“We got a proper knock last year”. These were the words of Jurgen Klopp during their pre-season training camp in Germany. He was highly motivated to “put things right.” It may be premature to say that the Reds are back to their title-challenging levels. The gleaming positive is the development from last season’s plaguing issues. Liverpool’s high pressing has been an emblem of their high-intensity football under Klopp. Last season, their midfielders were not able to press with the required energy and intensity, leading to the midfield being breached and the defence forced into vulnerable positions. This led to a compound effect as the squad became fixated on their defensive duties – even trying a mid-block rather than pressing.
High-Pressing System at Liverpool Is Functioning Again
New Signings & Midfield Rebuild
It became clear towards the end of last season that the Merseyside team required a thorough midfield rebuild. Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai joined as the marquee signings to lead the rebuild. Wataru Endo provides added depth and versatility, particularly in the number 6 position, while it will be interesting to see how Ryan Gravenberch fits into the Anfield midfield.
Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Stefan Bajcetic look set for regular minutes. The key feature of this rebuild is the age. Amongst these players, the average age of the midfield is 22.5. Why is this important? Liverpool’s high-pressing issue was a lack of energy and intensity, meaning they would be late in cutting off passes and contesting duels. Oppositions would be able to break between the lines with ease. As such, the freshness and youth of their revamped midfield is a significant stepping-stone in the right direction.
Mac Allister fits the script due to his prior experience in a Brighton system under Roberto De Zerbi that aimed to congest the midfield and exploit vertical spaces. His versatility stood out – having experience playing as a number 6 under Graham Potter – while playing in more attacking positions under the current Brighton manager. Szoboszlai is a product of the Red Bull system, known for their high-pressing – making him a seamless fit.
Watch: The Problem at Liverpool – Why Jurgen Klopp’s Side May Struggle this Premier League Season
Positive Start To The New Season
The new signings have been crucial in alleviating the issues from last season. The prime example is the recent Premier League fixture against Aston Villa. The press was far too physical for Villa, stifling any threat and ensuring they controlled the game. There are many reasons for this, the major one being that Jones, Mac Allister and Szoboszlai executed their pressing roles with great energy and intensity.
A major function of Liverpool’s high-pressing is the counter-press. This refers to aggressive pressure on the opposition after they have conceded possession in an attempt to regain the ball. Against Unai Emery’s side, this worked very effectively.
The midfield trio flexed their technical security and played in a much more controlled and patient manner, contrasting to the rushed directness seen at Stamford Bridge in Gameweek one. The coaching staff were aware of this issue and have seemingly worked on the positioning between players.
An impressive coaching tweak is the slight alteration of the front-line press. Their ideology is for the front three to press the opposition back-line and wide spare men, while the midfielders press the opposition midfield and follow them into the build-up phase.
Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota and Mohammed Salah were pressing the three Chelsea centre-backs, ensuring that Chelsea had an easy build-up option by passing it wide to their wing-backs. Against Newcastle and Aston Villa – Diaz has been used slightly deeper in the press to block the wider build-up options, while the central midfielders were more aggressive in pressing the other spare men in the build-up – showing a clear improvement from the Chelsea game.
The press as a whole has been more coherent, physical and calculated – there have been shades of the peak Reds with Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho. The team seems to be on the right track – however, in a typically long and dramatic season, there will continue to be challenges for the Merseyside team – but as usual, they can count on their experience and coaching staff to offer a solution.