Liverpool learning from life without high press

By Adam Bate, Sky Sports 20 Nov 2018
Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool

Sky Sports' Adam Bate on how Liverpool have adapted their game without losing their impact

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Jurgen Klopp has a crystal-clear vision of how the game should be played but he has been equally transparent about his ambition to see his Liverpool team develop.

This season his famous heavy metal brand of football is making way for a smoother sound.

Klopp famously stated that counter-pressing is better than any playmaker because it gets the ball to the strikers more reliably than a No 10 can.

The stats show this commitment to winning the ball high up the pitch too. Only Manchester City had more high turnovers last season, that is, attacks that began within 40 metres of the opposition goal.

Energy still high

So to what extent have Liverpool changed?

It is worth noting that, statistically at least, Klopp's team remain among the most energetic in the Premier League.

They have made 1,486 high-intensity sprints, more than anyone else, and some of the metrics that show how high up the field a team win the ball have them in the top three.

High-intensity sprints 
2018/19 Sprints
Liverpool 1486
Man City 1454
AFC Bournemouth 1420
Arsenal 1415
Everton 1385
Drop in pressing 

However, the most important pressing metric is known as PPDA, or opposition passes allowed per defensive action.

This takes into consideration passes in the defensive and middle third of the pitch based on the team in possession, and defensive actions in the final third and middle third of the pitch for the team out of possession.

Last season, Liverpool ranked fourth for this metric, allowing only 11.2 PPDA.

This season, they find themselves down among the bottom half for this same metric, allowing 13.5 PPDA.

Lack of efficiency

The change could well be explained, in part, by those matches in which Liverpool have chosen to tweak their tactics.

And yet, the result is an overall impression that the pressing has not been quite so relentless as before.

Even so, it is too soon to be declaring the days are over of Liverpool blowing opponents away with their counter-pressing.

Not least because one of the biggest differences has been the lack of efficiency of their counter-attacks rather than the lack of them.

For example, the number of turnovers in possession that Liverpool are forcing in advanced areas is still high, among the top two totals in the Premier League this season.

High turnovers in PL
2018/19 Turnovers
Watford 65
Liverpool 58
Man City 58
Spurs 58
Everton 57

But the number of those turnovers that are ending in a shot on the opposition goal is remarkably low.

Of their 58 high turnovers, only six have resulted in a shot. This ranks joint-13th in the division.

High turnovers leading to shots 
2018/19 Turnovers to shots Rank
Watford 13 1
Spurs 12 2
West Ham 12 3
Man City 11 4
Liverpool 6 13=

Man City have induced the same number of high turnovers as Liverpool but have had 11 shots from them. Tottenham Hotspur have also had the same number of turnovers but have produced twice as many shots from them.

Share of turnovers leading to shots 
2018/19 Turnovers to shots % Rank
West Ham 35% 1
Leicester 26% 2
Wolves 24% 3
Spurs 21% 4
Liverpool 10% 19

It is a feature of their season so far. Perhaps it could even turn out to be a positive.

After blowing teams away with their attacking verve last season, there have been five one-goal wins already this term, which means this Liverpool team are having to learn to close out those tighter matches.

The odds are that the front three will find their best form before too long and the big wins will come again.

In the meantime, the narrow wins are proving enough to keep Liverpool in the title race.

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