During Jurgen Klopp’s nearly seven-year stay at Anfield so far, a lot has changed.
Firstly, there is a new £50m state-of-the-art training ground for senior players. The capacity of Anfield has increased thanks to an impressive setup in the Main Stand and there have even been changes in the personnel that make up Klopp’s coaching staff.
Still, to some fans, these may seem like minimal and insufficient tweaks that the average fan might overlook.
However, one transition that has been anything but ambiguous over that seven-year span has been the change in Liverpool’s style of play. From relentless heavy metal football during the early days of the German’s tenure to more considered and autonomous practice during Liverpool’s quest to become English champions for the 19th time. Klopp has always made sure that his team continues to evolve year after year.
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It’s a belief he shares with his close friend and Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders, who believes it’s vital to add a pinch of “unpredictability” to the team’s composition before each season. It’s a mantra that explains the logic behind the decision to spend £85m on Darwin Núñez’s services earlier this month.
The deal was signed and sealed just weeks after Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti revealed how easy it had been to prepare for the Champions League final against Klopp’s men as a result of their distinctive style of play.
“I think it helped that Liverpool were easier to figure out than the others because they have a very clear identity and we were able to prepare like we did,” said the Los Blancos manager.
“We knew what strategy to take, not give them space behind the defense to crash. Perhaps our football was not extraordinarily beautiful aesthetically tonight, but playing from behind to encourage their pressure was not a great idea. We had a few more long balls, then when their pressure eased in our half of the pitch, we were able to control the ball more, especially in the second half.”
Following the decision to sell Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in January 2018, a 4-3-3 setup has always been the Reds’ preferred formation ever since. It’s a system that has been assembled based on the durability and tactical awareness of the three central midfielders, who must fill the gaps in a bid to allow the expansive full-back pairing of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to make their mark. higher. the tone.
But even after four years of such a prosperous system, which has brought national and continental glory, Klopp and Lijnders refuse to slack off. Which was amplified by Lijnders, who, speaking after the arrival of midfielder Thiago Alcantara in September 2020, explained why high-caliber additions are crucial in allowing the team to take their game to the next level.
“Thiago also needs time to understand our game, but we also need to understand and use Thiago’s skills,” Lijnders said.
He added: “There will be different timing, different passing, different play dictates. We have to be unpredictable and Thiago gives us unpredictability from the backbone of the pitch.”
In an era where Liverpool have sensationally racked up 90-plus points on three separate occasions in the Premier League, only for such an extravagant tally to be deemed worthless in two of those campaigns due to the existence of Manchester City, being able to add unpredictability. to your class during the offseason will only improve your chances of competing for the highest honors in the game.
For example, last season’s evolution focused on the areas Alexander-Arnold and Robertson gained during the attacking phases, with Liverpool’s 23-year-old scouser finding himself involved in more central positions than the previous overlapping ones he had held during his career. imminent post. academy days.
There was even a mid-season adjustment to the positioning of Sadio Mane, who unusually went eight league games without scoring between November and January, but a clever and subtle switch from the left flank to a centre-forward role saw Mane end the campaign. with one of the best spells of his career at Anfield. He managed eight goals in his last 13 league outings for the Reds.
But, before next season, another development in the forward department could be imposed following the 30-year-old’s departure to Bayern Munich earlier this week as Liverpool mourn the loss of one of Europe’s best partnerships. .
During their time as team-mates, Mane and Mohamed Salah were arguably two of the Premier League’s top finishers, with the pair scoring 195 league goals between them since the summer of 2017. It’s a return that was garnered by the Klopp’s revolutionary. deployment of wide forwards in his 4-3-3 system focused on gegenpressing.
However, the arrival of Nunez, coupled with the departure of the Senegalese striker, could allow Klopp to return to his favored 4-2-3-1 setup next season. A system that successfully transformed his team, Borussia Dortmund, from almost men of German football to consecutive champions of the Bundesliga.
The prospect of a return to that system is fueled by the impressive way in which Núñez led the line for Nélson Veríssimo’s Benfica at the tip of a 4-2-3-1 formation during the Champions League quarterfinals. April at Anfield, on a night where his dominant performance commanded the attention of all who entered the turnstiles.
Despite facing a heavily rotated backline, the 23-year-old impressed when he took on Joel Matip and Ibrahima Konate and ended the night having won 50% of his aerial duels and 67% of those that took place in the ground, according to FotMob.
As well as proving to be a persistent thorn in the side of Liverpool’s defense throughout the night, the Uruguayan’s ability to link the game was eye-catching as he repeatedly brought team-mates into play from deep and subsequently pulled Benfica away from its rigid defensive form and in more advanced areas. Making Liverpool sweat during the closing period of play as they nearly held their 6-4 aggregate lead.
And while it looks like Nunez will become the focal point of Liverpool’s latest revolution, it’s not to say that Klopp and Lijnders are completely breaking their plan of the past four years to work together on Merseyside.
Of course, it’s a system that has lifted Liverpool into domestic and continental royalty, but the addition of their new number 27 will no doubt ensure that the Lijnders’ promise of unpredictability is delivered as the Reds aim for glory in the Premier League. Premier League in the next campaign.
The unpredictability of Nunez’s game extends to him being able to operate on the left side, or even his ability to play central with another striker. With all of Liverpool’s current strikers except veteran Roberto Firmino cut from the same cloth, the addition of Benfica’s talisman will no doubt give Klopp an added dimension for years to come as his side continue to battle their notable rivals from the league. Premier League, Manchester City, for the highest honors on offer.
But for now, with Anfield’s latest additions, Lijnders will undoubtedly be happy.