One reported Liverpool transfer target is matching Roberto Firmino in an exciting area as Jürgen Klopp identifies a key criterion in his midfielder search.
One of Jürgen Klopp’s foundational footballing principles during his time at Liverpool has been that counterpressing — hunting the ball aggressively straight after losing it — fashions the most dangerous attacking situations. In other words, it’s the best playmaker.
But across the board this season, Liverpool’s pressing numbers have fallen. Last year, when it picked up 92 points en route to second place in the table, it was only allowing the opposition an average of 9.9 passes before a defensive action (like a tackle or an interception). No team in the division could better that record (via The Analyst).
Klopp’s side was also miles clear of the pack when it came to high turnovers (winning possession within 40 metres of the opposition goal). They notched a whopping 443 over the course of the campaign, with Manchester City next-best on 378. Seventy one of those ended in a shot (again, the most in the league), and seven in a goal (joint-first). That serves to prove Klopp’s playmaking point.
This year, though, Liverpool is allowing 12.2 passes per defensive action, slipping down to seventh in this leaderboard behind the likes of Brighton, Newcastle United and Leeds United as well as big-six rivals Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.
And with nearly half the season gone, it has only managed 154 high turnovers. While that is still the fourth-highest in the league, only three teams have created fewer shots from these situations (18) and only two have scored fewer goals (one).
Where last season the team was winning possession in the attacking third 7.55 times per 90 minutes, this term it is doing so just 4.53 times. That’s the lowest number since 2017/18 (via Sky Sports).
All of this explains why, in the eyes of many observers, Liverpool have lost their identity.
It’s a problem that Klopp has recognised, based on comments from Fábio Carvalho during the club’s Dubai training camp last month.
“We want to get back to pressing how the team pressed last year, which was very useful in games and we created a lot of chances from it,” he said (via LFC).
We haven’t quite been at the level pressing-wise this year and it’s something we’ve been working on and will keep working on. Hopefully we’ll be back to our best.”
Clearly, the coaching staff had identified this as a key area for improvement and tried to drill it into the players, but the team’s limited upturn following the World Cup suggests Klopp and co. won’t be able to fix the problem internally. In terms of performances, there’s been a concerning continuity either side of the tournament in Qatar, and so the solution may lie in the transfer market.
It’s noteworthy, then, that many of Liverpool’s midfield targets score highly when it comes to counterpressing.
StatsBomb recently shared a graphic on Twitter which plotted counterpressures (a pressure exerted within five seconds of a turnover) against counterpressure regains (when the team wins possession within five seconds of counterpressing an opponent) across the big five leagues.
Perhaps the first thing that stands out is that Wolves’ Matheus Nunes (whom Liverpool seemingly intends to sign in the summer, having struck an ‘agreement’ to bid for him after failing to sign him last year, as per The Telegraph) almost matches Roberto Firmino. There’s arguably no player more synonymous with the Reds’ enthralling high press than the Brazilian, and so you can see why Nunes appeals.
Liverpool are also said to be interested in Morocco’s World Cup hero Sofyan Amrabat (via Foot Mercato), who’s a highly effective counterpresser, alongside the likes of Kouadio Koné (linked by Sky Sports) and Ismaël Bennacer (Matteo Moretto). Alexis Mac Allister, one of the outstanding players in Europe in this regard, has been linked too (via La Repubblica).
And it was also claimed this week (by Dean Jones/GiveMeSport) that the Reds have been watching João Palhinha of Fulham, whose ranks fourth in terms of volume.
Clearly, then, Liverpool has identified this as a criterion in its hunt for midfield reinforcements. It’s almost a unifying feature when you examine the players on the reported shortlist.
This will please supporters who have been crying out for more energy in the middle of the park, but it’s not just about having the legs for the pursuit. Pressing requires cunning too, in terms of the angle of approach and the timing of deceleration. That’s what sets many of these players apart.
Well-executed counter-pressing isn’t only a playmaker, it’s a defensive shield too. And so, by bringing in a couple of the aforementioned players, Liverpool could restore balance to the team and climb back towards its former heights.