How Liverpool’s ‘mentality monsters’ personify Jurgen Klopp’s system

Written by Debkalpa Banerjee
|

Updated: June 26, 2020 8:34:57 pm


Liverpool’s title-winning team doesn’t have a standout “Most Valuable Player”. (Source: Totalsports)

Defying all odds, expectations and physical limitations, Liverpool secured their first-ever Premier League title on Thursday. With seven matches remaining, Jürgen Klopp‘s machine became the earliest team to win the title in England.

But how did they manage to break all the records, stupefy the reigning champions, and end a 30-year-long wait?

The fist-bumping, eccentric German and the able management aside, the ‘mentality monsters’, gathered for just a measly £92m transfer net-spend in the last five years, are the very reason for the success.

Ever since his appointment in October 2015, Klopp has built his gegenpressing system at the club step by step. Fast forward to 2020, the resulting team has won more trophies in the past 13 months than what Liverpool managed to secure in the past 13 years. In Klopp’s team, the wingers score the goals, the full-backs are the creative forces, and the midfielders defend with all their might.

THE UNFAZED DEFENSIVE WALL

When Klopp took over the reins of Liverpool, the team suffered from a hangover of Brendan Rodgers’ reign that often lacked in collective confidence inside their own box. The title-winning has become synonymous with the word, “impervious”. More so, after the arrivals of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker in 2018.

With the safe hands of Alisson Becker and van Dijk’s nonchalant brilliance, Liverpool have transformed itself from a team that conceded 80 goals in two seasons before their arrival to a team that has conceded just 43 times in 69 matches since the start of the 2018/19 season. With Joe Gomez and Joel Matip beside the towering Dutchman, the Liverpool side has become a defensive rock that also doesn’t shy away from playing from the back.

EXPLAINED | What’s behind Liverpool’s stunning Premier League triumph?

THE PLAYMAKING FULLBACKS

Liverpool’s mean machine is built in such a way that it steamrolls past almost all opponents — the 4-0 win against Leicester City on Boxing Day being a case in point. But how are those goals manufactured? From behind the target man or from the wide-man stuck in the fringes of the field?

Revolutionising the role of a full-back, Klopp has the pair of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson as the chief architect of their attacks. Moving up ahead of the midfield, they essentially play as auxiliary wingers in transition and rack up the assists — a combined 20 so far. Between both of them, they have a splendid 48 goals contributions in the last two seasons, and they are still in the running to break Alexander-Arnold’s Premier League record of most assists for a defender (12) this season.

THE COMPOSED MIDFIELD

If there’s a single reason why Liverpool went unbeaten for 44 league matches or why the team hasn’t lost at home in the league in three years, it is bound to be the leadership of captain Jordan Henderson. Acting as the glue in the team, the midfielder has played as a man possessed this season, flourishing in his box-to-box role alongside Fabinho and Georginio Wijnaldum.

But his primary duty just like his compatriots in the centre of the park wasn’t to carry the ball forward, rather, it was to act as a second line of defence. Although the midfielders in Klopp’s system makes the occasional run forward, their job description has “tucking in deep in the half-spaces during an attacking transition” in it. As for their goals contribution, they have a paltry 15 goals/assists between them, and that only rises to 26 when players like Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, Naby Keita, James Milner, and Adam Lallana are factored in.

READ | Of dominance and late winners: Liverpool’s march to glory

THE DOUBLE-EDGED ATTACK

What Liverpool sets apart from everyone else is their front three — Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino — where the forward drops back and presses the opponents and the wide forwards finish off the chances. The double-pronged attack where both Salah (17G, 7A) and Mane (15G, 9A) cut inside to torment the defences have been a triumphant formula in the German’s reign.

While Salah has been the Golden Boot winner for the past two seasons, Mane has won it just once last season when he shared it with his compatriot after scoring 22 goals. With seven matches still in hand, the African technicians can still take home another trophy. Meanwhile, Firmino (8G, 7A) gets the memo of dispossessing defenders, pressing the midfielders, and providing for anyone who makes a run inside the box.

What makes Klopp’s 4-3-3 even more potent is the involvement of the fullbacks in the attack who add to the intensity in and around the box both with the sheer numbers and crosses. With the midfielders tucked in and winning duels in midfield and circulating them back to the frontmen, Liverpool does know how to take apart a team with their unrelenting approach.

Now, the question arises as to how does one better a team which has been at the peak of their powers already? Maybe, that’s why Klopp has made himself scarce in the transfer markets off late, but if the team is to continue building their legacy, they have to invest in the upcoming window to add to their squad depth. Until then, the Reds will keep marching on to more records on their way.

THE JOURNEY