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03 May 2018

Liverpool are writing new rules for European success

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Played their own game

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If it’s not broken...

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Keep on trucking

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Taking the initiative

Reuters/John Sibley

This has been a year which has seen the Reds rip up the Champions League record books and upset the establishment. A season in which attacking philosophies have regained their place at the forefront of elite football. 

It’s also the season in which Liverpool have bounded energetically from dark horses to thoroughbred finalists.

Entering through a fourth-placed finish in the Premier League and forced to dispose of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim before being allowed to take part in the money-spinning group stages, Liverpool have bulldozed their way to this year’s final. 

Jürgen Klopp’s unorthodox approach is unique in that no other manager puts themselves as a fan first and a manager second. Accused of naivety and stubbornness in equal measures, it’s beginning to look like he was right all along. 

Played their own game

European football has long been deemed the ultimate game of nous, a game of tactical cat and mouse that is more akin to chess than the traditional sport of the working classes. 

With fluid systems and experimental formations, strategies have been regarded as vital in giving a team the edge.

Reuters/John Sibley

Adapting an overarching gameplan to best counteract the opposition’s strengths is still not without merit. 

However, Klopp removed much of the convolution this season and made it all about his players. His unswerving belief in Liverpool’s plan A has proved enough to hurdle every obstruction in their way along the road to Kiev.

If it’s not broken...

Furthermore, and somewhat ironically given Klopp’s penchant for rotation, continuity in team selection has been an important part of Liverpool’s team selection during this campaign. 

Similar to Chelsea’s march to the Premier League title last season and Manchester City’s this, a trusted core of players have been used for the majority of their games. 

 Five of the six knockout games have fielded the same starting eleven with the exception of the right-midfield berth currently being occupied by Georginio Wijnaldum. 

REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The only match to break this trend was the relative dead-rubber of a home tie against Porto which was played to the backdrop of a 5-0 advantage.

With injuries to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Emre Can it can be argued that these changes wouldn’t have been made at all. It can also be argued that more changes would have been brought in if Klopp had more options available within what is a relatively limited squad size. 

What can’t be argued is that Klopp has found his strongest team and he’s firmly decided to stick with it for his most important fixtures.

Keep on trucking

The common notion that protecting a lead is essential to closing out a win has been abandoned. 

Liverpool tried that in Rome last night with the introduction of Ragnar Klavan for man-of-the-match Sadio Mané. 

Reuters/John Sibley

The result of attempting to stifle Roma’s late surge with an 83rd-minute formation change was for the Italians to snatch two late goals as Liverpool tried to reorganise their defences in Turin. 

Having been presented a similar option going into this match, Klopp chose attack as his form of defence and this was what ultimately cemented the tie in Liverpool’s favour. 

If this approach had proven fruitless then the manager would currently be sitting under a deluge of criticism and scorn for perceived short-sightedness. 

Taking the initiative

Pragmatism and pessimism have soaked through our culture and stained the approach of football in recent years, such is the worry of missing out on success. Klopp continues to choose risking all and this breath of fresh air is currently favouring the brave.

With a defence that can’t be entirely trusted, Liverpool have been putting all of their chips on red. Three Reds actually – the ones at the top end of the field for Liverpool. 

Blisteringly fast starts have been aimed at taking the initiative in a game from which they can control proceedings. While control has been grasped in the loosest sense, it has been enough to secure safe passage.

Liverpool have built at least a 3-goal advantage in the first round of each knockout tie as well as the four preceding games during the group stages. 

It’s a move which has injected much-needed excitement into this season’s tournament and won over the majority of neutrals in doing so. Whether it can win the coveted trophy from a team who stand for the traditional order of the competition remains to be seen in three weeks time.