by Jack Meenan (@jackmeen15)
In July, Jurgen Klopp stated that he will leave Liverpool at the end of his contract in 2024. No ifs, no buts.
The man who has won just about everything there is to win – the European Cup, the Club World Cup and, of course, the holy grail – the English league championship – is impossible replace.
Indeed, no one can replace Klopp… but who – I wonder on this empty weekend without club football – is the best man to fill the void, when that void inevitably, one day, will need filling? Who is the best suit? Who has a history of getting his team playing the right way, verging on the Liverpool way ? Who, then, is not outlandishly dissimilar to Klopp, personality-wise and football-wise?
The answer? No one. On all counts.
Nevertheless, there are names in the proverbial hat – Steven Gerrard and Klopp’s assistant Pep Lijnders are just two (the media have made sure of that). But thankfully no name has to be drawn anytime soon – not for four years.
But let’s speculate. Let’s glance an eye at one or two possible replacements, or better: potential replacements. Let’s start with the obvious choice; a fellow countryman in fact. A very young, ambitious, no doubt driven manager who some believe is the perfect man for the job…
No surprises. It is Julian Nagelsmann:
Nagelsamann is the man who took German side Hoffenheim from the brink of relegation to Champions League competitors; the man who RB Leipzig fans will embrace forever, for he led the inexperienced club to the brink of a Champions League final.
The resources at his disposal at Leipzig are substantial, but to also break the Bundesliga duopoly is a monumental achievement.
His pedigree cannot be ignored.
Nagelsmann has also shown that a team under his tutelage can more than match, and outpass, outshoot, outmanoeuvre, and most importantly, outrun a top Premier League side, with his Leipzig team easily dispatching Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League round-of 16 last season.
Nagelsmann’s teams are clever because he is clever – purposefully malleable in his thinking when the odds are stacked against him. Indeed, Nagelsmann’s side showcased its ability to switch seamlessly from a three-man to a five-man defence, and if needs be, to a four-man block too.
This is not mere indecisiveness, but tactical flexibility, tactical nous. His side is balanced, and so is naturally strong defensively and offensively. His tactics are tailored to adapt. And his teams adapt with them.
One Giant Similarity
Now, there is a key similarity between Nagelsmann and Klopp. And it is no secret: their respective pressing games. The formation which Leipzig deploy will often change, with the forwards leading the press (defending from the front).Embed from Getty Images
Similar to Klopp’s Liverpool, Leipzig aim to create overloads on the wings. Nagelsmann does this with the use of wingbacks, forwards, and ‘the six’ to break up play if others are out of position. Once Leipzig lose the ball, they are quick to react, and aim to win the ball back as quickly as possible.
On the front foot
When it comes to attacking, Leipzig are patient and wait for their opportunity, building-up play from the back; looking to create gaps with sharp movement so then the centre-backs can progress the ball forward. Quick passing combinations between forwards is demanded. For that, sheer speed is a must – Nagelsmann looks in the market for it, and buys for it.
The way Nagelsmann plays is also perfect for wing backs and the likes of TAA and Robertson would thrive.
However, formation-wise, the area in which the two managers look almost irreconcilable is right up top. For the majority of the season, Leipzig used two centre-forwards – Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulson – with Poulson acting as more of a hold-up man and Werner doing the hard running. But this is changable, of course, as Werner could naturally drift out wide.
Fits FSG’s Model
The inference, then, very broadly is this: Nagelsmann is not too different to Jurgen Klopp, and with Nagelsmann being only 33, by the time Klopp leaves in 2024, he will only be 37 and so allows him plenty of time for him to develop his ideas and methods further.
His knack of developing players must also be a lure for FSG. The scouting structure at Liverpool under Klopp and Edwards is carefully rendered so the club knows who the ‘right’ player is, and thereby what the ‘right’ mould is – stylistically for example. That, in other words, is to suggest the scouting system is immensely intricate, therefore identifying players for the long-term.
How would a 20/21 Liverpool look under Nagelsmann?
A wild card choice? Marco Rose:
Another attendee of the Red Bull football school, Marco Rose is older than Nagelsmann but his impact at Monchengladbach was similar to that of Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim.
As a former player of Klopp’s at Mainz, their styles are very similar.
Rose focuses his tactics on the centre of the park, which will need to be adapted with the emphasis placed weightedly on attacking football at Liverpool. His teams will look for gaps and try and exploit the opposition’s defensive block with quick, slick passing between the forwards and the midfield.
At Gladbach, there has been greater emphasis placed on width due to a 4-2-3-1 through widemen Marcus Thuram and Jonas Hoffman, as well as from the full backs, Stefan Lainer and Rami Bensebaini.
Defensively, Rose is a advocate of the counter press, adjusting the defensive shape to fill gaps and stop the opposition in their tracks.
Out of players that played five games or more for Gladbach last season, all but four of the squad were recorded to have applied 15 counterpresses per 90, with the highest being Jonas Hoffman with 26.7 per 90.
How would a 20/21 Liverpool look under Rose?
Rose may be slightly older than Nagelsmann, but my choice in this imaginary world of 2024 would be the former.