Two months ago even the most optimistic Liverpool fan could not imagine his team being led by Jurgen Klopp for 78% of the season. Yet the fact of the matter is that after sacking of Brendan Rodgers earlier this month the Board moved swiftly and lured Jurgen Klopp away from his one year sabbatical. Klopp arrives at Anfield carrying on his shoulders the weight of resurrecting another fallen giant after his exploits with Borussia Dortmund. He inherited a very expensively assembled under-performing squad from his Northern Irish predecessor which he will attempt to mould into a well drilled footballing machine.
Gegenpressing and a narrow 4-2-3-1
Klopp’s successes with Dortmund were based on one simple mantra which is that defense and attack are not mutually exclusive – he termed his footballing philosophy “gegenpressing”. His heavy metal brand of football involved heavy pressing and smooth transitions from defense to attack. Gegenpressing is often misconstrued for the high pressure tactics introduced by Ajax in 1970s. Rather than ferociously a style that asks for pressing for the full 90 minutes – as you may see from a Bielsa or Guardioa side – Klopp sees defending as the art of controlling space. The team’s main focus is to recover the ball immediately after losing it by controlling the amount of space that the opposition has to pass the ball out of defence and manipulate the opposition into passing it to where they are eagerly waiting for it. The anticipating players then attack the ball and intercept it in a Blitzkrieg-like way.
For the majority of his tenure with Dortmund Klopp favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation but with a twist. A 4-2-3-1 formation immediately evokes an assumption about the width being provided by the attacking players. In order to be able to efficiently employ the gegenpressing tactic, players need to be as close to each other as possible and hence Klopp set up his team in a narrow 4-2-3-1 with the width being provided by his marauding full backs.
So will Klopp stick to his tried and tested formation or will he surprise everyone and ditch his Dortmund philosophy? Guardiola did it by not implementing tiki taka at Bayern and Ancelotti left Milan’s diamond formation in Italy when he took charge of Real Madrid.
The Sturridge conundrum
The way we see it is that Klopp’s plans for Sturridge will dictate whether he sticks with the 4-2-3-1 set up or whether he will line up his new side differently. In a 4-2-3-1 formation most of the team can virtually pick itself and only a handful of positions are up for grabs. Clyne and Moreno are almost certainly going to occupy the full back positions, Skrtel is a shoe in for one of two CBs, the Liverpool Captain Jordan Henderson will play as a CM, Fermino and Countinho will be filling two of the three attacking players in support of Benteke upfront. This leaves a number of decisions for Klopp to make – which of Sakho or Lovren will be given a chance for redemption and will he favour the experience of Milner or the natural talent of Can to partner Henderson? This leaves him with one big decision to make – what he plans for fan favourite Daniel Sturridge.
The 11th spot in the 4-2-3-1 is a right sided inside forward role which Sturridge can easily make his own with the only competition facing him coming from Milner’s versatility and Ibe’s raw and developing talent. Playing Sturridge in this role will also require some convincing as his displeasure at Chelsea from being played on the wing prompted his transfer to Liverpool.
A more exciting alternative would be 4-2-2-2 with Sturridge partnering Benteke upfront. Klopp’s preference for compactness makes the transition into this formation relatively seamless and shapes it as a very viable option.
So what does the future hold for the fallen giant and will the “normal one” be able to replicate his resurrection magic in the north of England?