The ink hardly had time to dry on Brendan Rodgers' pink slip before Ian Ayre was handing a three-year contract to Jurgen Klopp, the former Borussia Dortmund manager now entrusted to lead Liverpool back to glory. Considering how quickly Fenway Sports Group acted to bring in the new manager, it seems fair to say they've had their eye on the German for quite some time, and with good reason: Klopp's tactical approach to the game is a souped up version of the high-energy pressing game that worked so well for Rodgers and his title-challenging side from 2013-2014.
While it will likely take some time for the new manager to instill his gegenpressing tactics (essentially, catching the opponent off-guard as soon as they have gained possession by pressing and closing the space before they can begin building play, then turning it into an all-out counterattack) at his new club, we can expect him to fill the starting eleven with players capable of pressing at every opportunity, and transitioning from earning possession to creating attacking chances.
Klopp's preferred formation at Dortmund was the 4-2-3-1, with the fullbacks providing the width and the band of attacking midfielders typically playing off of each other more centrally. The lone striker is relied upon to hold up play and invite the trio of attacking midfielders into scoring positions, while the central midfield anchors are expected to quickly win and recycle possession to start the next attack.
Given that Liverpool's players haven't had the benefit of a pre-season with this set of tactics, nor will they have the winter break of the Bundesliga, many of them may not be ready to go a full 90 minutes in such a physically demanding setup. Thankfully, Klopp has also shown some flexibility in application of the technique, focusing on certain players or elements in the opposition build-up to spring the high press. With his first game in charge against Tottenham Hotspur, this may mean limiting Christian Eriksen's opportunities with the ball, or perhaps Eric Dier further up the pitch (from a Liverpool perspective).
With a new formation and such a demanding system, there will naturally be some growing pains and some necessary changes to the starting lineup. Here are some players who I think could be affected by Klopp's tactics and selection, should he set the team up similarly to his Dortmund squad:
Nathaniel Clyne - It took Rodgers a little while to realize Alberto Moreno was a much better fit at left fullback than Joe Gomez, and the Spaniard will almost certainly be a key piece in Klopp's system, but we'll also likely see a greater emphasis on Clyne getting into the attack. The right back is already a fan favorite at Liverpool, and could quickly become a fantasy favorite like he was at Southampton should he be given the responsibility to create from the right flank.
Roberto Firmino - Jurgen Klopp is probably more familiar with the Brazilian than anyone in the Premier League at this point, having faced him many times while he was with Hoffenheim. Firmino, contrary to evidence so far (Rodgers loved to play people out of position...he's definitely not a like-for-like replacement for Raheem Sterling), is a central attacking midfielder with an eye for goal and stellar workrate. When fit, he'll almost certainly be deployed in the middle of the attacking band of three, and can really begin to show why Liverpool were so eager to bring him in this season.
Emre Can - Not only does Can speak German, but he fits the mold of what Klopp is looking for in a central midfielder. Powerful, aggressive, capable of kickstarting a quick counterattack and full of energy, the former Bayer Leverkusen youngster should be restored to his natural position while Jordan Henderson is out injured. I think he can make a big impact in the engine room, and may cause a selection headache when both Henderson and James Milner are fit. Milner has also proven effective in wider positions while at Manchester City, so he could perhaps see time further up the pitch to accommodate. In any case, we've hopefully seen the last of Can being shoehorned into defense.
Lucas Leiva - While Lucas is undoubtedly one of the best ball winners in the Premier League, his injury record prevents him from putting in as much pressing work as would likely be required of him. He may retain the holding role while Henderson is out, but it's not difficult to see Klopp turning to more energetic, fit players to control the middle of the park. With rumors that the club was looking to offload the midfielder over the summer, it's possible Lucas makes a move in January to a club that can guarantee him more minutes.
Daniel Sturridge - The striker position is a conundrum, and I only have Sturridge here in the instance that Klopp tries to work both him and Christian Benteke into the starting lineup. Klopp reportedly tried to sign Benteke as a replacement for Lewandowski, so there are signs there that he rates the Belgian and sees him as a good fit for the system he wants to play. That could be bad news for Sturridge, as he would be shunted out wide to the position he hated playing while at Chelsea. It's not quite the same role, as he would be closer inside and could cut inside onto his left foot, so there is the potential for the move to be successful, but that all depends on how Sturridge reacts if he's asked to give up the main striker role that was the central selling point to moving to Liverpool in the first place.
Philippe Coutinho - This is more of a short-term negative affect, as I feel Coutinho will thrive in this system over time. However, we've seen the little Brazilian fade in the last quarter of games on many occasions with Liverpool, and the expectation to press constantly could lead to Coutinho tiring earlier and being the first sub. Again, Klopp will likely be able to adjust to accommodate while the squad builds the fitness and understanding to effectively play the system, but for the time being it's a very distinct possibility that the playmaker is replaced between the 60-75 minute mark in matches.
My Best XI
There are a fair number of options at Klopp's disposal, but I am excited to see what he can do with the 4-2-3-1 and with that formation I think Liverpool could be very effective in the following setup:
Clyne - Skrtel - Sakho - Moreno
Can - Henderson
Milner - Firmino - Coutinho
We're probably more likely to see Milner deployed alongside one of Henderson/Can/Lucas in central midfield with Sturridge on the right side of the attacking midfield band and Benteke up top, but I think the lineup above represents the best way to utilize the pressing and attacking strengths of the squad available right now if the gegenpressing tactics are utilized. Danny Ings, Adam Lallana and Christian Benteke are all excellent options to change the game depending on the situation as well.
What are your thoughts on Klopp's arrival? Do you think Liverpool players will become more viable fantasy options? If so, who? What is your best XI? Let us know in the comments!