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The Klopp Effect: Delving into the German's Mission at Liverpool

It's been just over a year since Jurgen Klopp put pen to paper and joined Liverpool as the successor to Brendan Rodgers for the Anfield hotseat, and what a ride it has been thus far. Now entering the second phase of an already storied tenure on Merseyside, we take a look at how "The Normal One" has revitalised the club and given fresh hope to millions of Reds fans across the globe.

Act I

October 8th 2015. Mass euphoria sweeps the city as the big German is revealed as the next man to take Liverpool forward. Most of this hype stemmed from not just his achievements in the German football landscape, but the style of play he encourages his players to follow.

Such was the level of despair in how Rodgers' Liverpool had fallen since the title charge of 2014 that many thought Klopp was by now unattainable, out of reach somehow for FSG. So when the ex-Mainz and Dortmund boss committed to the Reds just 4 days following the departure of Rodgers, an instant state of excitement was inevitably triggered among the fan base.

Perhaps the fact that Klopp offered such a contrasting figure to what Rodgers had evolved into over his time at Anfield was what got Scouse pulses racing, oozing charisma and personality with an impressive track record including a Champions League runners-up medal highlighting his prowess.

Very much seen as a ‘man of the people', Klopp's charm and humorous character have made him one of the most entertaining modern day coaches amongst the press. If the media and pundits are left in awe of his persona, surely the Reds' players are always highly motivated and hungry for the win every time they are sent out on to the pitch. Among the current crop of players, the German lacks the star power the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal can boast about, but instead a close-knit unit of committed team players, each one of them thirsty for success and keen to impress the manager. Liverpool are a proper team, running like clockwork and not a bunch of unsynchronised individuals getting stuck in the cogs of the tactical blueprint.

Many have been quick to point out Klopp's “failure” in his final season as Dortmund manager though, as Die Schwarzgelben were found dangerously flirting with relegation after Christmas of 2014 despite performing well on the continental stage and in the DFB Pokal – the German equivalent to the FA Cup. The danger lies within the sheer intensity of Klopp's style then, as it became quite evident the highly talented performers of the 8-time Bundesliga champions were affected by the psychological and physical overload of the 49-year-old's methods. Perhaps Klopp left the club at a point where he felt he could no longer reach the dizzying heights he had once enjoyed a few years prior.

That's not to say they completely bombed out that season, with a German Supercup triumph over Bayern and losing effort in the final against a Kevin De Bruyne inspired Wolfsburg side underlining the freak nature of their eventual 7th place finish in the Bundesliga table. The latter proved to be Klopp's final game in charge of the club, and it was clear to see that one below-par season hadn't affected his standing as one of Borussia's finest ever coaches.

Image: Frank Augstein / AP
The Blueprint

'Gegenpressing' has become an adopted term of the English language over the past year, aligning itself comfortably as the identity of how Liverpool play on the pitch. 'Gegen' simply means 'to counter' in plain English, providing a clear indication of what it really means to ‘Gegenpress'. The man himself has stated that the system is akin to the typical style employed in Liverpool's heyday back in the ‘80's, made more sophisticated and intricate with the introduction of sports science and nutritional studies.

Gegenpressing is in essence a method where the team will immediately attempt to win the ball back after losing possession. This is done by creating overloads in the area of the pitch where the team is attacking. The moment at which a player is most vulnerable is when he has just gained possession of the ball by making a tackle, and this has been realised not just by Klopp, but by the likes of Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Bielsa.

By potentially spending a lot of energy on initially winning the ball off the opposition, a player will likely be left with no clue of where his teammates are and unaware of what his best option is. As a result of launching a narrow, compact pack of players to hunt the ball down in an advanced position, Klopp's players will be able to successfully wrestle back possession and be left in a favourable position higher up the field.

Image: Jon Super / AP
The shift in formation from Rodgers' side to the one we see today is one of the more unnoticed refinements Klopp has made to the side in his time on Merseyside. Initially starting with a 4-2-3-1, the Reds have transformed into a pressing machine under the new 4-3-3 false nine led by Roberto Firmino in attack. The Brazilian's relentless efforts off the ball have been one of the success stories of the new Liverpool way, with the number 11 providing a much more mobile and industrious worker than Daniel Sturridge, who has admittedly suffered from the change.

In midfield, two attacking midfielders in Wijnaldum and Lallana have pulled the strings with the skipper Jordan Henderson sitting in front of the back four, a triumvirate bursting with energy, aggression and counter-attacking prowess to outrun most midfields in the division. In Adam Lallana, arguably the most improved player under Klopp's tutelage, the Reds possess a game-changing machine ready to pull the trigger on the next counter-press – and the Englishman is not short of silky footwork either, as we saw from his immediate impact on the dull affair vs Manchester United. Lallana's introduction to the game was a refreshing one, as Liverpool began to set up camp in the United half after having to joust in aerial battles for the majority of the opening hour of proceedings.

Image: @OulalaGames
To perform the press effectively requires great organisation and immense fitness levels, both qualities which are present in the midfield for Liverpool. This is seen as the crucial factor when differentiating regular pressing from Gegenpressing, as the latter is done for far longer with greater intensity, and Klopp's summer signings in Wijnaldum and Mane have slotted into the system brilliantly.

However, if a press is unsuccessful, teams will revert to a more conventional defensive shape and try to force the opposition into pressing traps, fully utilising the numerical superiority they hold to win the ball back.

Image: @ViktorFagerLFC
From Doubters to Believers

The miraculous comeback win over Klopp's previous employers Borussia Dortmund is the most memorable highlight of the German's first year in the dugout, as Anfield finally got a taste of the magic that had eluded the club for so many years. Purely based on the extraordinary feats achieved that night by the players, it has been lauded as the greatest European night Anfield has ever seen, and you'd be hard pressed to find a football fan in general who fails to get goosebumps when looking back at highlights of the game almost half a year on.

Even as Marco Reus slotted in to make it 3-1 with 33 minutes to go, there was a strange sense of inevitability engulfing Anfield, as the iconic support of the Kop spurred on the players to a famous win which simply wouldn't have been possible without the fans. It was at that moment that one of Jurgen Klopp's most famous quotes as Liverpool manager became a reality. Anfield had turned from doubters to believers.

Image AP
We had already seen this type of resilience in the Premier League though, as Norwich were foiled in the dying seconds at Carrow Road thanks to Adam Lallana's dramatic winner in a 5-4 win which played as a prologue to a busy few final months for the club, still competing in four competitions heading into February with an injury ravaged squad still not fully acquainted with the new system.

Some believe that Klopp sees himself as a mentor, gathering his players on a journey to independently develop as players and gel as a team as a result. There are a plethora of sceptics who see him as a motivator and nothing more, with a feeling that he isn't quite precise enough with his methods and strategies. Clearly motivation is a huge factor in management, but there is a sense amongst a minority of coaches that he isn't quite sophisticated and focused enough on the tactical side of things as he could be, as seen with Mourinho and Guardiola.

Klopp's knack of improving young potential world beaters into the finished article is already beginning to have an effect on the current group, with Divock Origi, Dejan Lovren and Emre Can benefitting from his motivational techniques to grow as players both technically and mentally. We already know about his history with overseeing the rise of stars such as Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus and Mats Hummels, so Reds fans can be forgiven for getting too excited about the prospects of tomorrow.

Destiny

I think Jurgen Klopp knew a lot about Liverpool Football Club before joining the cause. Fans were quick to accept him as part of the Scouse family, because he naturally comes across as someone who understands what it's like to be a Liverpudlian, and the culture of the city.

In his initial few Anfield matches, the crowd could be likened to a library – quiet and dull. He famously bemoaned people leaving matches early, trying to tie in the German tradition of linking supporters with players, an ideology which has clearly been lost in English football over the years through the mass commercialisation of the game.

This was first noticed following the hard-fought 2-2 draw against West Brom. People criticised the move, mainly as a home draw against West Brom is hardly something to celebrate for a club of Liverpool's stature. Reds fans would argue this is the aristocratic side of football speaking, paying no notice to the true football fans and letting egos posion their thoughts. The thousands in the stands had paid good money at the end of the day to see their heroes perform, the fact the Liverpool players are showing respect to their fans should be applauded and emulated by other teams.

In Jurgen Klopp Liverpool have identified a man who will resonate with the tradition of the club and he has been very clever in creating a bond with the fans. Now Anfield is bigger, louder and more optimistic than it has been for a very long time. A noteworthy point is that all this has happened before he has even enjoyed any success at the helm, before any trophies or high-placed league finishes. So if and when that happens, it will be interesting to see what kind of status he enjoys as conductor of the Anfield orchestra.


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TheSportMatrix | We Live For Sport: The Klopp Effect: Delving into the German's Mission at Liverpool
The Klopp Effect: Delving into the German's Mission at Liverpool
It’s been just over a year since Jurgen Klopp put pen to paper and joined Liverpool as the successor to Brendan Rodgers for the Anfield hotseat, and what a ride it has been thus far. Now entering the second phase of an already storied tenure on Merseyside, we take a look at how “The Normal One” has revitalised the club and given fresh hope to millions of Reds fans across the globe.
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TheSportMatrix | We Live For Sport
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