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Klopp demands better, tougher Liverpool: "We must make real challenges!"

11 August 2017 6:43 AM
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Klopp demands better, tougher Liverpool: "We must make real challenges!"

The conversation in New York had lasted hours, but the conclusion came swiftly.

As Fenway Sports Group met with Jurgen Klopp in the autumn of 2015 to discuss how Liverpool would take shape if the German was appointed manager, both parties agreed the surest passage to success would be through establishing a recognisable football identity.

Setting out objectives would be meaningless if there was no concrete method to achieve them, and with the club having swung between contrasting approaches in recent history - sometimes even haphazardly fusing them - a clarity in vision was determined most critical.

With the Merseysiders preparing for the start of their second full season under the 50-year-old, there is now no mistaking their distinctness.

“We have taken positive steps forward to create a common idea of playing football,” Klopp’s assistant Peter Krawietz tells Goal.

“We are not fully satisfied because there is always room to improve and there is always a next level to reach.

“We play simple and quick. We don’t want to get fixed in a situation by an opponent. We want to make sure we are well-orientated. We are always working hard to play good football.”

The process of implementing Liverpool’s stylistic identity began with the Reds boss intensively schooling the squad on counter-pressing immediately after taking charge a year and 10 months ago.

The ultimate ambition was to dominate possession in games but that could not be achieved until they learnt how to regain the ball effectively.

Once the facet crucial to Klopp's blueprint was mastered, the emphasis switched to build-up play and offensive dominance, as the education continued at Stanford University’s Maloney Field last pre-season.

Those drills were transferred from training to the start of 2016-17, with the opening 15 games producing just one defeat as Liverpool’s attacking juggernaut torpedoed in 40 goals.

“We showed such good football at times that I was even sometimes surprised that we were so quickly that far into our vision,” Klopp admitted of that period, before the difficulties at the turn of 2017 were experienced.

In California, the manager had revealed the aim after his first complete term at the helm was “to sit and think ‘My god, how amazing!’ I want us to enjoy a really memorable season in the best way. To take in the good things. To enjoy our development.”

As he fine-tunes his squad ahead of the Premier League opener at Watford this weekend, does Klopp feel Liverpool fulfilled that hope?

“I would say - ‘yes, done!’ It was good because finishing in the top four and getting to qualification for the Champions League hasn’t happened too often for the club in the last few years.

“It could have been better - we could have ended higher and been already in the Champions League without needing a play-off.

“But I think it’s really important in life that you value what you get - you think, okay: we did good in this, were the best in this, need to work on this and here’s the result, now for the next steps.

“I loved big parts of last season, we had a few hard moments but overall most of it was enjoyable. If we learn from our setbacks, it becomes an even bigger positive.”

Much of the focus during training in Hong Kong and the camp in Germany was on putting those teachings into practice and minimising Liverpool’s major weaknesses: the transition from attack to defence and dealing with set-pieces both offensively as well as combating them.

“We have to be spot on, 100 per cent, to make our lives easier,” Klopp says, referencing how his side, despite keeping a clean sheet in a Premier League Asia Trophy victory against Crystal Palace, created problems for themselves.

He expects sharper decision-making and more "legal aggression" in challenges.

“We need to improve our defending in one-on-one situations. We dominated the game against Crystal Palace but [Wilfried] Zaha and [Andros] Townsend - okay two tough wingers to face - but it’s a one-v-three situation and they still come out with the ball.

“This is where my players have to be better, be tougher,” Klopp demands, adding, “If you look at some of the goals we’ve conceded, it just doesn’t make sense.

“We’re a completely fair team - we don’t make fouls on purpose and I like it, but we need to make real challenges.

“If you look at Burnley last season, we get opportunities to win the ball so many times, we didn’t - ‘oh, 2-0 Burnley’.”

One of the coaching staff’s key strengths, according to those who work closely with them, is their ability to wisely filter information on improvement to the players.

Instead of having long meetings to discuss failings, the problems are tackled directly through targeted sessions so the team understands and practices what they need to do, rather than having to hear about it.

There is also no point singling out individuals for errors, as Krawietz explains: “We have one big headline: everyone is responsible for everything.

“Even if one player makes a mistake, as a team we could have given him a clearer option, offered more protection, been more aware of the situation.

“This is what we try to live by because we can only achieve things together. Individual quality will always be less than the complete power of the team."

"Then, we watch the analysis of the next five games to see our opposition make those same mistakes a few times and not be punished.

“We have to use the information from the mistakes, yes, and we have to find solutions, but we must also be fair [to ourselves].”

As Krawietz reasons, “Football is a game of mistake management. You can’t avoid making mistakes, but you can be better prepared in how to minimise them and deal with them.”

Both believe Liverpool have a strong foundation to build on as they kick off the new season at Vicarage Road this weekend.

The manager, however, wants his group to outgrow their doubts - a factor he detailed in depth with Goal during the tour in Hong Kong.

“We need to be our own sign, to have confidence in our abilities and our way.

“All of the players can still climb to the next steps and take their good moments and make them great - consistently.

“But you cannot surprise yourself all the time and think ‘that was good, wasn’t it?’ Yes, it was good, but it must not be a shock, it must be the minimum you expect from yourself so you can push on.”

Klopp will ensure Liverpool do exactly as they work towards furthering their tactical distinction in 2017-18.


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