When the final whistle blows and a Liverpool match finishes, Jurgen Klopp’s working day is far from over.
He may do as many as eight interviews in English and German before he even gets to the press room, where he fields questions from written media.
At some point, he will address Liverpool’s players briefly in the changing room. Usually, that conversation will last less than two minutes.
It means he — like any other manager — has to formulate his impressions quickly, drawing immediate conclusions about what he has just seen happen on the pitch.
The immediacy of all of this means TV viewers see different sides of Klopp.
Comfortable victories may afford extra thinking space and time, allowing him to provide a colder, more calculated analysis. A narrow victory, however, and you can see the relief on his face.
Disappointments from draws or defeats mean his mind has been trying to figure out solutions to on-field issues right until the end of a game. These have yielded emotional, occasionally combative, responses to questions from journalists.
Each individual broadcast interview will last between three and four minutes. Klopp gives long answers — particularly to the first question, which usually invites him to summarise the game.
From there, the coverage becomes more incident-based and this means his original answer can get lost in what is subsequently beamed across the world via television screens or what appears in newspapers or on the internet.
The first answer, indeed, can be the least controversial but this does not mean it is not the most revealing.
Former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund coach Klopp has said before that the British press are not as interested as their German counterparts in tactical processes.
This does not mean he is necessarily right. It is one of his quirks that when he is asked about tactics in the immediate fallout of any result, he prefers to say less — perhaps because he fears what he might give away, or what headlines his words might generate.
In his native tongue, however, when he speaks to Sky Germany, the flow of the conversation is usually a little bit different.
Tactically, at least, he expresses himself more. He realises that viewers back home are watching Liverpool and other Premier League matches without the same level of club allegiance. He is ultimately performing for a different market.
The Athletic has reviewed some of his exchanges with Sky Germany from last season, and the results are revealing.
Klopp’s Liverpool were once viewed as fast starters — a team who blew opponents away with what they did early in matches. Last season, that wasn’t always the case.
Regularly, he wanted more out of Liverpool by half-time. Sometimes he was unhappy with the team’s tactical discipline. Sometimes he blamed himself for getting things wrong. Sometimes, there was a lack of intensity. On other occasions, he just thought Liverpool had been “shit”.
It becomes clear that the best results in the campaign were achieved by getting the basics right.
Before they won 4-2 at Old Trafford in the 2020-21 season, Liverpool’s results under Klopp away to Manchester United had fallen short of expectation. United had been able to bypass Liverpool’s press with long passes.
Before what would be a famous 5-0 victory last October, he deliberated over the best approach. In the end, he gambled that United on this occasion would instead try to play out from the back. This allowed Liverpool to do what they do best — and the outcome was devastating.
Here we translate what Klopp said at various key points last season and how his words corresponded to what had just happened on the pitch…
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 1 — August 28
Kai Havertz gave Thomas Tuchel’s side the lead after 22 minutes. After Reece James was sent off for handling the ball on the goal line, Mohamed Salah converted a penalty to equalise in added time of the first half. Yet 10-man Chelsea held out for a draw.
For Liverpool, it would be the first of six league draws against the other three clubs who would finish in the top four.
Question: Did Liverpool miss a trick not beating a 10-man Chelsea?
Klopp: “At 11 v 11, both sides tried to create chances but our pressing was absolutely outstanding. It was really difficult for Chelsea to build from the back exactly how they wanted to. I was really happy with that.
“Thomas is a sensational manager. He’s had an incredible influence in the last few months. They are top organised. What I liked — this happens rarely against Thomas’ teams — is the way we pressed them in the first half. We took something away from them. That’s why we were the better team in the first half, despite being 1-0 down. That was good.
“Overall, I like the game. Apart from the fact that we should have created a few more opportunities. In the first half, we played well, I thought. But we lacked that last bit, that little something, when it came to finishing.”
On the tactical and psychological effects of James’ sending off…
“I never celebrated a red card for the opponent, and I didn’t celebrate this one either, because I can’t quite see the advantage. Especially when you’re playing a quality side like Chelsea.
“We defended (Romelu) Lukaku really well, outstandingly well. But you have to invest a lot, especially at that moment (when you’re a man up), and always think, ‘Protect the goal’. If you don’t, you might even lose this game. They didn’t have the opportunities but they had opportunities to create opportunities…
“In the second half, we had a few shots from distance, but we couldn’t really get into the box. It was all blocked off. Everyone was in there, somebody got their head to every cross, (Edouard) Mendy caught all the balls. That way, step by step, the team playing with one man down get a better feeling, and the team playing with one man more get a worse feeling. And it’s all so intense that all of a sudden, that advantage (of being one man up) has gone.”
After the red card, Tuchel reorganised Chelsea into a 5-3-1. They were quick to move back into that shape following set pieces and transitions, and this was their most passive defensive display all season. The wing-backs dropped down into a flat back five, with Chelsea collectively narrower than the width of their penalty area, and fewer than 18 yards in depth front to back.
Below, Joel Matip is in possession and all 10 Chelsea players are in the defensive third…
Liverpool attack down Chelsea’s right. They have to try to combine using quick, incisive passes and direct running.
Robertson quickly plays it centrally to Fabinho…
…who receives on his back foot and shoots with the second touch. But Chelsea’s entire defensive line is positioned behind the ball. Mateo Kovacic applies pressure while Antonio Rudiger and Thiago Silva adjust their body shape to block shots into the corners (red arrows).
Fabinho hits the target but Mendy saves comfortably (white arrow).
This sequence was repeated on numerous occasions in the second half.
Shotmaps for the first and second periods display the contrast in attacking performance.
Manchester United 0 Liverpool 5 — October 24
The biggest Liverpool victory at Old Trafford in their history was secured by a devastating first-half performance. Strikes from Naby Keita, Diogo Jota and two from Salah sent them into the break with a four-goal lead. Five minutes into the second half, Salah sealed his hat-trick.
This result came five days after a 3-2 away win over Atletico Madrid that set them up to win their Champions League group. But despite a hugely satisfying week, Klopp seemed to want more…
Klopp on high pressing being the key to victory:
“The performance wasn’t quite as flawless as the result suggests… but we played outstandingly well in the final third, with incredible efficiency. So clinical. Our high pressing was extraordinary. We did so well.
“We weren’t sure if they would build from the back or go long, which is often the case against us, but I said to the boys, ‘If we want to press, we need to do it properly and take that last step’. I saw that last step 30 times today. We were in the duels, we blocked the ball, we were there. And that makes the difference in these situations.
“Then you score the 4-0 just before the break, I can’t think of a better moment. You think about Man United being the comeback kings and so on, but then we scored again and (Paul Pogba was) sent off, and it’s game over and simply about getting home all right!”
Did you target United’s left flank?
“The left flank? (Laughs) Not my job to analyse this in great detail right now. We want Mo to do certain things in our processes, in terms of his positioning and movement. Luke Shaw is an outstanding player but today, he didn’t have his best day. Playing Mo Salah, in the kind of form he’s in right now, isn’t that much fun to play against in any case. Sometimes, it’s like that (for an opposition player). You just have to stick with it. There’ll be better days as well.”
Let’s break down Liverpool’s high press on 18 minutes.
United play a short goal kick, which triggers Salah to press Harry Maguire. Liverpool set up with their trademark front three against two central defenders and a double pivot in midfield.
Lindelof’s first touch is poor and he fails to open out properly towards the right wing and away from pressure. Instead, he has to check back inside, and that gives Liverpool the opportunity to pounce.
Salah has blocked off the return pass to Maguire and is well placed for anything towards David de Gea. Liverpool’s central midfielders (Keita and Jordan Henderson) sprint to close the space available for the United double pivot — Scott McTominay on the right and Fred on the left. Firmino is able to force Lindelof into a rushed decision, as his arced run has now cut off the pass out to right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Maguire is pointing for the pass to Fred at the edge of the penalty area, which Lindelof plays…
…but Keita beats him to the ball, poking it to Firmino. The Brazilian’s pass is wayward, but the press had been outstanding.
Klopp’s side would probably be forgiven for sitting back and shutting up shop at 5-0 up early in the second half. But they continue to press their hosts and prevent them from building up — over 21 per cent of United’s open-play passes in this match were under pressure against Liverpool, up from their season average of 16 per cent.
Then, in the 86th minute, United continue to play short and Salah presses Shaw, forcing play back to Maguire.
The key to Liverpool’s press is not the first player to run, but the immediate movements of the second and third players.
Here, Mane is already moving towards Maguire before the pass is played…
…and because the England defender has control of the ball, Mane knows he cannot press aggressively because United will then play through Liverpool.
But he does close the passing angle into McTominay (right central midfielder) and Liverpool bait Maguire into the pass forward to Fred.
He plays it, and Liverpool are way too organised for Fred to turn and play forward. He instead finds Shaw, who — as a dominant left-footer — has no real choice but to play the ball back to Maguire.
Every time teams pass backwards against their press, it is a win for Liverpool. This gives them the opportunity to move upfield as a unit and suffocate teams further.
What comes next also seems inevitable, seeing as Liverpool ranked joint-second in the Premier League last season for the proportion of pressures leading to a turnover inside five seconds (32.3 per cent).
On his non-dominant left foot, Maguire is forced to go long by Mane and Ibrahima Konate wins the resulting aerial duel.
Trent Alexander-Arnold recovers the loose ball and Liverpool have another possession sequence starting in the United half.
Everton 1 Liverpool 4 — December 1
Henderson’s precise left-foot finish gave Liverpool an early hold on the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. After Salah extended the lead, sloppy play allowed Everton to pull one back through Demarai Gray.
In the second half, Liverpool re-established their authority with another Salah goal before Jota’s thumping finish secured a resounding victory. According to Klopp, Liverpool’s performance owed much to the ability of the players to keep their emotions in check…
You said you didn’t really like the derby. Have you changed your mind?
“I liked it today, because it was a football game, without brutal fouls. It was the best derby we played at Goodison. Super mature, super calm.
“We have to take the lead earlier… But then we felt how much a little setback can affect the game. We misunderstood the situation. We were too open when they scored. I’ll have to watch it again to see how much space there was and why Trent was so high. But it’s not unusual. When you’re on top to such an extent, you can judge things wrongly. That happened today.
“At half-time, we told the boys, ‘If we continue to play in those spaces as well as we did in some moments in the first half, they can’t get to us. We will get into shooting positions, we just have to make them count’. The goals happened differently in the end, but they were just as nice.”
Fouls – Goodison Park Merseyside derbies
It’s now 43 goals in 14 games. Is this the best Liverpool attack since you arrived in 2015?
“We were always good but, right now, we take the chances. The way we create those goals is honestly unbelievable. Robertson to Hendo? Superb. Exactly into the right space, in between the double six (of Everton) and the last line, and Hendo just calmly puts it in.
“The other one, superb ball from Hendo and Mo: inimitable. Chip into the far corner. It’s not as if we score with every shot, not even in training or in the warm-up. But right now, confidence is strong. But we know it’s an extreme challenge to keep up the focus.”
There were fewer than 14 seconds between Konate’s headed clearance and Salah’s curled finish — classic vertical Liverpool attacking. As Alan Shearer highlighted for The Athletic in a breakdown of Salah’s strikes, he is much more of a cultured, pick-a-spot finisher than a head-down, laces striker.
Liverpool 2 Leicester City 0 — February 10
Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat away to Leicester just after Christmas had dented their title ambitions. Six weeks later, with Manchester City suddenly starting to drop points, they simply had to find a way past Leicester.
Despite Liverpool’s domination, however, the pressure was only relieved at a tense Anfield when Jota swept home both his and his team’s second goal with a few minutes remaining.
Klopp on Leicester disrupting Liverpool’s flow in the first half…
“They like playing against us, they changed things up and played with a diamond in some spells. We need to find rhythm. It was not that easy. But we had many good football moments and some we could have done better.
Two goals from Jota. Did you expect this much progress from him this season?
“The easy answer would be yes. But you want a player to surprise you a little bit, in terms of the timing of his improvement.
“We had watched Diogo a lot and had seen so many things he already had (going for himself). And then he joins our team and we create more than others. At Wolves, he ran his socks off on the left, doing a lot of defending on the flank, and only (Raul) Jimenez was allowed to wait up top. Now it’s different.
“He still has to work like an animal but he gets many more shooting opportunities (and) that helps every other player, including him. He’s an extremely cool guy. Super smart, super mature, he understands life and that he’s lucky to be able to do those things. And he uses that. Total machine and super smart finisher.”
Jota is indeed showing the uptick in shooting performance that Klopp references. In both his seasons at Liverpool, he has averaged more than three shots per game, having not surpassed this threshold in either of the seasons prior as a Wolves player.
But this quantity improvement has not led to a decrease in quality — quite the opposite.
Jota’s underlying numbers (xG per shot, average distance of shot and conversion rate) last season were his best as a Premier League player to date.
Arsenal 0 Liverpool 2 — March 16
In-form Arsenal dominated Liverpool in terms of possession in the first half but created few chances. Their best opportunity came after the break when Alisson raced across his box to repel Martin Odegaard’s shot. The subsequent counter-attack resulted in Liverpool’s opening goal from Jota.
With Arsenal sucker-punched, Liverpool soon scored a second through substitute Firmino. The result felt huge.
On the tactical battle with Mikel Arteta and Liverpool being too timid without the ball…
“No team in the world comes to Arsenal and simply plays them off the park. That doesn’t happen. We felt that in the first half.
“That wasn’t just down to their great quality, though. It was also down to us, to a large extent. We didn’t defend the way we wanted to.
“Arsenal are a side that will have spells of possession. In those spells, you have to have a compact formation but at the right time, you have to step out of that formation and properly put pressure on the ball. We did that much better in the second half. The moment we defended on the front foot, we were far more in the game, and at that moment, all the rhythm and sentiment changes.”
Did experience in the final third make the difference?
“At the end, you have to get the ball to Diogo, experience or not. The moment we took that step forward in midfield, spaces open up. If we just pass without movement, Arsenal are still compact. The moment we move, they have to move, then there’s the gap. Pass OK, finish sensational. Second goal? I love it, I think it was Robbo’s 50th assist (laughs).”
The movement from Mane — for the game’s opening goal — deserves further analysis.
Thiago drops deep because Arsenal are in a compact midfield block.
Mane’s movement is a run across the face of Ben White — this is essential so that the defender can see him and follow. By tracking the run, White opens a passing angle between midfielders for Thiago to thread Jota through.
Liverpool 2 Everton 0 — April 24
Liverpool could not find any rhythm in the derby at Anfield but this changed when Klopp introduced Divock Origi, who gave them more of a physical presence in attack. Within two minutes of the Belgian striker coming on, Robertson’s header gave Liverpool control of the match, before Origi scored a vital second with five minutes remaining.
Was it a game of patience?
“Patience is needed when you don’t play well. Everton did well. They took away our fun. It worked very well for them in the first half. But that was more down to us, because we simply weren’t very good. Against deep opponents, you have to do more.
“We said at half-time today, ‘It’s easy to improve’. We showed them a clip, and stopped it eight times (at different moments) to show them where we should have had much more movement. There were too many sideways passes. We tried to go one vs one, get past the first one, then go up against the second one, then we lost the ball, then faced counter-attacks.
“The performance was so bad it was good — when you’re really shit, it’s easy to improve. That’s what we did. We made good subs, who really had an impact, You can’t fly all the time in this league. You have to work hard, and that’s what we did. And you have to be ready to keep your nerve.”
On the impact of Origi…
“He always scores. It’s my fault for not playing him more often. He’s an outstanding character, always calm, never makes any trouble, always there when needed. Perfect.
“Getting players into the box was something we talked about but first of all against deep opponents, you need to get people in front of the ball. That’s why we changed it to four attackers.
“Luis (Diaz) was a menace on the left, Diogo and Div in the centre, Mo really got going, that was all very helpful. We had some problems with defending, we had to adjust to (Anthony) Gordon’s pace.
“I went crazy when some of the passes between Thiago and Fabinho saw Fab move to the left, because the plan was for him to protect Trent (Alexander-Arnold) against Gordon on the right. It’s a complex thing, a game like this. Winning like this is really great.”
Liverpool’s front four were pivotal in creating the game’s first goal.
Breaking this down, Origi’s role is crucial. Salah is one-versus-two on the right and by combining with the Belgian he can get into a crossing position that is closer to goal.
This entirely changes the attacking picture and opens up the chipped cross to the back post, which Salah uses to find goalscorer Robertson.
Liverpool 1 Tottenham 1 — May 7
After Son Heung-min’s opener and Liverpool’s equaliser from Diaz, Klopp was scathing of Spurs’ defensive approach under Antonio Conte when he spoke in an open press conference, but he was more analytical in front of the German TV cameras.
On Tottenham’s defensive set-up…
“Their focus level is incredible. They don’t care at all about not having the ball, their confidence doesn’t suffer from having to chase the ball for 90 minutes. If we had to play like that, it would be a catastrophe for us. There would be a sense of us not being in the game at all. But they feel they’re in it and the moment they win the ball back, they’re there.
“When a world-class team position themselves in this way, it’s really difficult. They like games like this. They were not the opponent we needed.
“I was really happy with our counter-pressing, we prevented 90 out of 100 counter-attacks. I was also happy how we dealt with going 1-0 down. We equalised, we increased the pressure without opening ourselves up. It was a little untidy at times, we wanted to show more initiative, with centre-backs moving out with the ball towards midfield and the midfield carrying the ball. We often passed it too quickly, we didn’t get into those moments that well. I can’t really complain about the performance, but the result is not cool, it doesn’t feel great.”
Yet it was Liverpool’s best home display of the entire season in terms of press success: 43.1 per cent of their pressures led to a turnover inside five seconds.
One of the 59 successful pressures was a counter-press after Diaz — who is one-versus-two here — gets tackled inside the first minute.
Thiago jumps onto Dejan Kulusevski and Robertson recovers to prevent Spurs playing the second forward pass…
…now Liverpool have the two-versus-one overload and Robertson tackles. Within four seconds of losing it, Liverpool have possession again. Gegenpressing.
And it ends up with another full-back to full-back crossing scenario. Robertson wins the first contact but Liverpool fail to convert.
Additional contributor: Raphael Honigstein
(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)