Spurs 0 – Liverpool 0: Gegen In

Having won the last five matches between the two sides, there’s an extent to which Liverpool should have been quietly confident heading in to this game. Spurs have had the better start to the season though, remaining unbeaten for the last seven games and only having lost to Manchester United on the opening game of the season.

Yet current form wasn’t important and neither was the recent history in this particular battle of the North – South divide. This was all about the new man in the Liverpool dugout, Mr. Jurgen Klopp. Having arrived in a hail of excitement from both the Liverpool fans and the British press, the eight days between his official appointment and his first game in charge seemed like an eternity.

By the time Klopp announced his first ever Liverpool team we’d heard all of the quotes, seen his many celebrations, discussed his arrival with luminaries ranging from Kenny Dalglish through to Alex Ferguson and even been told what clothes he was wearing in his press conferences. The only thing we didn’t know much about what the actual football he was hoping to see Liverpool play, save for it being “full throttle”.

Compared to the excitement of the build up, then, some people could be forgiven for thinking the match itself was something of a damp squib. That conclusion, though, would be to undermine just what a difference the enigmatic German seems to have made in a very short space of time at Anfield. With the international break hampering how long he had with his new charges and various injuries taking away the majority of his best players, Klopp could have buried his head in the sand and said “come back next week”. The injuries in particular are something that mustn’t be forgotten – though we’ve declined the opportunity to make a song and dance about them here – especially seeing as though they left the manager short of quality but long on excuses if he wanted to use them. He didn’t, and Liverpool looked much the better for it. Here we look at the key talking points from the match and the things we felt Herr Klopp will be most impressed by. As always, let us know what you think.

Gegen In

According to the Urban Dictionary ‘gegging in’ is a Scouse term and is defined as “the act of intruding, joining in, becoming part of something which doesn’t concern you”. It’s fitting, then, that most of the talk over the last week or so has been about the ‘gegenpressing’ that the new Liverpool boss believes is “the best playmaker in the world”.

In short, gegenpressing involves the high pressing of opponents when you’ve lost the ball, with the decision to press and the manner in which it is done often decided by specific triggers. It can look wild and unruly at times, but there is method to the madness and when it is done well it can take a team like Borussia Dortmund, with a budget roughly equal to that of Queens Park Rangers, to the Bundesliga title two years in a row at the expense of the far richer Bayern Munich. Done well and with players who know how to do it it can be extraordinarily effective, though to do it properly takes time and a huge amount of hard work.

It is, as we suggested in our intro, safe to say that Jurgen Klopp has not had much time to get his new players totally up to speed on the whole gegenpressing thing. In fact he hasn’t had all that long to learn his new crew’s name, let alone show them what he expects them to do when they’re playing for him. Yet there can be no question that there was the first signs of a team that were desperate to geg in where they weren’t wanted in the match between Liverpool and Spurs on Saturday. For the first twenty minutes or so the Londoners barely had a moment to themselves without being pressured, harried and rushed by their opposite numbers. Even when Tottenham did have a moment to themselves there heads were spinning so fast thanks to the whirlwind of Red that they accidentally put the ball out of play more often than not.

It’s true that Liverpool’s players started to drop off in the second half of the first period and that they weren’t quite as quick out of the blocks after the interval, but considering how little time they’ve had to get to grips with their new style of play combined with the notion that their fitness has never been asked to cope with demands such as this, twenty minutes or so as well as the final ten of the second half is not a bad return at all.

Watching Harry Redknapp and Steve McManaman discuss the notion of gegenpressing on BT Sport was like seeing two physics teachers suggest that Stephen Hawking gets a bit too much praise and that ‘everyone knows about the stars and that, it’s nothing new’. Redknapp wanted to make sure that everyone knew that a good old fashioned British coach could get the players ‘running around a lot’, whilst McManaman was keen to point out that Liverpool teams should always ‘come out of the blocks quickly’ as ‘this is Liverpool Football Club’. Never mind that the manager the Merseyside club replaced was British and hadn’t quite cut it, or that Liverpool haven’t been coming out of the blocks with any degree of energy for about eighteen months.

The two pundits completely and utterly failed to understand the complexities of gegenpressing as well as the evident difference the very basics of that particularly tactical charge had made to Liverpool’s play. For there really was an evident difference when you compared the performance to any other game the Reds have played bar the Arsenal match at The Emirates last month. Don’t take our word for it, though, as Opta have all of the stats you could need:

To the doubters, of course, this doesn’t show much. Redknapp was at pains to point out before the game that running alone doesn’t achieve a lot. But Spurs are considered to be the fittest and most able pressing team in the Premier League at the moment, yet Liverpool out ran them and out pressed them over the course of ninety minutes and became the first team to run further than them in the ninety games played so far. It may not impress the old school pundits and it won’t get a catchy song named after it and performed by PSY any time soon, but if this match was a taster for what Gegen Style has to offer then we’re more than keen to see the full menu, please. 

It’s Good To Talk

One of the noticeable differences between this match and any other since the last visit to the capital that Liverpool undertook to play the Gunners was the fact that so many players seemed to be talking to each other. When Steven Gerrard decided to leave Liverpool for the sunnier climes of Los Angeles there were a number of people who quietly thought the Reds might be better off. Of course the captain remains one of the club’s best ever players, but with his ever decreasing running ability and his ever increasing shadow that was keeping certain people from the light it seemed like the right time to go. 

Adam Lallana was the captain of Southampton, people pointed out; James Milner is a leader in every sense of the word; Mamadou Sakho was Paris St. Germain’s youngest ever captain during his time in France; Jordan Henderson grew in stature last season whenever Gerrard wasn’t on the pitch; Martin Skrtel’s been at the club for 150 years so sooner or later he’ll have to step up. The general feeling was that when captain fantastic moved on there would be a whole host of mini-captains ready to share the burden between them.

360b / shutterstock.com

360b / shutterstock.com

The problem was that none of them did. As Brendan Rodgers’ reign hurtled towards its inevitable conclusion the crowd were muted by the performances on the pitch and the players were silent because there didn’t seem like there was all that much left to say. No one was communicating a lot during matches and the leadership on the pitch was mostly noticeable by its absence. 

Yet against Spurs all of that seemed to have been forgotten, with Sakho leading the back line in a vocal manner, Lucas Leiva and James Milner running their mouths as well as the midfield and Martin Skrtel still not saying much but looking dead nasty whilst he was doing it, which can say a lot on its own, perhaps. Whether the players were communicating about the pressing triggers, trying to intimidate Tottenham’s players or just discussing what they were going to have for their tea is really quite immaterial; they were communicating with each other and it seemed to make one hell of a difference as far as their general play was concerned. 

You get the feeling that the Jurgen Klopp era at Liverpool Football Club is going to be dominated by the notion of communicating. The manager himself communicating with the press, for example. The players being encouraged to communicate more with the fans and realise that we’re not all a bunch of baying, money-jealous morons who will hire a plane to fly over Anfield at the first sign of trouble. And, if the game against Spurs is any indication, the players communicating with each other during matches in order to help the team win games. Jurgen Klopp may well be the new Bob Hoskins, reminding us in numerous different ways that it really is good to talk.

Sakho Is Boss

For some the fact that Mamadou Sakho reminds them of Djimi Traore – in that he’s black and a bit gangly looking – will always cause them to believe the theory about the defender rather than the evidence. The theory, of course, is that he’s uncomfortable in possession, can’t control the ball well and often gives it away when he’s being harassed by the opposition. Unlike that mean looking, imposing and tattooed Martin Skrtel who’s always a rock at the back, the Frenchman is an unreliable presence whose lack of composure is the reason Brendan Rodgers favoured Dejan Lovren – or so say the critics. 

smileimage9 / shutterstock.com

smileimage9 / shutterstock.com

Michael Owen is a pundit who specialises in saying something adamantly whilst a replay shows on screen that he is, often, completely wrong. That he made consistent references to Sakho’s ‘dodginess’ on the ball during the game against Spurs should, therefore, tell you everything you need to know. He is, alongside Sky’s Alan Smith, the ultimate in confirmation bias punditry, seeing everything that proves his own theory and being blissfully ignorant of all of the things that don’t. 

A quick look at squawka.com will tell you that Liverpool’s left sided centre back completed 88% of his passes and that most of them were played forward to his midfielders; that he won three of his five ariel duels in different parts of the pitch; that he made three interceptions; and that he made nine clearances out of Liverpool’s final third. In fact, the fact that he won possession twelve times in the defensive third during the match meant that he has done so more than any other player in the Premier League so far this season. 

Brendan Rodgers’ time at Liverpool is now over and so there is no point going over old ground or criticising the former manager for no reason. To give him the benefit of the doubt, then, there might be any number of reasons why he decided to favour Dejan Lovren over the Frenchman, including transfer committee wheeling and dealing, Sakho’s injury record or even the notion that he’s never been a fan of the French. Whatever the reason, though, it’s imperative that Klopp comes into the club with a clean slate and starts the mohican-haired centre back as often as possible.

Given Klopp himself declared before the match that “You have to feel stability”, he’ll have been delighted by Sakho’s performance. He led from the back, gave no quarter to Spurs’ more attacking players and engendered confidence in the whole team. The new manager seems to want the forwards to know they can be expressive because the the players at the back will deal with any mistakes that are made. With Mamadou Sakho dealing with most things and Simon Mignolet in somewhat inspired form to deal with the rest, one imagines that Klopp will be pleased to know he’s got the spine of a defensive team to work with moving forwards.

Have A Lallana

For most, Adam Lallana has under-whelmed since his arrival from Southampton in the summer of 2014. A combination of poorly timed injuries, the famed weight of the Liverpool shirt and the fact that the team as a whole has seen a dip in form since the summer the club lost Suarez to Barcelona and Sturridge to injury has meant that the former Saints captain’s performances have been met with little more than a shrug of the shoulders and an utterance of the word ‘meh’ so far.

There’s an argument to be made, though, that the game against Spurs was Lallana’s best in a Liverpool shirt. He suddenly seems to have gone from being a luxury player who couldn’t find his way into matches into being a box to box midfielder; hurrying, harrying and closing down the Spurs lads at every possible opportunity.

Yes he had blown himself out by the sixty minute mark, but if any player were to signify the change in emotion, effort and general play since the arrival of the new manager than it is Adam Lallana. Whilst Philippe Coutinho seemed to struggle to get himself into the game and James Milner ran around a lot but never quite impressed as much as he did during his first couple of matches, Lallana was the perfect example of what Jurgen Klopp wants from his players. He didn’t stop running, pressing and forcing mistakes from the Tottenham team for the duration of his time on the pitch, and the manager himself was quick to sing his praises after the match whilst also suggesting there’s more to come. He said, “I am not sure how many games you saw like this from Adam Lallana? What do you think? I know him from Southampton and he can do 20/30 per cent more”.

If Liverpool fans could be excused for wondering where the Adam Lallana the club signed from Southampton has been hiding then they’ll be delighted to know that the new manager wants an answer to that question to. The former Saints captain must know that he is capable of producing better performances, especially with plenty of people wondering whether he might be one of the first to go under the new regime.

That he collapsed into the manager’s arms when he was substituted after 81 minutes is a sign that, for now at least, he’s willing to give every last ounce of energy in order to prove himself at Anfield. If every other player on the club’s books were to go about things with the same level of commitment then Liverpool could, just could, be on the verge of a return to the top of the table. It’s baby steps, of course, and no one is getting carried away, but imagine a team with Coutinho, Henderson, Benteke, Sturridge and more leaving the pitch in the same sort of state as Lallana did on Saturday – that would be a sight no other team would be pleased to see!

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