Jürgen Klopp finds the right approach for Liverpool to expose Manchester City - even if it doesn't work every time

Sitting back and inviting City on to you can feel like a 'lottery', as Klopp puts it, and while attacking Pep Guardiola's side can end in the 5-0 thrashing that Liverpool received earlier in the season, it can also provide the type of victories witnessed at Anfield on Sunday

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 15 January 2018 13:55
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Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp reflect on Liverpool victory over Man City

After an emphatic display by his attack, Jürgen Klopp was just as emphatic in explaining the thinking that drove them – and the solution to something that had become a dilemma to the rest of the Premier League. It had been put to the Liverpool FC boss that he had been brave in going at Manchester City, given that was what they did at the Etihad in September and got beaten 5-0. The feeling is few go toe to toe with Peo Guardiola’s side and stay on their feet, but Klopp stood his ground.

“You need to be brave,” Klopp responded. “And you need to play football... you have no alternatives to beat City.”

To prove that, Liverpool became the first Premier League side to beat them in 30 matches, while seemingly setting a template for everyone else.

It is one of the discussions that naturally starts to take over when a team has been as high-scoring and highly difficult to defeat as City, and one that will inevitably drift towards the philosophical. How do you beat them? Or, maybe more relevantly, what’s the best way to try and give yourself the best chance of beating them? Brave or safe? Proactive or reactive? Attacking or defensive?

Klopp was certainly dogmatic. That's also the benefit of winning.

But is he right in general...or was he just right for his own team?

The German did add that, “being Liverpool”, they should not just try and sit deep. While he was speaking on the basis of the club’s identity, status and ambition, he may as well have been speaking on the basis of the players’ identity. This just isn’t a team built to sit back, and if they tried to do that they would probably be pummelled.

Really, with a Liverpool squad constructed like this, you have no alternatives but to attack in any game, let alone against City. That’s Klopp’s way.

He did raise a deeper football point, though, that went beyond the depth of his squad and even philosophical difference.

“You could win the lottery,” the German went on. “You can stand deep in your own box [against City] and hope nothing happens but that is not really likely.”

Even if a team is blessed with a strong defence, and even if a manager is inherently defensive-minded, it is difficult to deny that such an approach is more dependent on luck – “the lottery”, as Klopp rightfully calls it. The issue is that by inviting a side as good as that on, you are also inviting twists of fate and unfavourable bounces of the ball.

You aren’t playing the game on your terms so it is essentially out of your control. It is instead in control of one of the most technically gifted attacks in the game. Given the amount of time that the ball will then spend around your box, and given their talent and quality, the maths become obvious. It is statistically highly probable they will score at some point.

Klopp admitted that sitting off City and defending can feel like a 'lottery'

As such, the defending side ends up trying to beat the clock as much as the opposition. They must hope they keep getting the rub of the green before the opposition run out of time.

Klopp refused to do this, and got at a backline that is clearly there to be got at. There is a reason why many managers refuse to do what the German does, however, and that’s because of another of his team’s results: that 5-0.

Sadio Mane was sent off as LIverpool lost 5-0 earlier in the season (AFP/Getty)

If you look to take the game to City, and it doesn’t go 100 per cent right, you just get taken to the cleaners. You just make yourself too vulnerable to an attack that is too vigorous. That is how Liverpool got ripped apart at the Etihad. They couldn’t take their initial chances, conceded the first goal and got a man sent off, and then got picked apart more and more as they were forced to throw more men forward.

It is also why it comes down to the identity of the attackers. It is a lot easier to play against City on the front foot, and a lot easier to preach about the benefits of it, if you have some of the finest developing attackers in the game.

And sure, there is an even deeper debate here about the fact that Klopp has the bravery and coaching principles to develop that attack, but his team are still on an extreme end of the spectrum. Most sides have to be more pragmatic, and weigh up those lottery numbers.

And this is the fundamental dilemma.

If you play it safe and sit deep, the scoreline is likelier to be narrower, but the chances of actually winning are lessened.

If you try to play, you give yourself a higher chance of winning, there’s also the higher chance of getting pummelled to the point it looks a massive mistake.

That fundamental dilemma is then further complicated by the team available.

Not everyone has the players available to Klopp, but then not everyone coaches in the proactive way he does.

He is probably right in general, but not right for every case.

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