The Premier League crown has always been just out of reach for Liverpool, but after a flawless run this season, that all looks set to change. Peter Watton, from matched betting experts OddsMonkey, shares his take on why the Mighty Reds have proven just about unbeatable this season. We’ll give you a hint: it has something to do with a certain man from Dortmund with a dazzling grin…
It’s only February, but to judge from the way things are going, the Premier League champion is already decided. At the time of writing, Liverpool have a record-breaking 22-point lead, and even if nearest challengers Man City win all of their remaining games, the Reds will only need six more wins to — finally — take home the title that has eluded them for so long.
It’s been an incredible season by any standard, especially when you consider where the team were just four years ago. And most would agree that the catalyst for this remarkable return to form is undoubtedly Jurgen Klopp, who has turned L.F.C from a middling team into the fourth most successful of all time, according to ClubElo’s rankings.
But just how has the German manager gotten the team into such astonishing form? And can anything prevent this seemingly unstoppable club from taking the trophy back to Anfield? In this post, I’ll explore the tactics and philosophy that have helped Klopp turn Liverpool into the ‘Machine of Europe’ this season.
A squad overhaul four years in the making
Klopp is certainly a long-term planner. L.F.C’s current form is a far cry from the club Klopp inherited back in 2015, when he predicted that it would take around four years to impose his philosophy on the club and to handpick a squad that could take Liverpool to the top. And, four years later, it looks as though he was right on both counts. This reversal of fortune didn’t come overnight, but it’s clear that Klopp had a plan from the start, and that it’s been responsible for Liverpool’s evolution into the team we see today.
Intense, pressing play
Klopp is perhaps the most well-known proponent of gegenpressing, and back when he first came in as manager people were quick to speculate on whether he’d bring his signature “heavy metal football” into action with Liverpool. While it’s certainly true that Klopp has brought a more aggressive style of play, what many don’t see is how he’s refined these tactics over the years to create the perfect balance of pressing play and solid defending.
During his first few seasons as manager, Liverpool became a team with a high press and superb energy, but their performance was marred by defensive vulnerabilities and an inability to hold onto the ball. But by tweaking his tactics, and by addressing those weaknesses with some smart transfers, Klopp has been able to create an assured, balanced style of play that still benefits from those pressing tactics without leaving them exposed at crucial moments.
A focus on targeted, decisive transfers
The gegenpress style is only part of the picture, though. It’s Klopp’s smart approach to transfers and teambuilding that has really helped Liverpool to shine. Off the pitch, Klopp’s most successful feat has been to trim down the team and to make tactical, decisive transfers while always keeping the bigger picture in mind.
Rather than just going for big ticket “marquee signings”, Klopp’s approach is very much all about recruiting players strategically to address certain weaknesses, and then shaping them to suit his preferred style of play. Virgil van Dijk is a fantastic example of this: Liverpool needed a good central defender, so Klopp found a player with the potential and helped shape him into arguably the world’s best defender.
He’s also taken the step of slimming down the overall squad by a staggering 33 players during his time as manager, allowing him to focus more of his attention on a smaller pool of players. In fact, of the players on Klopp’s first team sheet in 2015, only four players — Adam Lallana, James Milner, Divock Origi, and Nathaniel Clyne — remain at the club today.
Nurturing homegrown talent and creating a team culture
The shift has been as much about attitude as it has about tactics, too: you only need to look at Liverpool’s unrivalled confidence on the pitch to see what a difference a strong mentality can make. That “never say die” attitude is what keeps them scoring even as the clock ticks down during the final moments. In fact, Liverpool’s talent for last minute goals to get vital results is so widely known that fans and the press even have a name for it: “Kloppage time”.
Klopp has a real connection with his squad, and goes out of his way to find players who will respond to his personality and energy, considering the attitude and mindset of any potential transfers off the pitch as well as during play. Last summer, it was rumoured that Nabil Fekir’s potential transfer deal from Lyon was scuppered when Klopp decided that the former’s diva antics meant he wouldn’t be a good ‘fit’ for the club.
The attitude of the players and their loyalty to their manager have been integral to the team’s success this season: you only need to watch an interview of van Dijk singing his manager’s praises to know it’s an approach that really works. Klopp is also good at recognising and nurturing Liverpool’s homegrown talent, which is great for the morale and confidence of the younger players. Just look at Trent Alexander-Arnold, who has flourished under Klopp’s leadership.
Whether or not you support the club, you have to appreciate the masterclass in football management that Klopp has treated us to this season. Now, if the Reds can keep up the magic for just a few more games, they could be on track to take the trophy home at last.