Why is Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool performing so well?

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Liverpool beat Swansea 2-1 at the Liberty Stadium.
All rights reserved by Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe

Joseph Kavaloski explains why being selfless is of paramount importance for players under Jurgen Klopp.

Ever since Jurgen Klopp took over Liverpool Football Club in mid-October of last year, a fundamental change has been occurring. Rather than a reliance on one or two players to be match winners every week, the Reds are systematically breaking down teams with a system that requires all eleven players to work as one well-oiled machine.

The best example of Liverpool’s new team style of play is in Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing tactics. Beginning with Roberto Firmino at the point of the attack, each player is tasked with relentlessly pressing the ball in unison. If each player operates individually without paying attention to their teammates’ movement, the opposition will easily be able to play around the press and take advantage of the vacated space.

This defensive strategy has been spoken about by players to the press multiple times, and in each instance, the same analysis is given: every player has to press and cover strategically by working with one another to eliminate passing lanes and space. The defence has been a work in progress, but as the players continue their acclimation process to this strategy, clean sheets will become a far more common stat for the Reds.

The team spirit and selflessness that Klopp requires of his team in the press is not much different than the attacking system employed by the German. The most devastating aspect of Liverpool’s 4-3-3 formation is the interchangeability of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Sadio Mane.

Although Firmino is technically the central attacker of the three, the movement of each player often intertwines, bringing Coutinho or Mane centrally in some situations. Plus, deeper players such as Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum also are tasked with making runs from central midfield to further stretch the defence.

The result has been a cool 20 goals in nine Premier League matches – the highest number of goals scored in the league.  These goals, however, are not coming from one or two players.  In fact, five players have at least three goals, and three of them have four. No longer is there a reliance on Daniel Sturridge or Luis Suarez to bag 20 or 30 goals for the club to be successful.

The selfless nature of Liverpool’s playing style has brought the best out of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Adam Lallana, but for others, the adjustment has not been as smooth. This is most true for the player previously titled as the club’s best player: Daniel Sturridge.

Ever since Luis Suarez was sold to Barcelona, Sturridge has widely been relied upon as the catalyst to get the Reds back into the Champions League. Brendan Rodgers built his entire system on getting the most out of Sturridge’s skill set even though the Englishman was rarely fit after his electric 2013/14 season.

With Klopp now in charge, Liverpool’s playing style is no longer built around getting the best out of Sturridge. That is not to say he cannot succeed under the German – he certainly can and showed it multiple times in last season’s Europa League run – but there is not a reliance on him to be the main driving force behind the team’s success.

Instead, Sturridge is tasked with relentlessly closing down defenders when his teammates do not have the ball and when they are in possession, he is expected to constantly move and pull defenders out of position. So far in 2016, Sturridge has not shown the willingness to consistently do what Klopp asks of him and the result has been a regular place on the bench behind Firmino.

Klopp is far from the typical football manager. His expectations of the team are incredibly high and he is extremely precise in the qualities he wants out of his players. This has led to the exit of multiple players with more likely to come, but it has brought out the best in others.

The German has only been at the helm for a year giving certain players leeway to continue adjusting to the style of Klopp’s liking. One thing is clear, however: in order to succeed under Klopp, one must be selfless and ready to work with his teammates as a streamlined attacking, pressing, and defending machine.

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