SAS-POOL or GEGEN-POOL : Is this Gegenpressing Liverpool side going to actually win it or is it just déjà vu all over again
It was only 3 years ago where Liverpool fans around the world were witnessing a special year after years of constant change in managers along with players coming in and out. Brendan Rodgers seemed to be the coach finally to bring a 19th league title to Anfield after a 24-year hiatus. A year filled with brilliance from El Pistolero and Sturridge combining for 53 goals and 20 assists in Premier League. Match winning performances in midfield from Coutinho and Henderson. Gerrard continued to provide set piece deliveries on point making him the league’s best provider with 14 assists along with chipping in 13 goals. Although, it was all too good to be true. With 3 games left to go, a horrendous home result to Chelsea and a meltdown at Selhurst Park ending in a draw which left Liverpool sitting two points behind the title winners, Manchester City.
Fast-forward to October 2015, Rodgers struggling to keep Liverpool in the mix at the top of the table after only collecting 3 wins in the first eight games of the season. FSG made the decision to sack Rodgers just hours after the Merseyside Derby, which ended in a dismal draw. Just a few days later was when the appointment of Jürgen Klopp as the coach of Liverpool Football Club. A manager who had work wonders during his time at Mainz 05 and Borussia Dortmund most recently. Given Klopp had inherited a Rodgers’ squad which was in disarray, he still managed to impose his style and passion into the players which got the club to a League Cup Final and Europa League Final. It was a truly remarkable feat given that Klopp did not have a preseason and transfer window to cement his gegenpressing style on the players. If that season was going to be any indication of the direction the club was going in then the future was looking promising.
Klopp went to work early in the summer transfer window by letting players go as well as recruiting in the key positions such as keeper, defenders and on the wing. Keeping and defending was a major issue in the 2013/14 season, which had Simon Mignolet and a back line consistently changing from game to game. Loris Karius for 4.7 million pounds is proving his worth to be a shrewd signing after he had a brilliant season with Mainz 05 being voted the second best keeper in Bundesliga just behind Manuel Neuer. His quick distribution and ability on the ball to play out the back have kept Mignolet on the bench deservedly so. Time will only tell with Karius only being 23 years old and still trying to adapt to the Premier League much similar to De Gea’s situation when he first arrived to the PL. Along with the addition of Joel Matip on a free transfer from Schalke 04 who has easily slotted into the starting XI without any issues. He has been a standout in defense without a doubt, composed on the ball and the physicality of the Premier League has not fazed him. In the full back positions, Klopp’s ingenious idea of moving Milner to left back after Moreno has not impressed defensively has paid off huge. Clyne and Milner have been defending very well and providing the overlaps to stretch teams out. Although, the backline is still suspect at times with Lovren capable of a lapse in concentration leading to a goal at any moment and with Karius still not comfortable with high balls into the box. In this season already, in the 3 PL games that Liverpool played without Matip, there have been 9 goals conceded compared to the 11 PL games he was involved in where there were also 9 goals conceded. In addition, Sakho’s unprofessionalism has not helped the defensive troubles at all assuming that Klopp signed Matip in order to partner Sakho with Lovren and Klavan as back-ups respectively. A consistent and healthy backline is key when it comes to having a solid defense which was something Liverpool did not have in the 2013/14 season with key defenders such as Agger and Sakho sidelined for most games. Liverpool will be hoping for Matip to stay healthy or otherwise, the defense will be conceding goals for fun once again.
With a restructured lineup this season, implementing a 4–3–3 false nine system has worked wonders. The midfield is looking much more dynamic than ever. Henderson has rediscovered his 2013/14 form albeit playing in a unfamiliar number 6 role in which he has thrived leading the league in passes and ground covered as well as being amongst the top in tackles and interceptions made. This new role has allowed more freedom to Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum to make surging runs forward and while continuously pressing. This is the kind of dynamism, which was missing from the 2013/14 midfield lineup, which featured an aging Gerrard, and injury-prone Lucas Leiva with Henderson and Coutinho carrying most of the load game in game out.
The front three of Coutinho, Firmino and Mane have been frightening reminiscent of the front two of SAS. Teams are struggling to keep up the creativity, pace and power of these three. Along with the high pressing style implemented by Klopp, which aims to win the ball back as soon as possible especially high up the pitch. The free flowing movements across the midfield and front three has proved troublesome for teams which is the reason Liverpool has already netted a league high 35 times this season. That is five more than the 2013/14 season at the same stage. So you can definitely expect much more goals from Liverpool this season even with injuries to Coutinho and Sturridge. Having the quality of Origi and Gini/Emre Can coming off the bench is just a testament of the depth of the squad this year, which is a huge contrast from the 2013/14 season where we had the likes of Victor Moses and Iago Aspas on the bench.
Although if this is the season that the Premier League title returns to Anfield, Klopp will need to dip into the transfer market for another commanding centre back such as Virgil Van Dijk seeing that Sakho has no way back into the squad and will be sold in January. In addition to another wide man to cover for Sadio Mane while away at AFCON who could keep pressing and provide the pace down the right. Otherwise, it maybe looking like a repeat of the 2013/14 season filled with defensive letdowns and an abundance of goals. I hope not, but I still believe with Jürgen Klopp at the helm here at Anfield that the glory days are not too far away. YNWA.
By; Dirie Dahir (Twitter/Insta: d_sqred)