By Israel Chukwumaeze
The whole point of Klopp’s footballing philosophy is built on what in German is called “Umschaltmoment” or “Switching moments” as attacking means. For him, counterpressing or gegenpressing is the best playmaker and creates the best shots at winning the game.
The logic is clear: When the opposition tries to counter, they surrender their offensive structure whereas your team is still in it’s offensive structure. If you are able to win the ball at this moment, you’ll find gaps in the oppositional shape to attack them with your attacking players already in the proper positions and orientations. The idea is that more ball possession logically leads to more opportunities and hence, more goals.
As Klopp famously noted early on in his career:
“The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it. The opponent is still looking for orientation where to pass the ball. He will have taken his eyes off the game to make his tackle or interception and he will have expended energy. Both make him vulnerable.”
Thing is, you need a certain type of players to be able to execute this effectively.
In this system the attackers must be monsters at intense pressing, forcing the opposition to not build calmly but instead to go long. This way, more than 50 percent of the time Klopp’s team recycles possession and quickly restart a counter by playing a penetrating forward pass, using the half spaces unoccupied on either wings (and the channels vacated in the middle by the opposition while in chase of the ball) for a rapid buildup or playing long vertical passes forward through the middle, relying on the technical and physical qualities of the forward line to keep the opposition defenses busy and on their toes for the entire 90 minutes.
At Liverpool, the arrival of Sadio Mané meant that they finally had that physical specimen with a combustion engine akin to that of a Pronghorn Antelope who pressed relentlessly for 90 minutes and, most times served as the receiving channel to either restart a rapid counterattacking move or pin the opposition players back. The unique profile of Mané not only did the above stated but also offered Liverpool an unbelievable level of directness. They played with an air of verticality never seen before all thanks to his ability to receive deep, beat his marker with his unmatched turning radius and sprint through on goal.
Mané doing all the menial jobs allowed the likes of Firmino and much later, Salah to flourish in the attacking phase of play as they had more spaces and channels to run into as a result of Mané leading the forward press and oftentimes drawing and pinning the defensive units to where the team needed them to be. With Mané it’s difficult to have your eyes solely on the ball as he was as dangerous off-the ball and he was in it. Teams thus resort to man-marking with sometimes two or three players attacking the spaces and closing the channels around Mané.
This anticipation around him causes defensive underload on the other side to goal. A quick switch in play crossfield from Mané’s to the other end and Liverpool would have conveniently beat the press, tee up Salah who arrives in the final third in a 1v1, 2v1 and 3v2 situation(s) with Mané’s incisive runs ensuring he beats his markers to arrive in the box unopposed.
It’s safe to suggest that with his departure, coupled with the aging profile of some key figures, Klopp’s fluid offensive “Umschaltmoment” has suffered a fatal collapse leaving the German genius scratching his head and battling the curse of the seventh season which has seen him fail in his previous roles as a manager, culminating in him departing the clubs in his seventh year. Like is often with Bielsa in his 4th seasons, Klopp may be nearer to the end of an era with his “Mentality Giants’ at Liverpool than he is to steadying the fast sinking ship and putting together a genuine title charge, with the departure of Mané serving as the catalyst for the eventual collapse.
You could argue that he (Klopp) still has got it in him and that Liverpool could still go ahead to have a great season—and quite rightly so — but as I learnt albeit brutally in 2006 with Frank Rijkaard’s footballing dynasty at Barcelona, every era must inevitably come to an end, one dynasty giving way for the other. For Klopp and his ‘Mentality Giants’, I fear the worse yet. I may be wrong, but time is running out.
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