SBN's blog The Liverpool Offside is truly stupendous, and we have had some fun doing some questions and answers ahead of this tie. TLO's latortillablanca is here to answer all the questions you have--or at least, the ones I had--about Liverpool.
Interestingly, his prediction for the first leg is the same as mine, and how often do we see a mention of the doble pivote apart from writing about Villarreal? Now all I need to do is get directions to Alberto Moreno's house....
Q: Liverpool are seventh in the EPL as of this email…if Klopp had been in charge the entire season, where would they be? If we look past Klopp's image and get down to the nitty-gritty, what tactical changes or personnel changes has he made to get things going? Or is it mostly about personality and being relaxed?
A: In Klopp’s first two-three months he’d taken less points per game than Brendan Rodgers had to that point in the season, and there are two ways to take that: Klopp did a worse job, or Rodgers had built such a momentous pile of steaming garbage that it took Klopp until the new year to sort it out.
The latter has held true as the points per game since the new year has improved to 1.6, we’ve put a three match winning streak together on two occasions, and claimed the scalps of Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund in European ties. It’s hard to Rodger’s 2015-16 Liverpool side managing any of that.
It’s been all of the above, really. His big personality draws a lot of the media attention, but not in a manufactured way, he’s given fringe players purpose, he’s reconciled the form of some key vets, he’s gotten more consistent magic from the leading lights, and done it all in this high octane counterpressing system that is bringing more goals.
Klopp saved Liverpool’s season by being perfect.
Q: As for the arc of the season--there have been some great performances, there have been some mediocre ones. What makes the difference? Who makes this team go?
A: Goals and midfielding. Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi, and a carefully handled Daniel Sturridge have led the charge on the goal front, and until their respective injuries it looked like this team had settled with the Emre Can-Jordan Henderson double pivot. That midfield was enabling stout defending, and feeding the attack more and more comfortably by the week.
That doesn’t really change now, even though the personnel will be most different (more on this in a moment) in midfield and defense, leaving that as the clearer area of concern.
Q: Liverpool seem to be peaking at the right time, in both Europa League and EPL--but how much will the injuries to Can, Origi and Henderson affect things?
A: Toss in the non-suspension that is actually a suspension for Mamadou Sakho’s testing positive after the Manchester United tie for a banned substance, and we’re missing core pieces of the lineups that have brought our swashbuckling best.
Dejan Lovren has been solid since Klopp has come in, but his absolute best has been alongside Sakho. Daniel Sturridge has been healthy thanks in no small part to Origi taking on a not unsubstantial portion of his burden in both minutes and goals. And Can and Hendo were just about getting the intricate beats of a stable double pivot down between them.
Not going to sugarcoat it, these misses dropped us from quietly confident to everything is the worst in the lead up to this tie.
Q: If you were scouting Liverpool, how would you set up your team to play them in a knockout round like this one?
A: Park a well-organized bus, congest the interior CAM positions that Lallana, Coutinho, and Firmino overlap in, hit the space behind Alberto Moreno on the break, and execute your set pieces.
You have to be calm on the ball from the back, and transition well from the jumbled, packed defensive lines to a sharp counterattack that exploits the wide spaces we will cede in such a way that it opens up the ones in the middle that we’re trying to protect.
We would think Bakambu’s pace simplifies a lot of this in terms of offense, so long as you can find the right pass in the right moment.
Q: How do you expect Liverpool to play this? I sure see a lot of 0-0, 1-1, 1-0 matches in the Europa League--will that be the goal, to play for 0-0 or 1-1 and then a win at Anfield? Or will it be a more wide open match do you think?
A: Under Klopp, Liverpool want to "play football", which means a pretty open game if you have the stomach for it. That isn’t to say we won’t defend, because we will, but you will certainly have your chances to grow into the game, if you so desire.
That said, Klopp’s a lot savvier in Europe than his predecessor. He seems to understand the importance of the away goal, and the home support as the ticket to success in a two-legged affair. Even if it means a 3-1 loss away, and taking a YNWA attitude back to a memorable European night at Anfield. Though, we are not sure our heart can take that sort of dram after the Dortmund tie.
Q: We've been used to hearing English clubs run down the Europa League for a long time--not worth competing in, not worth the effort. Is that how Liverpool started out the EL this year, and if so, when did they decide to get serious about this?
A; This was probably one of the venues where Brendan Rodgers was found out the most as a fledgling coach. Heading into this season there was talk about alternating elevens, but then about how this club is about winning things, yada, yada.
When it came down to it, we could never score in Europe under Rodgers, and Anfield was no longer an advantage. There are enough problems to deal with during continental competition to not create a few for yourself.
And probably because Liverpool were so awkward in Europe in recent time, that underscored this overarching sentiment that the Europa League is a lesser competition that isn’t worth the travel time it puts your team through.
That is obviously nonsense, as it is a highly prestigious tournament that generates tons of dosh, puts players in the limelight, and serves as a necessary training ground for any team that has machinations on competing across four competitions year in/year out. It’s just easier to see all of this when you are in a semi-final, instead of going out at the group stage.
Q: Is there any place in Liverpool, or the north of England for that matter, to get a decent paella? Or, when it comes to the second leg, will our travelling Yellows have to venture out of their culinary comfort zone?
A: After much back and forth, points and counterpoints, and blind taste tests, we have settled on one place and one place only for your paella needs: Alberto Moreno’s kitchen.
Q:What fun things should we know about the storied Liverpool that we don't already know?
A: Anfield was originally Everton’s home, our original kit was that hideously quartered jazz in blue and white, and the entire playing staff of the club’s first year was Scottish. Also, Daniel Sturridge is about 50% bionic at this point, and Kolo Toure is hilarious.
Q: Scoreline prediction for the first leg?
A: Going with a 2-1 loss that gives us just enough of a foothold for another edge of our seat thriller at Anfield. Going to take us a while to digest our recent losses, but the home support should be able to see us through in that scenario, in particular now they’ve got the bit between their teeth post-Dortmund.