Liverpool entertain Rubin Kazan in the Europa League later tonight at Anfield in what will be new manager Jurgen Klopp’s first home game in charge of the Reds. With just two points collected from their first two games, Liverpool will expect to get their European campaign back on track with a win tonight.
While all the noises have been regarding the atmosphere tonight at Anfield and the reception that awaits Klopp, the German is clearly focussing on his task in hand. Rubin Kazan are bottom of group B, and they have struggled domestically this season. The Russian outfit are currently 12th in the league, having lost eight games in the season thus far although they won their last game 3-1 against FC Ufa on the weekend.
Klopp’s first imprint on Liverpool was the team’s approach against Tottenham last weekend, where they outran and outsprinted the north Londoners although their high energy and pressing off the ball barely resulted in any clear cut opportunity. Although he admitted in his pre-Rubin Kazan press conference yesterday that the approach in the Spurs game was not the cleverest, he believes Liverpool will get better and better with time.
“We ran 116km against Tottenham. There were 5km that were not useful and we did them – but we did them because we wanted to. It was not the most clever thing, but now we can try to turn the screws and do it in the right way, in the right moment, with better timing and [being] cooler with the ball. It will get better and better and better,” Klopp said.
However, the German, who is known for the counter-pressing or Gegenpressing approach he employed at his previous clubs, Mainz and Borussia Dortmund, was keen to point out the benefits of his approach. He explained why he is looking to impose the counter-pressing tactic at Liverpool, citing the example of Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Bayern Munich on Tuesday in a game where the result was against the general run of play.
“Of course, [in terms of] counter-pressing, if you watched Arsenal against Bayern yesterday, Bayern had 70 per cent ball possession and lost the game 2-0. That’s football.
“That was one of the first Arsenal games I’ve seen where they’ve played defensively – their defending was very disciplined with a good plan against Bayern, and they won the game,” he added.
Defensive discipline is key for the 48-year-old, who says his entire approach is based around achieving defensive discipline and solidity, terms less associated with Liverpool during the Brendan Rodgers era. Before the Spurs game, Liverpool had gone eight consecutive games without a clean sheet.
“The thing is, you don’t have to play like this for 90 minutes. Your only possibility to learn is to start like this, but if you have the ball, you don’t have to run like crazy. If you get a better feeling for this kind of defending, it’s only the start.”
Liverpool have so far conceded 13 goals in 12 games of the 2015/16 season at a rate of more than one per game. With Klopp’s insistence on defensive discipline and an approach centred around suffocating the opposition for time and space on the ball, one could possibly envisage the Reds getting defensively more solid and more difficult to beat as a team. The Rubin Kazan game will be another small step in the right direction for a rejuvenated Liverpool.