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When Jurgen Klopp took over as Liverpool manager in October 2015, it was rightly seen as a coup.
Improvement was expected, given the success at the German’s previous club Borussia Dortmund, yet the speed of which it has occurred was up for debate.
Now, over a year since he took over the reigns at Anfield, the transformation has been extraordinary.
After guiding Liverpool to the Europa League final last season, Klopp now has bigger targets for the 2016-17 campaign.
He signalled his intentions by signing Sadio Mane early in the summer in a £34 million deal, as well as bolstering his squad further by capturing midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum for £25 million.
Signings were important, but the real key was implementing his high-press system into his team.
The players certainly have responded. Liverpool currently sit third in the Premier League, level on points with leaders Manchester City and Arsenal and are arguably playing the most enthralling football in the country.
There have been some terrific results, the 4-3 and 2-1 victories away at Arsenal and Chelsea respectively come to mind.
And some of the goals, such as Jordan Henderson’s strike at Stamford Bridge and Mane’s superb solo run have been of the highest quality.
A collective unit
Yet what perhaps is most impressive about Klopp’s side at the moment is the collectiveness at which his team play. Each player works for each other and is willing improve every game in order to achieve the club’s objective.
That in itself proves how much of an impact Klopp is having at Anfield.
Not only do Liverpool rank highest in the league in terms of most amount run, they also top the list for high-intensity sprints. It underlines the fitness and determination that Klopp has drilled into his side.
“Think about the passes you have to make to get a player in a No 10 role in a position where he can play the genius pass,” Klopp told Monday Night Football. “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. That shows why it’s so important.”
Skipper at the forefront
Jordan Henderson is leading the way.
The Liverpool captain ranks third in the Premier League for tackles won (43) and ball recoveries (85), emphasising his willingness to not give the opposition an inch and in the process, reduce the pressure on his back four.
Klopp’s side make an average of 30.9 tackles a match, which also ranks third and with the instability currently amongst the Liverpool defence, the work of midfielders like Henderson is paramount.
Another aspect of Liverpool’s success so far this season has been their impressive ball retention.
No team has made more passes than the Reds’ total of 6027 this season. Henderson has been an integral part of that, topping the list for the league’s most successful passes (735), underlining the equanimity his gives this his team when on the ball.
“I’d probably say over the last two to three months with me playing a different role – a deeper role as a No 6 – the manager has really helped me with that,” Henderson told Sky Sports. “Over a short space of time I’ve learnt a lot about the position defensively. It’s being more disciplined really, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learnt. But, tactically, the manager has helped everyone. He tells us what he wants us to do and how he wants to do it.”
It has been a remarkable turnaround for Henderson, whose future at Liverpool had been in doubt after initially struggling under Klopp last season.
He is now the focal point behind Klopp’s increasingly impressive side.
Effective use of possession
Not only are Liverpool keeping and moving the ball well, they are also using it effectively.
The Reds average 14.8 key passes per game this season, the most from any Premier League side. This is a stark contrast to the 2014/15 season under Brendan Rodgers when Liverpool only averaged 10.7 key passes in the league, the fifth best average as they failed to make a regular impact on games.
The change in intensity under Klopp is clear to see.
The main challenge
The challenge for Klopp and his Liverpool side is to stay consistent.
While the high-pressing system is having its desired effect, it also requires a tremendous amount of fitness and determination.
And as we have seen over recent seasons, Liverpool are prone to the odd lacklustre display that goes against their promise as a side.
The 2-0 defeat at Burnley provides evidence of the challenge of maintaining results and performance. It is bound to be vital to Liverpool’s hope of a league triumph.
Yet if anyone can achieve the dream, it’s Klopp. The transformation at Liverpool is gaining momentum and with that, the German.
Written by Sean Wilson
Follow Sean on Twitter @WilsonFC2012
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