Journey to the Klopp

This is written by guest author TheJanitor from the Sports Interactive forums.

The idea at first was to recreate the way my beloved Liverpool play at the moment- which is quite exciting to say the least – under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp. The aim was to provide the community with some insight about how to recreate the tactics and see how other play it and the results they get. However, baring in mind my own tactical deficiencies, as I have never created a massively successful tactic and at times, used others’ work, I have decided to turn this into more of seeking guidance rather than providing it. The goal now is to work through the process of creating an accurate, successful set of tactics from the beginning.

Step 1: Research

The first step I’ve made is research. As a Liverpool fan I have seen almost every game of this season and I have some raw knowledge about how I want to implement my tactic, but reading other people analysis can be much more helpful, as I get more details that I have missed. Here are some of the articles I came across that really changed the way I approached the tactic creator:

In short, here is the starting point:

– When the opposition is in the attacking phase, Liverpool collapse into a 4-1-4-1 with two banks of four and a defensive midfielder between the lines.

– In attack, both Liverpool “wingers” move into the half-spaces while the fullbacks provide the width.

– The striker moves into deep and wide positions to supplement the wingers moving narrow.

– One of the midfield trio join up with the attackers at all time, creating something similar to a 4-2-3-1 shape in attack.

– Quick tempo, short passing play with possession, while trying to regain the ball as soon as possible without the ball.
A note about Gegenpressing. While it may occur in various stages during the game, in the current ME you can’t use it as a viable strategy. However, when considering why Klopp is a fan of the system, we can try and put to use some of the ideas in a different manner.

“Counter-pressing lets you win back the ball nearer to the goal. It’s only one pass away from a really good opportunity. No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter pressing situation.”

The idea is that if someone like Coutinho or Lallana wins the ball high up the pitch, he normally has two-three attackers around him so he would have good options to put to use. For this reason I want to be compact and press high up the pitch. Not gegenpressing, but using the idea in a similar manner that aesthetically bodes well with manner of the tactic.

Step 2: First draft

After the research I went directly for the tactics creator for the fun part- putting what I have gathered in place. Klopp is a fairly flexible coach, and Liverpool change their play to suit different situations in a match or different teams’ style of play. For this reason I decided to have 3 versions of the same tactic:

a) Attacking, riskey, aggressive tactic. Whether I’m trying to put 3 past Arsenal in a quick blitz or break down Hull City’ deep block.

b) Controlling variation, probably a go-to tactic in matches were I’m not sure about the opposition. Trying to dominate possession and move forward in more patient tempo.

c) Defensive variation. For those tricky games against teams who can dominate the middle and commit men forward. Trying to hit space behind the defenders.

Attacking

Mentality: Control

Shape: Fluid

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GK/d: Standard keeper, a shot-stopper through and through. Instructed pass safer and distribute to defenders to aid with the build up play. *Tactical variation- when Karius plays, he play as a SK/s as he has the ability to do so.

2 x CB/d: Standard center-halves, capable on the ball, but not what you consider “Ball Playing Defenders” in the Hummels or Vertonghen mould.

Right fullback- WB/a: Charging up the pitch and providing us with width.

Left fullback- WB/s: Less aggressive with his offensive contribution than his counter-part, offering more balance and support while still being an outlet in attack.

DLP/d: The focal play, a lot of stuff are funneled through him. Given a Defensive mentality as he tend to play as he doesn’t venture too much from his spot, but rather tend to keep things simple and anchor the defense. Jordan Henderson or Emre Can can fill this role very differently.

CM/d: Played by Wijnaldum or Can, his role is to form a double-pivot when in possession, along with the DLP. Safe with ball while providing balance to our attacking structure.

BBM/s: Lallana’s role. Selfless in his tracking, but when possession is won, quickly moving up the pitch, linking play with the attack and making late runs into the opponents’ box. Effectively our “#10” in possession.

Right/Left winger- WM/a: Even though Coutinho and Mane are given the same role, the way they play it should be different because of their personality. Coutinho is more skilled and creative while Mane is very quick and better at making off the ball runs. They are instructed to move narrower when in possession.

CF/s: Firmino or Sturridge, depends on fitness and just what I want from my striker in this role. Firmino is better at disrupting opposition’s build up while Sturridge is closer to a proper #9 and a better finisher. *Tactical variation- Origi plays as a CF/a to attempt and exploit his pace and lack of technical finesse that the former two have.

Team instructions: Shorter Passing, Push Higher Up, Close Down More, Roam From Position, Higher Tempo

Controlling

Mentality: Standard

Shape: Fluid

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Changes from plan a:

Right/Left fullbacks- WB/s: The role of Clyne becomes more understated, Like Milner’s. He offers more support in build up from deep while not losing his all of his attacking license.

CM/s: With my mentality lowered down, I don’t feel the need for him to be negative- a supporting role to offer more when going forward, assisting with linking the attack and the defense.

F9/s: Instructed to drop even deeper and adding numbers to the center of the pitch.

Team instructions: Shorter Passing, Push Higher Up, Close Down More, Roam From Position

Defending

Mentality: Defensive

Shape: Fluid

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Changes from plan a:

Right/Left fullbacks- WB/s: Again both on support, defending come first for them, but they are still given Wing-back roles to encourage a slight positive play.

DM/d: Lucas rather than Henderson. His role is to play as a true anchor and keep things simple in possession.

BWN/s: Emre Can should make this role his own. Breaking play in a more advanced position while having the ability to contribute moving forward.

Left winger- WP/s: Since I’m not playing with a DLP anymore, I wan’t someone else to collect the ball from the defense and move it forward.

DF/s: I want him to constantly harass the opposition in build up play. This role is perfect for Firmino or Ings, even Origi who isn’t the most hard-working but very quick.

Team Instructions: Pass Into Space, Play Out of Defence

* This is the most less assured about a tactic I could be, but this is atleast some sort of start. Will look to tweak it heavily.

Step 3: Pre-Season

Usually, I tend to skip pre-season. I’ve never seen it as a productive usage of game time, but just a tool to get players fit and happy for the new season. This time I’ve decided to change the way I approached pre-season, and watch (nearly) every single match. Pre-season was the time to iron out any uncertainties I had about my system and tweak it towards creating the kind of football that I am aiming to create.

First of all, lets look at a quick review of the pre-season:

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As you can see, I played different kind of opposition, so I could test out all of my plans. Bar the Ajax result, safe to say they did alright. Most of the teams were far below my level, but the performances against Roma and Leicester (which we should have won) were very pleasing.

i. Defending

Even though I tweaked a few things in my tactics during the pre-season, I thought looking back at some of this matches would help me evolve my system even further. The first things I did was to look at how goals were scored against me during the pre-season, and attempt to spot and nullify any reoccurring patterns. I have started with the Ajax match, in which I used our plan B. Their second was sort of a flook, a hopeful long shot taken a deflection into goal, but their first was different.

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What happened here was that Younes recieved a long ball from the defended that he controlled badly. This prompt Clyne to charge towards the ball and get drawn into the middle of the pitch, as seen below.

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Mane drops deep quickly to try and cover for Clyne, but its too late as Younes is completely open for a simple pass. Meanwhile, pay attention to how narrow the position of my left back was and how space opened up for Ajax’s right winger, Ziyech. Their stiker, Dolberg, is doing well to find space between my center halves, as the right-sided CB moves to cover space vacanted by Clyne. Eventually, Younes cuts inside a makes a cool curled pass toward Ziyech who cross the ball to a completely unmarked Dolberg who only have to tap it in. Not our finest moment.

This goal was avoidable, but for now, it is not something that worries me too much. Clyne tried to close down that ball because I told him so. Playing a pressing game can be a great way of defending, but it can leave you open at times and this will probably not be the only goal we would concede in such circumstances. The natural narrow position of a left back in this situation also raised the point of me looking at left backs for the next transfer window (if that wasn’t obvious enough). Normally, a pacey, more agile left-back would have intercepted that pass from Younes, as it was slightly overhit in an angle that made easier to defend. Milner was near, and for all his willingness was close, but not enough to beat Ziyech to it.

Moving on to the Leicester match, in which plan B also came to use. What frustrated me about this was that this match was ours, but both of their goals came from individual errors rather than anything else. The first goal was actually comedic, the sort of goal only Liverpool can concede. They sent a long throw that Mignolet flapped and Vardy was quick to pounce on it and score. The second one was a proper Leicester goal, a briliant counter attack aided by another error from the usually reliable Nathaniel Clyne.

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Roberto Firmino was caught in Leicester half by Robert Huth who quickly hoofs the ball towards his strikers. Notice the advanced positioning of our fullbacks and how their wingers were ahead of them- thats the dangers of counter attacks.

Vardy beats Lovren to the ball and lay it off to Musa. Gray makes a good inside run as he becomes the pass option to advance the counter attack. Clyne is an example of a quick full back and he manages to recover his position, but this eventually became our downfall.

Disappointing finish to a match we had won. This happened on the 85th minute, when we had our defensive strategy on. It worries me that both fullbacks were caught so high up the pitch when this happened. They were crucial to how we attacked in this match, especially the second goal which was assisted by Alberto Moreno, but when we drop to a more deep, less riskey position, it might be worth setting one of them as FB to offer more balance. It is a matter of risk vs. reward again, and I don’t want my defensive strategy to be completely devoided from risk taking, but in this sort of situation, where we are holding on a lead late in a match, it could be a viable option.

Bar this two matches, we only conceded 3 in 6. Again, not padding myself on the shoulder as we generally played much weaker sides, but even against Roma we defended well. We forced them to take many long shots and thats the way they scored against us- a long shot that Migs couldn’t get a hold on and Salah was quick enough to get on the rebound. The two goals scored against us by Bohemians Praha are irrelevant as they came after we put 5 past them in the first half, and our back four was the fearsom combination of Moreno-Klavan-Illori-Randall (defense to rival BBC).

At the end of the day, the only pattern that shoud concern me is individual errors by my defenders, but that part is actually mimmicks real like quite well, so good on me for achieving that :D. Besides that, the sort of play I’m trying to recreate is a generally offensive one, and no team can attack without leaving out space that could be used by the opposition. I’d live with conceding a goal if our attacking plan works good enough that we score twice.

Pre-Season continued

ii. Attack

After reviewing the goals we conceded, it is time to sit back, grab a bear and enjoy the finer things in life- goals you score in FM. For me, it was important to not to get ahead of myself and think my work was done because we put 3 past Roma in a pre-season friendly. I needed to make sure the goal were scored because they followed the initial plan that was set out. Having good attackers in your team who a capable of finding and creating space for eachother is the first step, but they need the right system in place in order for them to be truely potent.

After not much going on in the first two matches, the Leicester game was the first sign that I got some things right. Sturridge was on the score sheet twice with two great team goals. Lets look at the first one. I really like this one.

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Daniel Sturridge picks the ball in a fairly deep position. Immediately when he picks the ball, two things happen:

1) He drags Wes Morgan deep with him, creating a big gap in the defensive line

2) Coutinho, Lallana and Mane move ahead of him in a narrow shape

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He picks up Lallana while Mane moves slightly wider and Coutinho makes a forward run behind their right back. Lallana now has two very dangerous options. He picks Coutinho, it’s an easier pass to make given the amount of space now empty because of Morgan stepping out of his line.

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Coutinho gets the ball and three player commit to him. Again he has different options. He could take a shot, but the chance of scoring from this position is very low. Mane is reachable, but again, not the best option as he is marked and the passing lane is slightly blocked. Sturridge and Lallana however are entirely open. He picks up Sturridge who puts it behind the net with ease.

It was a great example of how a False 9 could be used to devestating effect. Cleon wrote in his fantastic “What Makes A Goalscorer?!” thread that an F9 is a “space creator/user”, I don’t think I fully got this until I saw this goal.

Moving on, our finest attacking display throughout the pre-season was the first half against Bohemians Praha, in which we put 5 past them, using plan A (our more agressive one). But it wasn’t only the goals we scored, but how fluid we looked while scoring them.

Again, we look at the opener, scored just under a minute. It started with Sadio Mane picking the ball in a deep, wide position:

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A normal winger would try and beat the opposition fullback and put a cross in, but what Mane does with his speed, balance and dribbling is to drive inwards. He isn’t instructed to cut inside, but he just naturally does this due to his Cut InsidePPM.

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Mane’s central movement dragged his marker with him, leaving the right side of the pitch empty. Lallana exploited that wonderfully with his run out wide.

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Again, having options is important. If all fails, Lallana can go towards goal, but it is not the best option. Firmino done well to drift away from his marker while Coutinho joined him to create an overload. Lallana has two easy and dangerous options to use, and he decided to go for Firmino who taps it in.

This goal is another example of clever, fluid attacking play. From Mane dribbling inside, Lallana moving wide, Firmino finding space away from his defender and Coutinho joinning with him to provide another option and overload a defender, all of my four attackers in what should be a 4-2-3-1 shape in attack took part in this goal.

There were a few more great goals scored during the pre-season, but I don’t want this part to be dragged out too much- next up we are finally kicking it in the PL, at home against Pullis and his boys!

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