Jurgen Klopp isn’t particularly accustomed to relegation battles.
The German coach has been afforded the luxury of working with the likes of Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund throughout his managerial career, with those typically able to compete for the biggest honours rather than having to avoid the biggest perils.
His playing career was different. In fact, it was during a fight to avoid relegation that Klopp began to absorb the tactical principles which would later shape his strategic methods as a coach.
During his time as a player at Mainz 05, Wolfgang Frank was employed mid-season to save the club from impending relegation. Frank was a pupil of Arrigo Sacchi’s work, who had delivered success at AC Milan during the late 1980s.
Frank showed Klopp and the rest of his players endless amounts of footage relating to Sacchi’s Milan, and specifically how the Italian outfit behaved on the training ground. The Serie A side developed a reputation for their peculiar sessions, with an emphasis placed on zonal defending and shifting as a cohesive unit.
Rather than solely moving in conjunction to opposing players, Sacchi believed that his team should also defend space depending on the location of the ball. “All of our players had four reference points,” he said, “the ball, the space, the opponent and his own teammates. Every movement had to happen in relation to these reference points. “
Mainz managed to avoid relegation thanks to Frank’s Sacchi-inspired methods. They finished mid-table after the German installed his football, which incorporated a zonal approach to pressing high up the field.
Klopp’s experiences with Frank shaped his own playing style. His current Liverpool team uphold many of the principles that Sacchi’s Milan represented and on Tuesday night, the 54-year-old will visit the San Siro for the first time.
The famous San Siro, in which Sacchi once showcased the brand of football that would later be modernised at Anfield, will host the Reds for the first time since Inter Milan suffered at the hands of Fernando Torres over a decade ago.
“This Liverpool team has been inspired by the Milan of Arrigo Sacchi, for sure,” said Pep Lijnders – Klopp’s assistant – ahead of the contest.
“Jurgen has said before that many of the foundations of his philosophy were based on the principles of the Milan coach.
“There are so many elements that touched us both. Firstly the emphasis on the offside trap, secondly the zonal defending and thirdly how he kept his teams tight with and without the ball but without taking freedom away from the individuals.”
Indeed, the Reds have caught more players offside than any other team from Europe’s top five leagues this season, with a total of 68. They also face the fifth-fewest shots on average, while shooting more often than all but one team on the attacking side of the game.
“This Liverpool team is a masterpiece,” Sacchi recently told Jamie Carragher in his column for the Daily Telegraph.
Indeed, they are a reincarnated version of his special Milan side in many ways and this week, the two clubs will clash in Europe’s leading competition.
Thankfully, as a consequence of Klopp’s impervious system, the Reds have already secured one of the knockout spots that Milan are still chasing.Internet Explorer Channel Network