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Jose Mourinho wrong about Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool again with outdated criticism

The biggest Premier League match on the calendar took place on Sunday with Manchester United playing host to Liverpool at Old Trafford.

To cover the high-profile clash, Sky Sports assembled their team of big-name experts. Roy Keane was involved, as was Graeme Souness, Jamie Carragher, Gary Neville and Jose Mourinho.

The match failed to live up to expectations, though, ending 1-1 with Adam Lallana securing a late draw for the visiting side. Throughout, the Reds struggled to impose their game as effectively as usual, with Jurgen Klopp stating after the contest: "This year, last year and the year before, they just defended."

That statement was quickly forwarded to Mourinho in the studio, with the former United boss responding to a critique of Liverpool in regard to their attacking game.

"They (Liverpool) have limitations against teams with low blocks," he said. "They can smash opponents that play the way they want to play."

There was a degree of animosity in the words of the former United boss, but regardless, his take on Liverpool is very much outdated.

Klopp's side, since around January 2018 when Virgil van Dijk arrived at the club, have demonstrated a proficiency when tasked with breaking down defenses that employ a low block.

The tactic involves a deeper line of engagement, whereby Liverpool are effectively invited into the final third by the opposing team. The opposition then aims to soak pressure for large periods, with a view to counter-attacking when presented with the opportunity to do so, with an example pictured below.

Newcastle revert to a low block at Anfield to allow Liverpool attacking the space behind their defense
Newcastle revert to a low block at Anfield to allow Liverpool attacking the space behind their defense

Low blocks can be difficult to break down because of lack of space in behind. Everything happens ahead of the defense, shape is retained, and Liverpool instead has to rely on intricate, shrewd possession-play rather than speed.

United, coincidentally, are suffering from that problem at present. Newcastle United employed a low block against the Manchester club fairly recently, and Solskjaer's team failed to score because of the likes of Marcus Rashford and Daniel James.

During Klopp's early years on Merseyside, Liverpool struggled against the likes of West Brom, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Hull City and Newcastle. Rather than allowing Liverpool to use their pace by stretching the play and playing expansively, those sides instead opted to sit back, granting possession and force the Reds into creating.

This placed an emphasis on Liverpool's deeper players to forge openings, with players such as Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino unable to influence proceedings as much as usual due to the lack of space around them.

In 2017, Liverpool lost 2-0 to Hull, before then beating Spurs 2-0. In the following match, the Reds lost 3-1 to Claudio Ranieri's deep defending Leicester City, before battering Arsenal 3-1. That four match sequence epitomized Liverpool's problem.

Gradually, though, with effective recruitment, tactical development and work on the training ground, Klopp improved his team's prospects against teams of this nature.

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Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson Becker, Fabinho and van Dijk sured up Liverpool's defensive game while also offering considerably more in attack than the players they had replaced. The offensive profiles of the two full-backs in particular allowed Klopp to use his central midfielders as primarily defensive-phase players, rather than burdening them with creating.

Robertson and Alexander-Arnold now effectively operate the wingers against low block opponents, with the last breaking Premier League record last season for most assists made by defending.

In addition to signing deeper players with valuable offensive qualities, Liverpool also sold Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian is incredibly gifted, but he was problematic for the Reds in the sense that he's inclined to dominate his team's attack.

The 27-year-old tends to demand plenty of the ball while also taking plenty of shots, similar to Lionel Messi at Barcelona which is perhaps why pairing the two in the same team resulted in one suffering.

Based on the past four seasons excluding the current campaign, Coutinho has averaged 52 passes per 90 in all competitions, compared to Sadio Mane's 32, and he's also posted around 3.4 shots per 90 over the same period compared to Mohamed Salah's 3.3.

“Coutinho was a very dominant player in our game," Klopp said when the Brazilian departed, "on a good day it makes you more unpredictable if you don't have this dominant player."

Coutinho possesses traits that can be applied to breaking down low block defenses, but his departure from Anfield allowed the Reds to transition wholly into their new offensive shape, pictured below.

The attacking shape Liverpool have used since Coutinho's sale
The attacking shape Liverpool have used since Coutinho's sale

Those are the vague positions that are taken up by Klopp's players whenever possession is secured. The team are now much more suited to breaking down stubborn defenses than before.

If the front three are struggling for space, then it is likely that Robertson and Alexander-Arnold will be unoccupied and vice versa. If opposing teams try to escape the pressure by hitting long, then it's reasonable to suggest that Joel Matip or van Dijk will command the resulting aerial duel.

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Liverpool played 20 matches against bottom bottom ten sides in Premier League last season, winning every single match having scored 59 goals while conceding only 11. Manchester City for example, managed to win 18 of those matches and suffered twice, while United won only 14 times.

Not every opponent used a low block, but it's clear that Liverpool's previous limitations have been eradicated over time, regardless of whether Mourinho recognizes it.

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