to adjust to the playing style of EPL, Klopp tweaked his formation and line up in 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 variants and shifted Coutinho into midfield to make use of his technical abilities in the role of the midfield instigator.
Note that this midfield instigator is different from a deep lying playmaker (DLP) or regista who are normally shielded by shuttlers and ball carriers to give them freedom. There is no role of shuttlers or screeners in gegenpressing and hence traditional DLP seldom works in such system.
Thirdly and most importantly, what is hurting Liverpool is their lack of ability to defend leads.Last season Liverpool lost 18 points from winning positions, only four other teams fared worse. This is a major factor against Liverpools title aspirations. Liverpool employs gegenpressing in a fast paced EPL but they lack possession retainers in their midfield which is hurting them. Gegenpressing demands absolute physical efforts and no team can sustain that continuously for a full 90 minutes. Pep Guardiola’s vintage Barca also pressed and hounded oppositions, but midfield maestros in xavi,iniesta and buesqets knew how to keep possession to allow the team to rest and catch breathers . Wall passing, shielding ball through pirouettes and triangular rondos were all in full flow mode which allowed them to cater to the physicality of pressing.
Klopp’s gegenpressing is more demanding than Guardiola’s positional pressing, and yet the team lacks composure in midfield to hold on to possession in order to allow the team to physically recover during spells of possession in a match. What this results is frantic pace in matches which is making the team tanked during later stages. This inevitably causes lapses in concentration in the team. Also gegenpressing demands compactness of attack, midfield and defence which means high lines in cases of attacking. But lack of midfield control means not enough shielding of the defence, which we all can agree are not exactly made up of the likes of Maldini, Baresi, Ayala, Puyol etc This leads to added pressure on the defence resulting in their defensive lapses and breakdowns and hence so many leaked goals.
If Liverpool is to embark upon serious and continuous domestic and continental challenges this season, they must address these issues. Klopp is a smart tactician and an intelligent man. He is aware of what is hurting his team but he could not address all his needs during the summer transfer window. Apparently the Coutinho saga hurt both Barcelona and Liverpool. He needs to address all these flaws, especially the third one. Liverpool have wonderful attacking talents, and when in tune, can dismantle formidable sides. But time is running out for Jurgen Klopp. The sooner he sorts out these issues, the better for him and Liverpool fans.
By Arindam Chakraborty
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