Jurgen Klopp will lead his side into Europe for the second time tonight after a big week in his Liverpool career. His first win as the Reds’ manager came in the Capital One Cup and that was swiftly followed by his first Premier League victory, this time at Stamford Bridge – the home of the Champions.
Will tonight bring a first European win for Liverpool under Klopp?
Perhaps tonight isn’t really the best time to be judging the German’s team. After all, the Europa League is a strange beast. It’s not one you necessarily want to take seriously, but if you don’t treat it with some respect you can crash out very easily. It seems to be a competition won by specialist clubs, like Sevilla, Porto and Atletico Madrid who carved out a niche and subsequently thrived in recent years.
So tonight’s Klopp lineup could be very different from how he sets up in the league. Which is fair enough, really, he has to get his priorities right.
Klopp’s ‘heavy metal football’ has been spoken about at length recently. It’s been talked about enough, quite frankly. I don’t want to do ‘gegenpressing’ to death. Lately it seems like the average reader of any kind of football media has been gegenpressed into submission by treatises on the philosophy. It’s making me feel more breathless than Emre Can and Lucas Leiva must feel each weekend just thinking about it.
But Klopp seems to have a team at Liverpool that can deal with the harsh, heavy metal pressing. When you think about his team, it’s made up of a series of labourers. The likes of Lucas, Can and James Milner are players who seem to put in the yards, but are not blessed with a particular creative spark. They’re not known for their flair, although Milner is a very capable player.
Klopp’s Liverpool are lacking some sort of creative catalyst. Apart from Philippe Coutinho.
Coutinho is the artist among the labourers. He’s the one who will make things happen. When Liverpool need to control games, as they will have to do against teams like Kazan, they’ll need the Brazilian to step forward.
When you look at the profile of the pressing, every player is expected to do his job. No one is spared the hard work of chasing and tackling. And so people wondered about the likes of Daniel Sturridge – given his injuries – and Coutinho in Klopp’s team. Would they fit in? Would they put in the necessary effort? Would they crack under the pressure, or pressing?
But the answer is that Coutinho is the creative spark that Klopp needs. He’s done his job well so far in terms of pressing, but his main role is surely to provide the flair for the team.
Against Chelsea at the bridge that’s what he did. It was the kind of performance from Coutinho that we are used to seeing from someone like Eden Hazard. He was the Liverpool player that took the game by the scruff of the neck and really brought Liverpool clear of Chelsea, even after being a goal down so early on.
If Klopp is to succeed at Liverpool he’ll need Coutinho to be part of what he does. He is the Phoenix rising from the fiery flames of Klopp’s pressing system. Because without him, what are Liverpool but a bunch of hard workers?