Work in progress: Hope springs at Liverpool under Juergen Klopp

Klopp is known for ‘gegenpressing’, a style of football that loosely translates to counter-pressing or forechecking and involves a lot of running.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp in action during the English Premier League.(REUTERS)
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp in action during the English Premier League.(REUTERS)
Published on Sep 25, 2016 03:45 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByMoonmoon Ghosh, New Delhi

For almost a decade, Liverpool have been a team in transition. From exciting times and European jaunts helmed by former manager Rafael Benitez, the club started a progressively bleak journey under owners Gilette and Hicks in 2008.

It led to the disastrous and short-lived reign of Roy Hodgson, the second coming of Kenny Dalglish followed by the optimism and hopes of resurgence under Brendan Rodgers. But after a false dawn, the Northern Irishman made way last October for one of the most charismatic club coaches in the world.

Enter Jurgen Klopp, saviour of his boyhood club Mainz and then Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. The pale-haired German, known for wild celebrations on the sidelines and facial expressions that would make Jim Carrey proud, assumed charge after Rodgers had taken Liverpool to the brink of glory in 2013-14, finishing agonisingly second, two points behind Manchester City in the Premier League. But Rodgers lost ground the next season and was fired four years into his time at Anfield. Klopp was brought in 10 days later.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp talks to James Milner. (REUTERS)
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp talks to James Milner. (REUTERS)

Klopp is known for ‘gegenpressing’, a style of football that loosely translates to counter-pressing or forechecking and involves a lot of running. He successfully trained the Borussia players in this philosophy; the main aim was to harry opponents and win back the ball as soon as they lost it. Lightning-fast transitions, from attack to defence and the other way round, have been notable characteristics of his teams.

“The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it,” Klopp was quoted as saying in an interview in ‘The Guardian’. “The opponent is still looking for orientation where to pass the ball. He will have taken his eyes off the game to make his tackle or interception and he will have expended energy. Both make him vulnerable.”

There was a lot of hyperbole and enthusiasm upon Klopp’s arrival. Fans expected immediate changes on the pitch, and while the German made sure his presence and philosophy was felt immediately from training sessions to a new backroom staff, Liverpool started a new era with a goalless draw against eventual runners-up Tottenham Hotspur.

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp watches his players warm up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Hull City. (AFP Photo)
Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp watches his players warm up ahead of the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Hull City. (AFP Photo)

There was a 6-0 win against Aston Villa, a 4-1 win away to Manchester City, a 1-0 victory against eventual champions Leicester, a pulsating 5-4 win against Norwich and 4-0 thrashing of derby rivals Everton. The latest was the 5-1 win at home against Hull City, and Klopp couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance. “I think it was the best game in counter-pressing that we have played until now,” said the German. “We were really strong in possession. But the most impressive thing was the counter-pressing in the game, with this big number of possession.” That overall number was 74.2%, compared to Hull’s 25.8%. Liverpool had a total of 32 shots on goal, of which 12 were on target.

But there were also embarrassing defeats – losing 2-3 to Southampton in a match that should have been won, and 0-3 losses to West Ham and Watford, in what has come to characterize every Liverpool season – winning against the big boys while losing points to teams in the bottom half of the table.

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp (2L) congratulates his players. (AFP Photo)
Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp (2L) congratulates his players. (AFP Photo)

Klopp’s main aim is to address this. To do that, he is working on strengthening the team’s soft core and ensuring more consistency. He has already gotten rid of substantial deadwood from the squad; the likes of Christian Benteke, on high wages, have been offloaded, midfielders Marko Grujic and Georginio Wijnaldum, defenders Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan and forward Sadio Mane added. Klopp looks to be moulding the team according to his own parameters where hard work and collective effort supposed to be the major factors. For this reason, the likes of Mario Balotelli and Luis Alberto have been shunted out.

While Liverpool have not exactly lit up the league so far, their ability to score a hatful of goals while comically conceding many has been delightful to watch for the neutrals and frustrating for the fans. This is evident from the fact that since Klopp took over in October, Liverpool have scored 71 goals, more than any other team over this period.

The German has attained the status of a lovable figure who eggs on players, breaks his glasses in huddles, fist-pumps as if it’s no one’s business, and distributes fatherly hugs. Klopp, who asked for a minimum of five years to turn the club around, is feeling the love for now.

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