How do you solve a problem like Klopp?

Published 05.01.2019 00:00
Updated 05.01.2019 08:00

Manchester City is back in the title race after their close victory over Liverpool and the fate of the Premier League is not sealed yet. They not only narrowed the gap to four points but also broke their psychological barrier against Liverpool. But the crucial problem is still not solved - Guardiola cannot play his own game against Klopp. In other words, what makes City's magical game disappear against Liverpool? That is why the anxiety of City players was clearly visible against Liverpool and their game was nowhere near the usual level. So, even though the result went in Guardiola's favor, the game was almost entirely in Klopp's favor.

The biggest problem that Guardiola simply cannot find a solution to is Liverpool's bold, organized forward pressing. Klopp is aware that breaking through a six-man press is an incredibly hard job, even for a team like Manchester City. That is why he is not afraid to leave a huge space behind his press since he knows that it is harder for a team to utilize that space under the intense press. Added to that, the City defense, especially center backs Stones and Kompany has insufficient passing skills, which makes Guardiola's job even harder. Therefore, throughout the 90 minutes against Liverpool, City could not bring the ball into their opponent's half in a consistent enough manner, which is unacceptable for Guardiola.

To make matters worse, Kevin de Bruyne, the most talented man at transforming defense into attack and bringing the ball to the opponents half, was on the bench because of injury. This forced Guardiola to put Bernardo Silva, a winger, in the middle to help David Silva organize the game. But the Silva duo could not deliver, as they failed to build a bridge between defensive midfielder Fernandinho and themselves. Thus, the problem was apparent in defense and midfield - Klopp's press was ruining City's game. Although they found two goals thanks to Sane and Agüero's superb finishes, Liverpool was able to lock them down offensively.

Now, both teams do not have many problems against other Premier League sides. No team circulates the ball as good as City does and no team presses better than Liverpool. But when they face each other, the slightly more negative one, Klopp's pressing becomes dominant. It is almost impossible to play the usual City game against Liverpool, especially if the center backs are not great with their feet and the midfield is not made up of de Bruyne-quality players. Unfortunately, that is the price you pay for playing positively, and taking the initiative brings additional responsibilities. On the other hand, that is also the reason why positive football has the theoretical upper hand. As long as the positive side's collective and individual talents are sufficient to play their game, they can dictate the rules. The power of the negative side comes from the fact that positive sides cannot play well enough against such a press, which means that they are reliant on manipulating their opponent's weaknesses. The positive sides do not suffer from such an issue and that is why I argue that a new wave of positive football is on the way against the current wave of negative football.

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