Jurgen Klopp celebrating with the Liverpool supporters after the win over Bayen Munich at the Allianz Arena (Getty Images)When Jurgen Klopp was appointed Liverpool manager back in October 2015, editors across the land were falling over themselves in a bid to shoehorn the words ‘heavy’ ‘metal’ and ‘football’ into their headlines.
It was Klopp himself who coined the phrase ‘heavy metal football’ during his time with previous club Borussia Dortmund prior to a Champions League game against Arsenal in November 2013 and it was a soundbite subsequently lapped up by the British media.
Discussing the differences between his and Arsene Wenger’s footballing philosophies, Klopp quipped: ‘He likes having the ball, playing football, passes … it’s like an orchestra. But it’s a silent song. I like heavy metal.’
He reiterated his footballing preferences in his very first interview after joining Liverpool, saying: ‘My teams must play at full throttle and take it to the limit every single game.’
Heavy metal or full throttle, the idea was that Klopp would implement a fast-paced style at Liverpool based around the high pressing of spaces (Gegenpressing), quick transitions and creating overloads in attack. Essentially, it was pressing an opponent as soon as a ball was lost, winning it back and then immediately flying forward in numbers.
Jurgen Klopp coined the phrase ‘heavy metal football’ before Borussia Dortmund played Arsenal in 2013 (Getty Images)That kind of style was perfectly suited to Dortmund, a club that at the time had a nucleus of exciting young talent with the legs and enthusiasm to carry out such instructions and a partisan home crowd, more than willing to roar them on. Having succeeded there, it is easy to see why Klopp was attracted to Liverpool where the conditions on and off the pitch were similar.
Somewhat ironically, the most obvious example of ‘heavy metal football’ during Klopp’s opening months at Anfield, came during a Europa League game against Dortmund. Then managed by Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund were slowly moving away from their former manager’s style towards a more possession-based approach, but Julian Weigl aside it was a squad that had been assembled by Klopp.
Dortmund flew out of the traps, racing into a 2-0 lead within nine minutes thanks to future Arsenal teammates Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Divock Origi pulled one back before Marco Reus quickly restored Dortmund’s two-goal advantage. Liverpool needed three goals to progress and they duly came inside the final 25 minutes through Philippe Coutinho, Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren.
It was heavy metal football vs heavy metal football, a playground game masquerading as a European quarter-final. Klopp was unsurprisingly thrilled at the spectacle his current and former clubs had managed to conjure up, saying: ‘That was football at its best, a great game to experience for everyone involved.’
Liverpool’s run to last season’s Champions League final had a similarly full-throttle feel to it. They topped a relatively straightforward group containing Sevilla, CSKA Moscow and Maribor, scoring 23 goals in the process before putting five past each of Porto and Manchester City followed by seven against Roma in the knockout rounds.
Prior to the final in Kyiv, Liverpool had already broken the record for the number of goals scored in a single Champions League campaign with an astonishing 46 – including the six they scored against Hoffenheim in the qualifying round of the competition. In Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, they had three players each on 10+ goals, another record.
It was ludicrously entertaining football that embodied the style Klopp had talked up on his arrival.
Liverpool’s 7-6 aggregate win over Roma encapsulated their top-heavy approach (Getty Images)Nevertheless, there was a sense throughout their exhilarating Champions League run that for all the quality of their attacking play, Liverpool were a touch too top-heavy, as emphasised during their semi-final meeting with Roma.
Liverpool were dominant for all but perhaps15 of the 180 minutes, yet only ended up winning it 7-6 on aggregate, itself a ridiculous scoreline at such a stage in the Champions League. Both at home and away, Liverpool invited Roma onto them in the final ten minutes and on each occasion, Roma scored twice. Even when Liverpool seemed in control they had the capacity to fall apart.
The same was true in the final when Liverpool were defeated 3-1 by Real Madrid in what was, for the most part, an even contest.
Liverpool’s desire to play fast-paced, attacking football at times left them short at the other end of the pitch and their style has been noticeably reigned in a touch throughout the current campaign with a far better balance struck between attack and defence.
That has been obvious during a Premier League campaign in which Liverpool have only conceded 17 goals in 30 games and kept 17 clean sheets in total and it was in evidence again in the Champions League last-16 second leg against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.
A 0-0 draw at Anfield in the first leg left the tie in the balance but Liverpool rarely looked troubled during the return in Munich, as a double from Sadio Mane and a thumping header from Virgil van Dijk handed them a 3-1 victory on the night and on aggregate overall.
Sadio Mane and Virgil Van Dijk were on target as Liverpool beat Bayern Munich (Getty Images)Having conceded six over two legs against Roma last term, Liverpool restricted a side containing Robert Lewandowski, James Rodriguez and Franck Ribery to just one and even that was scored by a Liverpool player – Joel Matip turning a cross into his own net. It was a performance that was the polar opposite of that helter-skelter meeting with Dortmund early on in Klopp’s reign.
Rather than relentlessly pressing Bayern high up the pitch, Liverpool were happy to sit off them in the opening stages with Bayern enjoying 63% possession and completing 340 passes to their visitors’ 194 in the opening 45 minutes. Despite having more of the ball, though, Bayern barely looked like troubling Liverpool’s backline with the midfield shuffling dutifully across to plug any gaps that emerged.
Mane’s opening goal – a wonderful solo effort that left Manuel Neuer seeing stars – gave Liverpool the boon of an away goal and although Bayern managed to find a route back into the game, Liverpool regrouped after the break and delivered a masterful counter-attacking display in the second half.
Again, Bayern edged possession, but their use of the ball compared to Liverpool’s was sterile. For their 52% of the ball, Bayern failed to muster a single shot on target, while Liverpool had four. They picked their moments expertly, first capitalising on Bayern’s weakness at set-pieces through Van Dijk and then catching them cold late on when Salah’s brilliant ball was nodded in by Mane.
Liverpool have enjoyed some memorable European nights under Klopp reaching two finals in three years, but this was by far the most complete performance they have put together in the Champions League during his time in charge.
Klopp celebrating Mane’s second goal with his substitute (Getty Images)It was made abundantly clear during both legs that Bayern are a faded force, yet still, Liverpool dealt with them authoritatively and deserve credit for denying them a quarter-final place for the first time in eight years. No team will fancy meeting Liverpool in the quarters.
Before the game, Klopp responded irritably to pundits suggesting that Liverpool should lose to Bayern on purpose so as to free up space in their schedule and focus on the Premier League, the suggestion being that they don’t have sufficient depth to compete for both.
Liverpool proceeded to make a mockery of that school of thought with an excellent all-round display. It might not be heavy metal football that Klopp promised but this slightly more orchestral style has better-equipped Liverpool to challenge for major honours.
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