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For tactical and emotional reasons, it’s no surprise that Jurgen Klopp’s first Premier League victory came away from Anfield – in front of a paranoid, angry and confused west London crowd.
The German’s been in charge for five matches in total, drawing three and winning twice. But our two best performances have arguably come against Tottenham at White Hart Lane and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. At home to Rubin Kazan, Southampton and Bournemouth we scored a goal per game – drawing twice and winning once. Modest, at best.
But on Saturday lunchtime, Liverpool put on an almost perfect away performance, especially having gone down to the Premier League champions in the fourth minute. The Reds were both cunning and deliberate, and despite Jose Mourinho’s tired protests, we were well worth the win.
And being the away side helped our players follow Klopp’s planning, because Chelsea had to commit players in attack and try to keep the ball. It made counter-pressing easier. Counter-pressing works against ambitious teams.
Essentially, playing away from home is easier for Liverpool right now because they have to focus on defensive shape, winning the ball back and keeping possession when possible – under the pretence that chances will be created if they stick to this mantra. At home, they’re actively charged with finding a goalscoring solution against stubborn back-lines instead of patiently waiting for them to arrive.
The manager wants ferocious work-rate off the ball. Not only does he want Liverpool players (including the attackers) to swarm the man on the ball, but he demands spare men rush to cut off opposition passing opportunities.
Liverpool pressed the Blues 212 times, the most since Spurs, who were pressed a whopping 223 times (via Anfield Index). In our home matches, we’ve got nowhere near that number. This isn’t because Liverpool haven’t worked as hard, but because you can only press when the other side have the ball!
In this respect – under Klopp – Liverpool are just as dangerous without the ball as they are with it.
Away, especially against a good side, it’s easier for us to win the ball high up the field and counter because their defenders are instructed to maintain possession. Rubin Kazan’s defenders had no qualms with lumping it forward and letting us come back at them, but by this point, their midfield and defence were already in two disciplined lines. But on Saturday, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Coutinho stole possession from Chelsea players who aware that a lazy punt forward would’ve been met with a Stamford Bridge groan. While Rubin, Southampton and Bournemouth negated our pressing by playing longer balls when rushed, Spurs and Chelsea tried to play out – such is the responsibility of a top side playing at home.
This made our hard work look good, in short. It meant we created chances instinctively rather than methodically. There was more space in the opposition half to work with due to the pressures the opposition felt.
And in many ways it’s worked in reverse at home for Klopp and Liverpool so far.
At Anfield, when we keep the ball at the back for significant times without creating anything it can breed frustration amongst both supporters and players. There is too much expectation. An enormous of amount of attempted good will which actually manifests itself into pressure.
Of course, in the long run Klopp’s men need to deal with this and let it inspire them. But now, as they’re trying to adapt stylistically while still winning football matches, it’s an added weight.
Before the Rubin Kazan game for example, Steve McManaman predicted a 5-0 romp. Afterwards he claimed it’d be a miracle if Klopp guided Liverpool to the top four (via Goal). The hyperbole in forecasting and analysing Liverpool’s Anfield fixtures is crazy, and even the manager himself has noted it.
“I can’t believe that England is so impatient! It is much more difficult. I have been here three weeks!” he said after the Chelsea clash, cited in the Telegraph.
It’s nothing malicious though – fans are rejuvenated by Klopp’s arrival and are desperate to see him succeed – but it’s not necessarily helpful just yet.
The crowd want to see chances, shots, dribbles or at least telling forward passes. Away from home, we’re more easily pleased – happy to see Liverpool players controlling possession at the back. It forces the home side to come at us, which in turn opens up space and enables chances for a rapid counter attack.
This suits our attacking midfielders who are inherently spontaneous.
Defensively our shape is already strong under the German. The side is clearly motivated as well, working towards a common goal. He’s also got them pressing and working terrifically hard – which was the catalyst for the Chelsea win. In three weeks, it’s jaw-dropping progress, actually.
Now, he needs to get his squad equally happy playing on the front foot. Another week before the Crystal Palace match will hopefully breed more creativity and ideas in the final third – as will one of either Christian Benteke or Daniel Sturridge starting up top.