For ease of comparison, the data used, unless explicitly stated, is taken from Brendan Rodgers’ eight league games this season and Jurgen Klopp’s last eight league games in charge.
1) ‘A’ for Effort
For the first week of Klopp’s tenure, you couldn’t walk more than ten feet without being gegenpressed by a Liverpool fan with his nose deep in a Collins German dictionary. A surge in effort and a rise in stamina were both seen as necessary amendments if Klopp was to be successful at Anfield. So it has proved, and quicker than many thought possible.
In Rodgers’ eight league games in charge this season, the most distance Liverpool completed in a game was 110.8km against Norwich at Anfield. In Klopp’s last eight league games, Liverpool have only failed to pass that mark once. Against Bournemouth earlier this month, they covered 121.6km.
Liverpool also sprint more under Klopp, an average of 573 per game in their last eight matches. Under Rodgers this season, that average was just 491. Given that Liverpool have already played 56 games in four competitions this season, it’s an imposing increase.
The standout statistic is this: Under Rodgers this season, an average of 3.5 Liverpool players would cover more than 10km in a match. Under Klopp, that has increased to 6.4.
2) The pressing issue
Effort is not the only ingredient in Klopp’s strategy without the ball; it must be accompanied by meaningful actions. Comparing Rodgers’ eight and Klopp’s last eight sees the number of interceptions increase from 109 to 132, a 21% increase.
The number of tackles made by Liverpool players may only have increased marginally, but the position those tackles occur has changed drastically. Under Rodgers, the vast majority of tackles were completed in their own half of the field, whereas under Klopp the split has been far more even.
Liverpool’s pressing under Klopp was most evident during their 3-0 victory over Manchester City, during which Liverpool made 11 tackles in the opposition half compared to three from City. “We gave them some questions in their buildup with our formation,” said Klopp. “So they couldn’t start the game how they wanted.” City struggled to even make two passes out of defence without being forced to turn back or risk losing possession.
3) Shooting: Quality and quantity
The number of shots taken by Liverpool is the biggest obvious attacking change under Klopp. In the period until Rodgers was sacked, his side ranked sixth by number of shots taken and fifth for shots on target. Since Klopp has arrived, Liverpool have been second in both categories to Tottenham.
Yet it has not always been a positive. In January, the Daily Mirror revealed that Liverpool had taken more shots than Barcelona, but were paying the price for shooting from distance without a realistic chance to score (see Coutinho, Philippe). A Daily Telegraph article in January used Liverpool’s shot conversion rate to worry whether things had actually got worse under their new manager. Klopp still had work to do.
Of late, things have improved drastically. Having scored eight goals from 119 shots in the first eight games of the season, Liverpool have scored 20 times from 145 shots in their last eight. Their shot conversion rate has virtually doubled. Now, that conversion rate is being touted as proof for improvement.
4) Improving the creativity
That increase in the number of shots taken is explained principally by the increase in productivity from Liverpool’s attacking midfielders. With Liverpool’s central midfielders (Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva and James Milner) and full-backs completing far more work to close down and win the ball, those further forward can take advantage.
Minutes per chance created from open play:
Coutinho – 83.0 mins
Lallana – 64.7 mins
Milner – 65.5 mins
During Klopp’s last eight league games:
Coutinho – 24.5 mins
Lallana – 28.2 mins
Milner – 50.0 mins
Liverpool are still guilty of shooting from distance too frequently, something that Klopp may wish to address in pre-season training, but there is no doubt that the German has made his side far more creative in the final third.
5) The re-reinvention of James Milner
When James Milner signed for Liverpool, he made no secret of his positional intentions. “I want to play football and play more centrally if I can and that’s where the manager said he sees me playing,” Milner said. “That’s a big thing for me coming to the later stages of my career.”
Milner’s concern was that playing in a wide role demanded more pace, which could significantly limit his career at the very top of the Premier League. This was, in typical Milner fashion, a 30-year-old planning for the long-term future.
Rodgers stayed true to his word. He may have tried a few funky positional tweaks during his final year in charge, but Milner was largely kept as a worker bee in central midfield. ‘He’ll never let you down, he’ll rarely lift you up off your seat’ was the mantra.
Under Klopp, all that has changed. Milner might not want to admit it, but maybe Manuel Pellegrini was right about keeping him in wide areas. Having made exactly that change, Klopp is reaping the rewards.
If Milner thought a wide role would lower his influence, he was wrong. In his last eight games (playing on the right) he has averaged more than 90 touches per 90 minutes, and his passes, chances created and shots per 90 minutes have all increased too. From central midfield drone – and therefore easily overlooked – Milner has become the Premier League’s assist king of 2016.
“It has always been a quiet strength,” Milner said last week. “I like to get forward and try to create as many chances as I can, and goals. That’s something I work on. You just want to contribute, whether it’s goals or assists. It’s nice to keep contributing.” It is indeed, Jimbo. You manager might just have reserved your seat on the plane to France.
6) Increasing the squad size through successful rotation
When Klopp arrived at Liverpool, his squad looked thin on the ground. In the eight league games that season, Rodgers had started only 18 players, and two of those (Joe Gomez and Danny Ings) had since been ruled out for the season.
If the assumption was that Klopp would immediately add to his first-team squad in January, it was proved incorrect. Marko Grujic was signed, but immediately loaned back to Red Star Belgrade, while Steven Caulker arrived on what can only be called a ‘comedy loan’.
Instead, Klopp has placed more trust in the fringe players. The rise of Divock Origi is the most notable, but there have been league starts too for Brad Smith, Sheyi Ojo, Connor Randall, Kevin Stewart and Danny Ward. Joe Allen joined Origi by the fire, warming themselves after being left out in the cold.
With participation in three competitions until March and two until May, Klopp was always likely to rotate. The German has been rewarded for the trust placed in youth. In his last 15 months in charge, Brendan Rodgers gave league starts to 30 different players, ten of whom have since departed on loan or permanently. Klopp has afforded league starts to 24 different players since the beginning of February.
Most importantly, rotation has come alongside achievement, not in its stead. In a league table calculated over that period, Liverpool sit fourth.