MARTIN KEOWN: Liverpool’s high press is a deadly weapon… Key for Tottenham is to beat it

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MARTIN KEOWN’S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL PREVIEW: Liverpool’s high press is a deadly weapon… Key for Tottenham is to beat it

  • Jurgen Klopp’s counter-pressing philosophy is what Tottenham need to beat
  • Liverpool win the ball back high up the pitch and attack with ruthless speed  
  • Virgil van Dijk clocked the fastest speed of any player in the Champions League 
  • Mauricio Pochettino faces a tough decision over if he should start Harry Kane

In September 2016, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said: ‘No playmaker in the world can be as good as a good counter-pressing situation.’

That is his philosophy, and that is what Tottenham must try to beat. Liverpool like to win the ball back high up the pitch then attack at speed, using the bodies they leave in advanced positions.

We saw that against Barcelona at Anfield in the semi-final second leg. Trent Alexander-Arnold won possession on the right wing then less than six seconds later, Liverpool had a goal — as our graphic on the right shows.

Jurgen Klopp's counter-pressing philosophy is what Tottenham must beat on Saturday

Jurgen Klopp’s counter-pressing philosophy is what Tottenham must beat on Saturday

En route to this final, Klopp’s men averaged 2.59 passes in the space of 8.01 seconds when scoring, whereas the average for the competition is 3.91 passes per goal over 12.56 seconds.

FASTEST PLAYERS IN THE CL THIS SEASON 

21.43mph: Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool (v Barcelona)

21.37mph: Leroy Sane, Man City (v Hoffenheim)

21.25mph: Nemanja Radonjic, Red Star Belgrade (v Red Bull Salzburg) 

They suffocate their opponents. In midfield, Fabinho will mostly sit but whoever plays beside him will join the front three in their press.

In the Champions League this season, Ajax won possession 86 times in the final third — the most in Europe’s elite competition. Behind them are Liverpool on 70, then Manchester City on 61. Tottenham got the better of City over two legs in the quarter-finals, then beat Ajax in the semi-finals.

Now, they have to do the same against Liverpool if they are to cap a remarkable season.

Super-fast van

Virgil van Dijk is a greyhound. No player in the Champions League has clocked a faster speed than him this season, so he has the legs to cope with balls over the top.

However, it is important to remember he is just one man. He cannot control the entire backline. 

He needs help, and I wonder whether Klopp might be tempted to rekindle Van Dijk’s partnership with the fast-paced Joe Gomez. That might seem harsh on Joel Matip but these top-level managers are ruthless. Klopp will do what he sees fit.

Virgil van Dijk clocked the fastest speed of any player in the Champions League this season

Virgil van Dijk clocked the fastest speed of any player in the Champions League this season

The Kane conundrum

The Champions League semi-finals showed us how it is not purely about the players and whether they perform well on the night. Tactics play a major part. Mauricio Pochettino got his wrong against Ajax in the first leg. Then he rectified that in the second leg.

You don’t get two chances in a final so he has to get it right. The big question is, does he start Harry Kane? I think he does. Kane is their king. He leads from the front and everyone else follows.

Lucas Moura was magnificent against Ajax but it might be that he misses out. Ruthless decisions have to be made.

Mauricio Pochettino faces a tough decision as to whether he should start Harry Kane

Mauricio Pochettino faces a tough decision as to whether he should start Harry Kane

Space invaders

Liverpool’s full backs are probably the best in Europe. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are used as weapons by Klopp. When you look at modern-day full backs, they’re wingers who defend, and that’s what these two do.

They work hard and they press high, as per the Klopp system. The danger of that is they leave holes behind them. That is what Tottenham must try to exploit.

Moura is a speedster, as is Son Heung-min, and Dele Alli is no slouch either. If Spurs can cope with their opponents closing them down and knock balls into those empty spaces, then they could have joy in Madrid.

That will test the pace of Liverpool’s central defenders who will have to cover for their full backs.

Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are probably the best full-backs in Europe

Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold are probably the best full-backs in Europe

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