Klopp’s gegenpressing lacks endurance

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After the pulsating 2-2 draw between Tottenham and Liverpool at Anfield, much of the post-match discussion will revolve around VAR and the penalty decisions. What will go under the radar though is yet another example of Jürgen Klopp’s deeply-flawed, but commendable, tactical system.

Klopp’s insistence on gegenpressing, or counter-pressing, enabled a first half dominance but yet again his side lacked the endurance to see out the game after taking the lead.

Despite early dominance, Liverpool earned a fortuitous point here and really ought to have lost the match through a series of individual errors caused by fatigue.

Liverpool have now dropped 12 points this season from winning positions. Only three weeks ago, despite winning, Klopp’s men let a seemingly comfortable 4-1 lead against Manchester City become 4-3, a game at Anfield which also included some nervy final moments.

The advantages of gegenpressing are obvious and many. It allows Liverpool to attack when the opposition is not properly in a defensive stance. This forces the play wide and can lead to defensive errors either by simply losing the ball or forcing the play backwards to teammates who are located in more dangerous areas.

The principal is a good one, not least the psychological edge gained over opposition, where even a millisecond of hesitation in possession can be pounced upon. But the teething issues remain.

On Sunday afternoon, Liverpool’s front three of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino were typically dangerous early into the match, harrying and hassling Tottenham’s uncomfortable rearguard. The high intensity pressing paid off for the hosts after only three minutes – an error from Eric Dier led to a typically ruthless Salah finish.

In the second half though, individual errors, appearing to come as a result of fatigue, proved Liverpool’s undoing. First, Emre Can’s weary attempt at a clearance in the build-up to Victor Wanyama’s stunning strike was ominous. Dejan Lovren’s miskick led to Harry Kane winning the penalty, although on this occasion it went unpunished as Kane fluffed the spot-kick. In the closing stages of the match, whether you believe it was a penalty or not, Virgil van Dijk’s tired attempt at tackling Eric Lamela was sluggish and clumsy.

Such was Tottenham’s dominance in the second half, Mo Salah’s solo goal in stoppage time was Liverpool’s first shot on target in the second half.

According to WhoScored.com, Liverpool’s key weaknesses in the second half against Spurs were ‘losing possession often’ and ‘giving away a lot of free kicks around the box’. Both of these may be attributed to a lethargy across the team caused by large spells of harrying in the opening quarter of the match.

With such a reliance on extreme fitness, the question marks still exist over whether Liverpool can maintain such a high level of pressing and counter-pressing across a whole match. On a macro level, can a Klopp side ever win the Premier League without the much-vaunted Christmas break to give the players a much-needed rest heading into the new calendar year?

Whether this is a result of poor game management or a lack of physical stamina really makes no odds. The point is, it’s costing Liverpool dearly and may be the final missing piece of the puzzle in the Reds making the next step towards Premier League triumph.

The style may be better suited to the latter stages of the Champions League over the course of two-leg ties, but in such a competitive league table, Liverpool are suffering.

Of course, the rewards of gegenpressing are manifold, but the stamina and the endurance is key to seeing a game out. Once this has been honed effectively, Klopp‘s side may prove to be unstoppable next season. For now, the learning curve continues.

Chris Henderson

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