The two parts of Jurgen Klopp’s tactical model – furious pressing and direct, piercing attacks –have already fused into a cohesive system at Liverpool. Given that the aggressive, unsettling nature of this strategy is most effective against fragile and disorganised defences, Newcastle could be in for a battering. Steve McClaren could not be faced with a more daunting fixture.
Confidence is understandably low at St. James’ Park after conceding eight goals in two games against Leicester City and Crystal Palace, but whereas others may be capable of grinding out results to prevent a free-fall into the Championship, Newcastle’s insistence on attempting a considered, short-passing approach makes this task more difficult.
When self-esteem is low, nerves override muscle memory; technical skill and decision-making are the first things to suffer. This is why teams that refuse to go direct stay in a rut for longer (see Everton and Aston Villa last season) and why Newcastle have misplaced more passes in their own half (364) than any other Premier League team this campaign. Liverpool’s high pressing should disrupt and overwhelm Newcastle easily.
Newcastle are vulnerable to the Klopp system because of their wasteful possession, but also because of the huge spaces they leave between the defensive and midfield lines. Newcastle have conceded more shots per game (16.9) than any other team, and this is partly due to the 15-yard gaps that yawn open as the back four retreat fearfully and the middle five jog listlessly back from an attack. They have conceded seven goals from outside the box this season, with Crystal Palace’s first and third goals coming directly from these areas; Jack Colback and Vurnon Anita failed to make a single interception.
Liverpool’s 6-1 destruction of Southampton in midweek can only have deepened the sense of impending doom on Tyneside; this was a textbook Jurgen Klopp performance of tackling high up the pitch, achieved – alarmingly for Newcastle – without Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, and Jordan Henderson.
It's difficult to predict which four of his creative players Klopp will use, but he currently has seven playmakers or strikers playing at the top of their game.
Whichever team Klopp selects, it is difficult to envisage a scenario in which that swarming mass of bodies – constantly searching for support, making runs in behind, and attempting the clinical final ball – does not leave Newcastle’s misshapen defence confused and demoralised.
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