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Liverpool transition from attack to defence

Thursday 17th January 2019
Klopp has focused on the defence and reaped the rewards
Klopp has focused on the defence and reaped the rewards

As Liverpool beat Brighton 1-0 last weekend to further boost their title hopes, most watching knew where the credit was to be dished out. As has been the case for most of this season it was the Reds defence who had come up trumps.

Despite being depleted by injuries and forced to play Fabinho at centre back, Liverpool faced few problems from Brighton’s attack.

Last season, Liverpool managed just one victory to nil throughout the campaign. The win over the Seagulls took them to five alone this season. Ask anyone and they will tell you the difference has been two players; Virgil van Dijk and Alisson.

They would be right to do so. Both footballers were signed for world record fees and have been worthy of their price tags. Alisson’s clean sheet record and save percentage are a justification of his. Van Dijk lead in numerous defensive stats provides validation for his.

What most do not talk about, however, is the change in tone that has taken place around Anfield. The once formidable Reds have turned their back on attacking football. In its place, they have focused on defence to ensure a serious title tilt. The irony is, it was never supposed to be this way.

When Jurgen Klopp arrived to replace Brendan Rodgers it was almost certain that his Liverpool team would play on the front foot. Talk of heavy metal football, Geggenpressing and an all-out attack was plentiful.

The idea was simple. The German would not bow to the Premier League. He had been told that he must adapt if he was to turn Liverpool into genuine contenders. They could not attack at will and hope for the best. That was where his predecessor had fallen short. Klopp, though, proudly insisted he would not change.

He would prove the doubters wrong. Those who have watched the league, pundits and ex-players, including those who have won it, who insisted you cannot win it if you don’t have any defensive nous.

For a while, that was how it was too. Klopp focused on the attack and Liverpool flourished. One only has to look at the way they played last season for proof of that. Games such as the 5-0 win over Swansea, two 4-1 wins over West Ham and a 4-0 defeat of Arsenal showed they could blow teams away regardless of their place in the league.

The 4-3 win over Manchester City was another case in point. Here was the best team in the league by some distance being blown away by Liverpool’s attacking prowess. Yet, despite that strength, it was not enough to turn them into title contenders. Instead, they finished a whopping 25 points behind the champions. Six points separated them from second.

This year that has been sacrificed in favour of the defence. The Premier League has forced Klopp to change and his side are benefitting from it. Mohamed Salah is still the league’s joint top scorer but now they have the league’s best goalkeeper and central defender. The defence has been made the priority over the attack.

That’s been felt in the stats too. Only Manchester City concede fewer shots per game than Liverpool. The Reds sit third when it comes to that number in the whole of Europe.

At the other end, meanwhile, they just make the top 20 for shots per game. In the league, they sit third for that total but are averaging 1.7 fewer per match. Their shots on target per game have risen, though. So too has their pass success percentage. Yet even in regards of the former, they sit behind a Manchester United team that has struggled offensively for the majority of the campaign.

It indicates this Liverpool team has abandoned their erratic all-out attacking approach for something more considered and deliberate. They can still put the ball in the net but now it’s done in a more methodical manner. This team prioritises the 1-0 win over the 4-3 success. Klopp has abandoned heavy metal for something a lot calmer and patient.

The Premier League it seems, finally got to him. After trying to prove his point with all-out attacking football and failing, he adapted his team and their style for a more defensive approach. Liverpool are now gritty and dogged, happy with a 1-0 win over anything else, even it comes via a suspicious Mohamed Salah penalty.

Klopp himself has admitted that Liverpool’s attacking play has suffered from their focus on improving the defence. What he will not admit, however, is that he has bowed to the league. It proved to him he had to change and he did so. Now Liverpool are league leaders and serious title challengers.

The old adage is that attacks win games but defences win titles. Jurgen Klopp appears to have bought into the notion. Liverpool’s transition from attack to defence is proof of the point.

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Sean Lunt

Football journalist working in the North West mainly covering Everton and Liverpool but with musings on anything football related. 

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