A win at Stamford Bridge – the first for new manager Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League – has raised the spirits of Liverpool fans, but beating Chelsea this season is hardly remarkable, and the German still has much to do in the offensive third if his team is to finish in the top four.
Liverpool’s first half against Chelsea evidenced one of the problems that plagued Brendan Rodgers after his second season at Anfield. Without the departed Luis Suarez and the forever injured Daniel Sturridge, and with an inconsistent Raheem Sterling, Rodgers’ Liverpool struggled to score primarily because the team was incapable of stretching the field with runs behind opposing defenders. Deprived of speed, opponents were usually able to contain Liverpool even as they conceded most of the possession to the Merseyside club.
Desperate for a win on Saturday, Chelsea did much of the same. Jose Mourinho shored up his defense and happily surrendered much of the possession to Liverpool, but Klopp’s men were unable to make runs and play the ball behind defenders. Thus, even as Liverpool had the lion’s share of possession, Chelsea’s back-four wasn’t troubled until Philippe Coutinho tied the game with a nifty piece of skill and a perfectly placed shot in the dying minutes of the first half.
This is an issue that Klopp must address. The seemingly easy and obvious solution will be to delve into the transfer market to find the players that will offer the added dimension that Liverpool has been missing since the club challenged for the Premier League title in the 2013-2014 season, and broke the one hundred goal mark.
Still, we are two months away from the January transfer market – one that is notorious for desperate purchases that do little to change the currents for most clubs.
The answer for Klopp, therefore, lies in the players at his disposal, which the German has vowed to stay loyal to.
One of those players is Christian Benteke. The Belgian was brought in by Rodgers to score the goals that dried up when Suarez took off to Barcelona, the injury prone Sturridge began spending more time in the infirmary than on the pitch, and their heirs (Sterling, Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli) lost the scent for goal. Rodgers’ tactics never benefitted Benteke, and apart from a phenomenal bicycle kick against Manchester United, the striker’s form proved a mere blip in the early season.
For all his tactical acumen, Klopp doesn’t have much experience with the type of striker that relies so much on his physicality in order to impose his game.
Once introduced to the game on Saturday, though, Benteke made a noticeable difference. The Belgian had only been on the pitch ten minutes before he won the header that allowed Coutinho to score his brace, and nine minutes after that it was his flicked header that landed at Jordan Ibe’s feet before the striker saw Chelsea off with Liverpool’s third goal.
Benteke’s instant impact was the exactly what Rodgers had hoped would happen when he signed the player from Aston Villa in the summer. Unable to stretch defenses the way Suarez and Sturridge did with his remaining players, Rodgers wanted a target man who could not only hold the ball up to facilitate possession, but could also be much more of a threat in the box.
Alas, that was not to be, and now it is Klopp who must get the most of his big number nine. That might be easier said than done. For all his tactical acumen, Klopp doesn’t have much experience with the type of striker that relies so much on his physicality in order to impose his game.
At Dortmund, Klopp established a single striker high-press system that relied on the players’ abilities to transform a quick turnover into a goal-scoring opportunity. To do so, the German preferred to employ fast attackers, who were able to negotiate tight spaces with agility and quick passing, such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus, and Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski when they were still at the club.
Perhaps, Benteke could adapt to such a system, but it is far more likely that Klopp will have to tailor his approach to suit the Belgian’s strengths. That is something the manager hasn’t had to do for quite some time – the 2008-2009 season, to be precise. At Liverpool Klopp has inherited Rodgers’ signings, whereas at Dortmund, he brought players in to specifically fit his system.
Klopp’s success, then (at least insofar as this season is concerned), will be measured by how well he is able to meld his philosophy with the talents at his disposal. And fitting Benteke in will be arguably his most crucial adjustment. The game at Stamford Bridge is already suggestive that the manager will tinker with his system to best suit his players. Not only did he opt to lineup in a 433 instead of his preferred 4231, but he also introduced Benteke into the game in an attempt to literally knock Tim Cahill and John Terry out of their comfort zones – something Roberto Firmino was never able to do as false nine.
The following weeks will answer how much Klopp is willing to deviate from his methods and tactics, and the results will ultimately determine whether January will mark the beginning of a shopping and selling spree.
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