A couple of weeks ago, after Everton’s shock 1-0 victory over Manchester United was followed a day later by Burnley’s loss to bottom of the table Norwich City and subsequent firing of long-time manager Sean Dyche, Blues fans could feel an easing of relegation fears. A last-gasp home draw for the Toffees against Leicester City on Wednesday night and four points from the Clarets’ last two games has ramped the pressure right back up, leading into this weekend’s fixtures. On Sunday, a caretaker manager-helmed Burnley host Wolverhampton Wanderers at Turf Moor, whereas Everton travel across Stanley Park to face one of European football’s top sides at Anfield. Frank Lampard will be hoping Wolves can do him a favour, but realizes that his side must look to themselves to get out of the dreadful predicament they are in. Here, we look at Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool team.
After failing to mount a defence of their Premier League crown last season, finishing a disappointing third, Liverpool have rebounded impressively and are in a head-to-head title race with Manchester City that figures to go right down to the wire. They’ve barely put a foot wrong, losing only three matches in all competitions and have yet to taste defeat in a league match at Anfield. The Reds boast a fearsome attack that has seen them net 83 times with six matches left to play and an Expected Goals (xG) stat of 76.8, both league highs. Klopp has led his team to seven wins and two draws from the nine matches prior to Sunday’s against Everton, the last being a 4-0 drubbing of bitter rivals Manchester United. This will be Liverpool’s seventh game across a 22-day spell, but they have enviable squad depth and are in excellent form. The Anfield outfit do have the first leg of their Champions League semi-final against unfancied Villarreal next Wednesday, but with the League title on the line they will have their eye on the ball this weekend, unfortunately.
Style of Play
Klopp is famous as an early proponent of the Gegenpressing system of aggressive counter-pressing developed by compatriot Ralf Rangnick and has utilized this approach at all the teams he has managed, with increasing levels of success. Unlike conventional counter-pressing, the German’s take on it is offensive in nature, with the intention being not to just disrupt an opponent, or win back possession, but to use turnovers high up the pitch as a springboard for direct attacks on goal. Liverpool’s forward three are free to take chances and risk losing possession, in the knowledge that they and their teammates will be swarming immediately in order to regain the ball. He’s been oft-quoted as stating that effective Gegenpressing is preferable to a playmaker as regards creating good goal-scoring opportunities. The intense counter-press underpins Klopp’s system - a 4-3-3 - which he has not deviated from once all season.
The former Borussia Dortmund manager plays a very high line, which relies on pinning the opposition deep in their own half and smothering them with both an active press and the Gegenpress, in addition to disciplined positional defending which combines to channel the ball towards the flanks, where it can be controlled more easily. The high defense can be exploited with direct passes over the top or behind aggressive fullbacks, but this is not easy to execute in practice. In any case, the team’s central defenders are quality players and Virgil van Dijk has plenty of recovery pace.
Offensively, Liverpool routinely dominate possession, make the pitch as wide as possible and push one or both of their outstanding fullbacks, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, into advanced positions. They will play out from the back and look to wrong-foot opponents with fluid passing combined with switches of play, mixing it up frequently. The Merseysiders lead the league in goals from open play, but are dangerous from set-piece scenarios and of course on the counter, in addition to winning their fair (ahem) share of penalties.
Mohamed Salah is quite clearly one of the best attackers in world football and is enjoying his most productive period since his debut season for Liverpool in 2017-18, when he netted 32 league goals. The 29-year old is a fast and wonderfully balanced forward and a clinical finisher capable of scoring at any time. He’s also a creative force this term with and is second on the team for shot-creating actions per 90 minutes (SCA90) with a score of 4.34.
The most creative and probably unique player for the Reds is Alexander-Arnold, who leads the team with a SCA90 of 4.77. An unconventional playmaker from the fullback position, the Liverpool native can cross from advanced wide positions as well as anyone, but it is his vision and technical qualities from deep that stand out, his ability to orchestrate play from an atypical area of the pitch, in addition to the way he easily drifts infield to become an additional midfielder, confounding defences. If he has a weakness, it is that he is not an outstanding one-on-one defender.
Van Dijk is a colossus in the Liverpool backline, the kind of player that adds an imperious presence knitting everything else together. Dominant in the air, winning 77% of aerial duels and 4.13 per match, he also sweeps up loose balls with regularity - 12.5 per 90m played, ahead of anybody else with meaningful game time. Such is his blend of size, strength, pace and reading of the game, that trying to take the ball past him is almost an exercise in futility: he’s been beaten on the dribble only twice all campaign.
So what exactly can Lampard do here? Everton have won only once away all season and their last point on the road came at Stamford Bridge under former boss Rafa Benitez, when a goalkeeping masterclass from Jordan Pickford somehow kept the team in the game. The new man Frank Lampard has not yet shown any ability to carve out results away from Goodison Park, though - errors aside - the last two performances against West Ham United and Burnley at least offered the promise of a draw or better, until the Blues found novel ways to lose. Liverpool are obviously a far more formidable proposition, but this is a Merseyside derby and Everton cannot simply fold and accept defeat, however likely the eventuality.
Lampard’s only chance is to set up as he did against Manchester City two months back, in some variant of a solid 4-3-3, allow no space in behind or through the middle, and rely on the pace possessed by the likes of Richarlison, Anthony Gordon and Demarai Gray on the counterattack. Forget the high press and trying to play nice football; the Toffees will be embarrassingly hammered trying to use those tactics like they did at Tottenham. They must instead try to stem the early onslaught, make no errors, stay compact, break when possible and hope for the best. Defeat seems almost certain, but a point would be a massive shot in the arm for the players a week away from hosting a formidable Chelsea outfit at Goodison.