Sir Alex Ferguson has criticised Liverpool’s all-out pressing game, stating in a new Uefa technical report that Jurgen Klopp’s defeat in last season’s Europa League final came because they had no energy left by the second half
Ferguson, one of Uefa’s technical experts in the report analysing the 2016/17 Champions League and Europa League competitions, has offered rich praise of Klopp’s potential to restore Liverpool since he arrived at the club last October.
In the technical report, he praised Liverpool for knocking Sevilla out of their stride in the first half of last season’s final in Basel, which they lost 3-1. But he said that they were incapable of sustaining their intense pressure. “In the second half Liverpool had no energy, they could not get to the ball,” he said. “The space in midfield became bigger. I never had a team who could press a ball all season.” Liverpool led after 35 minutes in Switzerland, through Daniel Sturridge, but lost to second half goals from Kevin Gameiro and Coke.
Ferguson’s other main observation in his discussion of European club tactics for Uefa is that Barcelona demonstrated the need to continually evolve their football philosophy and not stick with one system. As manager of Manchester United, he often spoke of how, once Barcelona start playing in the rhythmic, fluent football Pep Guardiola helped introduce, it can be akin to a luggage carousel. They “get you on the carousel and can leave you dizzy,” he once said.
But despite Luis Enrique’s side suffering a shock quarter-final defeat to Atletico Madrid in last season’s Champions League, he was taken by their evolution into a far more penetrative team
“Where they had had a carousel of possession with no central striker they now have three excellent front strikers and play far more positively in terms of penetration,” Ferguson said. “They’re still looking for a different way of playing. I think that’s been the big change, for me, in the last two years.”
The Uefa report demonstrates that teams are prepared to ‘go long’ far more often, abandoning the almost exclusive pursuit of a short-passing game which Guardiola’s Barcelona were known for.
During 2014/15, long deliveries (30m or more) accounted for only nine per cent of the passing by six teams. In 2015/16, Paris Saint German were the only team to stay below double figures, while 16% of the passing by Malmö, Wolfsburg – who eliminated Manchster United – and Zenit St Petersburg was long.
Ferguson felt that tactics played less of a role in Real Madrid’s win in the final against Atletico. “As a game, it had its moments,” he reflected. “But it will be remembered for two teams driven by desire rather than tactical manoeuvring.”
The technical report examines in detail the decision managers face in whether engaging in the ‘high press’ that Klopp’s Liverpool has favoured or dropping deep. One of the problems it detects is the struggle to convert possession stolen by the high energy pressing into goal-scoring chances.
An observer writes of one unnamed group stage team: “They began the match by pressing high in the first 30 minutes and forcing their opponents into a lot of turnovers in their own half, but without being able to turn the regained possession into clear chances – partly because of good defending by their opponents and partly because they were reluctant to commit too many men forward to attack. They [then] focused on keeping a shape and defending well as a unit and were careful not to leave themselves open to counterattacks.”
Ferguson said a year ago that he could see a re-galvanised Liverpool under Klopp overtaking United. “Even at Newcastle when they lost the second goal he goes over to Steve McClaren to congratulate him,” he observed of the team’s 2-0 defeat in September. “That’s class. And the work he did at Dortmund. He’s going to make a difference at that club with his personality, drive and knowledge. Things are looking up there. I’m worried about him because the one thing United don’t want is Liverpool to get above us.”