book writing

Liverpool’s defensive philosophy uncovered as Klopp proclaims he could ‘write a book on it’

A narrow corridor of the King Power Stadium is perhaps one of the strangest places Jurgen Klopp has detailed his defensive philosophy, but here he stands.

Usually, this sort of chatter will be reserved for Melwood, on Liverpool’s training ground, to the players he expects to carry out his instructions.

The perception surrounding the German coach is that he cares too much about attack, too little about defence.

Though his desire to break the club’s transfer record on Virgil van Dijk this summer would suggest that is false, equally his belief no other available defender would improve what he has enough adds credence to the claims.

Then, there are the statistics. Ten games, 18 goals conceded, 14 of those with their full compliment of 11 men on the field; Jamie Vardy’s effort represented 10 away goals conceded in three league games, more than any other three-game sequence in the club’s Premier League history.

If not for Simon Mignolet’s penalty save, it could have been more.

Yet Klopp, fundamentally, is a coach who looks to keep it tight. Openness on the front foot does not automatically equate to leaving the back door wide open, let alone unlocked.

At Borussia Dortmund, he took charge of a side who had conceded 62 league goals; in his first season, that number reduced dramatically to 37. In his two title-winning campaigns, Dortmund conceded 22 and 25.

But his current Liverpool side are already halfway to the tally which accompanied that first Bundesliga success. Even in games where the shape looks good, individual errors can undermine that; likewise, strong personal showings can unravel because of an issue with the structure.

Klopp has backed his defenders – both in public and private – despite growing, deafening criticism, but even he could bite his tongue no more when watching his side throw away a position of dominance against Leicester in the Carabao Cup midweek.

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Leicester 2-3 Liverpool

“That we concede like this, that makes me really, really sick,” he said after the 2-0 defeat. “It is hard.”

Four days later, the same stadium and what could have been a similar situation, if not for Mignolet’s intervention from 12 yards.

This time however, Klopp was not sick; indeed, he was more than happy to discuss the root of the ailments – and the potential cure.

“I should not take the goals we concede too easy because it is obvious we have conceded too much, there’s no doubt about this,” he said. “It’s really hard for me, I’m usually a really good defensive coach to be honest, but you see it works not too good so far. It’s how it is.

“The teams can keep the game open as long as we don’t close it. In today, it would have been ‘2-0, go go go go go’ – 3-0 or whatever, maybe four, I don’t say it’s possible today but maybe it is.

“We change the rhythm, let them come in the game – even when the goal should have been disallowed, but we opened the game for them, and that’s not smart. That’s what we have to change.”

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Some might deride Klopp’s suggestion that he can set up a defence – there have been calls from fans, and a few pundits, for the installation of that much-fabled ‘defensive coach’ – but there have been glimpses of his side being a well-drilled unit, most notably in the run-in to last season’s league campaign.

Indeed, in this 3-2 win against Leicester, his side had dealt with the obvious, blunt threat of the home side well until referee Anthony Taylor changed the complexion of the game. Once that happened, individual errors crept in – four, for example, for Vardy’s goal, shared across Liverpool’s back five.

Joe Gomez was beaten too easily by Marc Albrighton, Alberto Moreno failed to close down Demarai Gray, Mignolet’s tip away was not out of the danger enough and Joel Matip failed to track Vardy.

On defending in general, Klopp believes he could “write a book” on certain aspects of it – but despite having faith in all of his squad, defenders included, he concedes he cannot micromanage them on the field.

“The main thing for defending is tactical discipline,” he added. “I don’t know everything about football but I could write a book in the next two hours about which space we have to defend – when, why, where you have to be, where you have to step up, where you have to push up. Eighteen, 19 years, that’s no problem.

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“But of course you have to do it. Let me see the last goal we conceded (Okazaki for Leicester on Tuesday) – everything is perfect and one player doesn’t push up. I’m responsible for everybody pushing up but I cannot change in a second, I cannot take a car and drive them out of the box, that’s how it is.

“As long as not every player is doing it, I will talk about it, we will work on it. When everybody is doing it, I’ll make sure we do it for the rest of our lives.

“You’re right, I have real faith, but not only offensively. I have faith in our squad. I like to have this but I know we need results. Maybe nobody else likes it but I really like this team,

“I want to improve together and sometimes you need a punch in your face. We’ve already had a few – not too hard, though (Manchester) City was hard, but that was the only one. Losing here after seven, eight changes in this kind of game, having been clearly better in the first half, that can happen in football.

“We were not really on the floor but we always got up, we are still here, we still play good football, I like the shape since we started. It’s football, I’m not ready to ignore this and to use it.”

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But defending does not involve the back five alone, and the Liverpool boss is keen to demonstrate this, believing his entire side were guilty of allowing Leicester back into the game at 2-0 in the first half.

He explained: “We had a formation which they could not really cope with. Where we are, where Roberto (Firmino) is, where the ‘third eight’ is in between, where Phil (Coutinho) is, where Mo (Salah) is. So how we build up, that’s all.

“We play with three at the back in the build up, Roberto is a bit higher, that was really difficult for them. But then we stopped doing that, we wanted to control the game but we have to make these small ways still. Then we played the balls a little bit too late, and so they came up.

“As long as we are in a good rhythm and play the ball at the right moment, and good orientation, we couldn’t come in pressing situations after that. They could. So it opens the game a little bit. It’s not a physical thing, we just have to keep our concentration, to want to be dominant still, go and go on.

“If we decide to be a little bit more (controlling), use another rhythm if you want, we have to do it active, not passive.

“It’s about learning, do what you can do best, at least as long as necessary in either world as long as you can.”

Liverpool and Leicester City players keep their eyes on a high ball
Liverpool and Leicester City players keep their eyes on a high ball

His Liverpool side will continue to learn in the coming week, with trips to Moscow and Newcastle ahead of the international break.

And while the focus has fallen on the defence over the past fortnight, the attack has also been under pressure for failing to convert a glut of good opportunities.

Not so on Saturday, with three goals of the highest quality. And Klopp has handed an unintentional warning about what is still to come from his side on the front foot.

“We played without Sadio Mane today, huh?” he joked.

Mane is now available for selection once more having served a three-match suspension for his sending off against Manchester City. Opposition defenders won’t be seeing the funny side any time soon.

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