What’s Happening with Liverpool’s Pressing?

Liverpool have begun the defence of their
Champions League title in reasonably good shape – despite a 2-0 reverse away to Napoli,
two wins on the bounce, and an upcoming home tie against the bottom side in the group,
Genk, should put the Merseyside team in a strong position before they host Napoli and
face RB Salzburg away in the final group stage fixture. As these stats from OneFootball show, Jurgen
Klopp’s side are, on average, dominating possession, but their free-scoring approach
is marred by the concession of six goals so far in the group, including three at home
to an admittedly good Salzburg side. Liverpool have generally stuck with the now-preferred
4-3-3, although Klopp will still use a 4-2-3-1 at times, especially if the full backs require
greater cover. The general pattern is that the midfield three stay compact and narrow,
ball-winning rather than playing too progressively – width comes from the full backs, while
the forward line also stay fairly narrow with Roberto Firmino dropping off to create space
and passing opportunities to the wide forwards. This is the formation and system most associated
with Liverpool and stylistically, this is usually backed by a concerted press. Klopp
has long been a proponent of pressing and counter-pressing, the concerted effort by
a team to close down space to win the ball back, especially immediately after losing
possession, in order to exploit the position and state of the opposition side. Liverpool have evolved under Klopp, with 2016/17’s
more possession-based approach, relying on creative passing from players like Adam Lallana
and Coutinho to try to spring Sadio Mane forwards, giving way to a more direct style in 2017/18.
The arrival of Mohammed Salah was key, allowing Firmino to come inside and orchestrate play
from a false nine position, as was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s role as a more progressive 8 on the right-hand
side of a midfield three, supporting attacks and assisting a more energetic press. Nonetheless,
pressing numbers were high in both seasons, although arguably it wasn’t until 2017/18
that Klopp really had a squad who understood his concepts. Then, last season, Liverpool dropped off the
press somewhat. The attacking threat of the full backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy
Robertson allowed a slightly narrower midfield, while the arrivals of Alisson and Fabinho
allowed Liverpool to control the game more and keep a higher defensive line. This did
indeed see a reduction in pressing numbers, as measured by Passes Per Defensive Action,
effectively the number of opposition passes allowed per proactive defensive act – the
lower the number, the more proactive the defence in its pressing. But, as we can see, Liverpool are, in fact,
pressing more this season – albeit with a smaller number of games played. While the
trend prior to this season for Liverpool was definitely towards a lower intensity of press
– although still above league average – this season’s Liverpool is once again pressing
more. So why the general feeling that they aren’t? Compare, for example, the pressing numbers
for different fixtures. What’s clear here is that arguably Liverpool’s worst performance
saw them press least, but that otherwise, pressing levels are variable. Obviously, Liverpool
still press more than most teams, but within that there is a real range. There are two main reasons for this. The first
is to protect the full backs slightly. While Liverpool were extremely reliant on Robertson
and Alexander-Arnold last season for ball progression, in some games Liverpool were
caught out with direct passing in behind. They therefore want to control some matches
in terms of possession more, rather than be direct all the time, another facet of Klopp’s
evolution, and so here the full backs will tend to offer width along the midfield line,
rather than acting almost as wingers with a defensive responsibility. This means that Liverpool’s midfield line
is where the pressing happens, and so they will allow the opposition to progress the
ball in their own defensive third before engaging the press, rather than looking to choke them
higher up the pitch. In other words, Liverpool are pressing more situationally, which at
times means that the press is engaged later. The second reason is that Liverpool are currently
lacking the sort of midfielder who can push up and support attacks in the half spaces.
Concerns around the long-term fitness of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the
injury to Xherdan Shaqiri, have robbed Liverpool of the sort of progressive, attacking midfielders
that can support attacks where the ball is won higher up the pitch. If Liverpool’s
full backs are hanging back, and Firmino is dropping off, there are spaces that would
be occupied by onrushing midfielders to assist the attack, but the more workmanlike set-up
used by Klopp in many games prevents this – this was seen clearly against Napoli,
where a flatter midfield and full backs who didn’t push up meant that Liverpool’s
front three was quite isolated. With this being so, pressing high and further
up the pitch would expose Liverpool’s midfield – sitting off didn’t work well against
Napoli, but in games where Liverpool’s lack of forward thrust from midfield could be exposed,
Liverpool are more content to block up the middle and press situationally, especially
in the wide areas of the middle third, before countering quickly against a defensive line
that have pushed up. So, while Liverpool are pressing more overall,
they are pressing less in some games. The general trend of the last few seasons might
give the impression that Klopp is moving away from his pressing style – the truth is,
he is becoming more discerning in when and how his teams press on a game by game basis.

100 thoughts on “What’s Happening with Liverpool’s Pressing?

  • incredible video as always thank you tifo, I did notice Liverpool need a somewhat more attacking/creative midfielder in our top 11 but I wasnt sure how to explain it as well as you did. amazing stuff, hope Ox gets played more after his recent performances

  • Because of injury it’s too risky to go guns-blazing. They still do press heavy just look at the 2nd half of Villas game and even the B Team against Arsenal.

  • Mannn seriously… The midfielder line of LIVERPOOL is jam packed there are like 7 midfielders….
    For me the midfield line should be shaq.fabinho.ox
    But nahhh… Klopp is doing something else… I mean what is gini.fabinho.hendo mannn!!! I'm tired give the good players a damn fuckin chance?!!!!!!!

  • 4:06 Liverpool DO have a good attacking midfield. It's just that Henderson starts as an attacking mid when he's really a defensive fabinho substitute, thus causing a lot of square balls and not much dribbling forward. I would love to see a wijnaldum fabinho lallana midfield with ox, henderson and keita as respective rotating substitutes. And forget about Milner. He's a workhorse, but should not keep being Klopp's number one sub.

  • Towards the end of last year, we changed our tactical approach regarding the role of the midfielders especially, Jordan Henderson. While before the Southampton and Chelsea games we usually saw a functional -solid midfield which didn't really push high or created overlaps for our fullbacks, now we saw both Henderson and Wijnaldum/Milner/Keita pushing up the pitch creating overloads for opposition wing-backs. This new approach must have been influenced by the Mancity tactics of creating overloads. And to be fair this new approach seemed to confuse the opposition and helped us win games. But the warning signs were always there especially in that Chelsea game in April which we won 2-0. Willian and Hazard were running in behind the fullbacks who are way up the pitch constantly getting one on one against Fabinho and the center halves. Hazard even hit the post once. When in possession this new approach creates a 2-1-4-1-2 formation with both the wing-backs pushing up, and a high defensive line however, once you loose the ball Fabinho and the 2CB's have to face a 4/5 on 3 situations constantly. Now this has been exposed right from the pre-season games. Jurgen has to address this problem soon, our midfield has been over-run too many games this season, and the defenders have been exposed too much. A return to last season's 2-1-2-3-2 formation (when in possession) could provide the ideal solution to the defensive issues we've been facing in almost all the games this season.

  • They went all out on gegenpressing on Klopps first year. But resulted in crazy amounts of injuries, remember when we loaned steven caulker during the injury crisis, then last season the pressing was reduced.

  • You also can’t ignore the change of Klopp assistant manager from Buvac to Pep Lijnders also influence the change in Liverpool playstyle.

  • Liverpools possession is the defenders passing the ball between each other from side to side. That's not possession.

  • we don’t play the same, i understand we have things to achieve but i miss trent n robbo bombing forward from minute 1 and the crazy press where we were really all over teams

  • The pressing during 17-18 season was God Level Stuff. We wouldn't even allow a string of 2-3 passes for oppositions,be it in their own half. Until Mo's Injury Against Real Madrid,we were dominating so much not even allowing 2-3 seconds of ball to Real. It almost felt as we were just going to score. Then the unfortunate happened. Sigh…

  • Klopp learn to be more pragmatic imo
    He dont want his team burn out at the end of season, and they front three doesnt have an equal back up
    So its just klopp try to manage his players from injury cause by playing with full intesnsity full of season

  • I remember Klopps first full season with liverpool. They were destroying teams with their pressing. However, by January, the team was a corpse. All the players were tired and lost 7 games in January and February. We went from 1st to 4th within 2 months. Got knocked out of the FA cup and League cup.

  • Please make a video discussing the current state of Arsenal. There are plenty of talking points (emery, Xhaka, Ozil, Pepe, martinelli), I'd be interested to hear your educated opinions on.

  • I remember earlier in Klopp's tenure when a lot of our fans criticised him for a lack of tactical flexibility. It's great to see how this team has developed, not always relying on high pressing, counter-pressing and counter-attacking. I think most great teams always have lots of different solutions and we're really showing that.

  • I think there is 1 fundamental reason you may have missed. Liverpool are top guns this year and most teams will have high densitynand compact defensive structures. Pressing high adds congestion so the best approach is to grt the opposition to spread out. This is smart thinking by Klopp.

  • Let me save you some time here, Rather than Chasing the ball like mad Demons, Liverpool now have a more controlled press, saving Stamina, helping their overall fitness etc. They are pressing but only when they need to or when klopp wants them to. Basically a more controlled pressing.

  • They press in waves, typically at the start of the game, before half time etc depending on the opponents.
    The last ten to fifteen minutes of the game are normally an all out pressing affair and it's one of the reasons why they've scored so late so often lately.

    It's actually quite an impressive tactic; Liverpool are amongst the fittest squad in the league (James Milner being one of the fittest people in world football) and when they press opposition in the latter stages of the game, the opposing team just can't keep up with their intensity.

  • great video that shows Klopp is more versatile that one might think….A tactical analysis on Emery's Arsenal will be much appreciated, because I'm totally lost right now…No more high press, but a low block against mid and low table team? Why a diamond midfield against team reputed for the wingers (liverpool, wolves)? Anyway keep me posted 🙂

  • I believe that Liverpool pressing is less apparant these days because of Fabinho. The team used to press in the attacking third to ease pressure on The midfield and defense . But When Fabinho Starts, the press starts a bit later due to Fabinho's ability to slow down opposition and ball winning prowess.

  • I worry when Liverpool hit a bad patch and lose some confidence. There are a fair few players klopp would rather replace from now.

  • I understand why but goddam heavy metal football was so much fun

    The 17/18 season was hilarious and frustrating. Great memories lol

  • Please, do a video about Imanol Alguacil's Real Sociedad and Diego Rodriguez's Granada; both are showing different but equally entertaining styles.

  • I think the sample size is small right now and it's only the group stages of the CL. Wait till the knockout rounds begin, they'll be pressing more than ever before.

  • The pressing will return in the second half of the season, it's always the case under Klopp since he's been here that the intensity steps up another gear in the last 3-4 months of the season.

  • To some minor extent, I have made this observation myself from watching the games but can't for the life of me articulate it like this. And I had no idea about the 'why' part. Very well done Tifo Football!
    So with a fully fit squad we can watch the exciting heavy meatal of 17/18

  • Liverpool kind of plays with a formation of 2-5-3 and that's mostly because of Trent and Robbo.
    but they're conceding more this season. just 3 clean sheets in 11 games. still they're winning games.

  • This started at the beginning of last season tbh. Instead of the "gegenpress" Klopp is famous for, we transitioned to a shadow press where we close down the opposition player somewhat whilst blocking passing lanes, then a certain situation will trigger a press by 3 or more players.

  • I think it's too soon to analyse his game this season. Klopp has higher lines now, maybe to take advantage of VAR, which is more precise in offside rule and possiblt due to the new goal kick rule for EPL. At the start of a season any team will struggle to keep lines close to another and to press correctly. Now, with all those modifications to his tactics, I think adapting will be more difficult.
    However, since his times at Dortmund, especially the two last seasons, and against Guardiola, Klopp has tried to find tactics which allow his players to breathe and recover energy and to fight for possession and not only space as usual. You could be right about this being a change in his approach but I must insist, it's too soon to know in my opinion.

  • I remember in an interview early on in his Liverpool days he said when we don’t press right, we run more, so it’s about being smarter with it as opposed to just running around playing 1v1 all over the field. sometimes they might need to do that but definitely not in most games. You wanna talk about a game where they pressed vigorously, last week against Tottenham and then at Anfield against Barcelona. They’re a better team now and so they know when to go and when to hold and when they do go, they’re organized enough to make it worth the effort.

  • There isn’t a single answer for all your opponents. It would surprise people if I told them Man City would have to change things more tactically against Burnley than against Barcelona. That’s just football

  • Klopp and the team are getting older and wiser. They know which teams they have to press and which teams they don't. That's what has lead to the many last minute winners.

  • Everything Klopp does is based around 'pacing' the team for a long season … Klopp likes having a tight, smaller squad filled with players he trusts … so that means he has to be very careful that we don't burn out. It HAS been frustrating to watch us struggle at times this season, but you can clearly see that when we NEED to 'turn it on' … we can.
    Against Villa our fitness and energy in the last 10 minutes was incredible … it was as if the players almost decided it was time to WAKE UP and win.
    We rarely SMASH teams this season because if we're in control of a game by 2-3 goals clear, we will ease off … and not keep pushing. It's a bit risky but you can't argue with our points haul ….
    Liverpool have lost just ONE of our last FIFTY league fixtures …. that's insane form.

  • I think ever since Kiev the team has been much more measured in its approach, once it gets a lead it is generally confident to hold it. Liverpool in 90% of games are:
    1) Trying to break the opposition down (until a lead of 1/2 established)
    2) Holding onto the lead
    They no longer need to play exciting expansive football to win games, the transition from mostly exciting games to mostly successful games in the last 2/3 seasons has been self evident

  • Klopp only uses it ….
    Occasionally. Pressing.
    I urge ppl to try and do it …in the garden or with yr friends…..you'll be fucked.

  • I think in general pressing works better against top teams than smaller teams. If they want the league they have to play less pressing. But pressing doesn’t always get picked up when they play against top teams if they haven’t pressed for a long time

  • Another reason is to conserves eergy with congested fixtures coming and to avoid injuries,

    it will be epic to see Liverpool go all out pressing vs Man City, thats how they destroyed them last time they won

  • One of the factor for Liverpool pressing game seems less I think is also because Liverpool has gone from underdogs in the past few years to European champions. In the past, teams would attack and go toe to toe with Liverpool allowing Liverpool to press-counter press. Now more teams are sitting deep against Liverpool, meaning less use of pressing-counter pressing rather Liverpool often have majority of possession require more incisive passing which sadly Liverpool midfielders lack.

  • Great Analysis… fair to say that now that the engine is working Klopp is simply adapting to opposition tactics to exploit their formation. The fact remains its very hard to defend against speed. And Liverpool forwards and RB and LB are incredibly fast and fit. Any team would struggle to keep that sort of energy going for 100 Mins.

  • Really no one realise nowadays opposing teams parked their buses, that's probably why they are not much pressing.

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