The Season So Far
There’s never a dull moment with Liverpool, that’s for sure. The Reds began 2015-16 as Brendan Rodgers’ side, with everyone from the boardroom in Boston to the supporters’ clubs in South Korea filled with nagging doubts about the Northern Irishman’s suitability for the role, and they’ll end it as Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™, full of hope and certainty that they’re on an upward curve.
In hindsight, it’s obvious that Rodgers should have gone in the summer. An under-achieving, self-promoting and cringeworthy narcissist, Rodgers turned up for games dressed as a consciously hip 20th Century Literature professor and lacked the ruthless ambition to get Liverpool back to where they need to be. At times it was hard to shake the perception that he saw Liverpool as Brendan Rodgers’ Golden Ticket To Managerial Superstardom, rather than realising that the power was at the other end of the relationship.
There can be no such doubts with Klopp, already a genuine superstar with no need to promote himself above his station, and the type of man who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything besides official club merchandise, head to toe. The (overly?) affable German has given the club the shot in the arm that it needed, and is already extracting the kind of performances from developing players that Rodgers couldn’t. The only oddity is that, having replaced a rampant egotist with a more self-deprecating and charismatic enabler who sees the club as bigger than any one person, they’ve rebranded the club as Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™.
The Season Ahead
Domestically, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ don’t have much to play for: Champions League qualification is already gone and they’re out of the FA Cup. All their eggs are in the Europa League basket, and it seems very likely that Borussia Dortmund (formerly Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund™) will pick up that basket and rudely smash all the eggs on the floor in a few weeks’ time.
That said, it would be wrong of Tottenham to assume that having nothing to play for means Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ will take their foot off the gas. Firstly, Klopp would consider that a personal insult and none of his players would dare upset him like that. Secondly, there are several guys playing for their futures, knowing that Klopp will have no qualms about shipping them out this summer should he find no reason to keep them. Thirdly, there are players like Jon Flanagan and Daniel Sturridge who are just returning to fitness after long lay-offs and will approach every late-season dead-rubber as though it were the Champions League final. This will be a tough, tough game.
It feels somewhat condescending to outline Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™’s tactics, for the simple reason that it’s a Klopp system and every football fan with an internet connection has been exposed to innumerable analyses of this system over the last six or seven years.
In case you’ve been on Mars for the last decade, in a cave, with your eyes shut and your fingers in yours ears: it’s a high-line 4-2-3-1 with an extremely high tempo, lots of pressing and counter-pressing, and a focus on moving the ball forward through the opposition lines before they’ve had a chance to set themselves to defend. If that sounds extremely familiar, it’s because Mauricio Pochettino has pretty much copied that plan since coming to the Premier League.
As ever, the most striking thing about Klopp’s side is their huge work-rate stopping their opponents playing: 23.1 tackles per game is the highest average in the Premier League; only Leicester block more opposition passes and force more turnovers in the middle of the pitch; only Manchester City have allowed fewer shots on their goal this season, while 163 shots allowed from inside their own box is, again, second only to City. They’ve also got their offside trap working excellently, which is important in any successful counter-pressing system: no team catches their opponents offside more than Liverpool.
At the other end of the pitch, their raw attacking output is pretty stellar. 466 is the third highest number of shots taken in the Premier League this season, and the conversion rates aren’t bad: they’re overperforming in terms of Expected Goals, having scored 45 actual goals against 39.8 xG. This is surprising in more than one sense, especially given problems we'll get to shortly.
Aside from a general and rather disgusting lack of cohesion, which is inevitable given the constant state of turmoil the club has been in for the last few years, there are a few obvious weaknesses that Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™ have. They’re not really the sorts of problems that Spurs can do something to create, though – they’re more suicidal tendencies that lead to the Reds shooting themselves in the foot with individual errors for no reason whatsoever. Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren are all liable to do something impossibly stupid at any moment: Spurs’ only task is to stay switched on so they can capitalise when those insane mistakes occur. It's also worth noting that Liverpool have the lowest save percentage (51.4%) of any Premier League team.
At the other end, Liverpool’s biggest problem has been the tendency of several players to shoot from stupid positions all the time. Nearly half of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool™’s shots have been taken from outside the box, and only 31% of their total shots taken have hit the target. Coutinho has frustrated, in particular, having become possessed by the ghost of Gerrards past and subsequently taking a massive 84 shots to score six goals. Smooth.
Klopp prefers to play a settled eleven but his squad is heavily hit by injury (insert critical Raymond Verheijen tweet here). This weekend the Reds are in the somewhat bizarre situation of having Sturridge as their only fully fit striker, while Firmino is also a doubt and James Milner may take his place. Milner may also be needed to fill in for Jordan Henderson, whose constant foot-knack is a worry.
Bearing in mind that almost everything this season seems to be going in Leicester’s favour, it seems sensible to disregard any and all analysis of this game and consider more the result that Leicester need. A Spurs loss here would benefit the Foxes greatly, so we should expect that to happen.