A charming charisma typifies Jürgen Klopp’s managerial style. In many ways, he is the German equivalent of Brian Clough. So full of punch lines and so animated on the touchline as he leads his team. In the process, he has made his team a firm favourite among the neutrals.
That charisma however is so engulfing that much like Clough, it is sometimes difficult to assess Klopp’s tactical acumen. Indeed, while every game is somehow about him, there is a way in which he sets out his team that makes every game about them.
With quick transitions, ferocious pressing and rapid counter-attacks, Borrusia Dortmund has come to typify Klopp’s erratic nature. Meanwhile, his charisma and man-management has meant that any gap in quality has been bridged. With powerful powers of motivation, his team has come to believe that it can virtually achieve anything. On most occasions, it has.
But there is so far that charisma and man-management can take you – and that is evident by last season’s Champions League. Indeed, a wonderful run was punctuated by an unparalleled unbeaten run. When they did lose however, it was in the last two games of the competition. The second leg of the semi-final against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu may not have proved telling, but the final at Wembley against perennial rivals Bayern Munich certainly did.
It was in that Final especially that Klopp’s team seemed to run out of gas. In those dying minutes before Arjen Robben slotted home the winner, what was required was a little bit of quality. Probably, had Mario Götze been on the field, that would have materialised. But it was also revealing that in that moment, that fastidious drive to push further and faster forward had produced physical tiredness.
It is the one thing that Dortmund lacked in their Champions League run last season. For all their verticality and directness, they never had the calmness and composure to slow down and control the tempo.
That is what Klopp must adopt if he is to maintain the standard that he set last season. As such, there is nothing wrong with his strategy – as it has already ensured a run to the Final – but there is a sense that this strategy may not work out as well this time round.
Because for all their brilliance, there is no denying that an element of surprise guided them last season. By having performed dismally the previous year, it was easy to dismiss them. Coupled with a youthful exuberance that seemed to lack experience, there is no doubt many teams thought that they were there for the taking.
That was most clearly evident in last season’s semi-final. In the first leg in Germany, Dortmund took the lead before Real Madrid equalised just before half time. Buoyed by overconfidence, Madrid came out for the second half ready to take them on. In the process, they left gaps at the back which Dortmund exploited and which Robert Lewandowski fully capitalised on.
It means that Dortmund were highly reactive. At their best when attacked for that is when they could apply their counter-attacking nature with brutal efficiency.
Now, they must change and become highly proactive. With teams aware of their counter-attacking nature, the gaps at the back will be plugged. Thus, rather than have space in behind their opponents, Dortmund may find themselves with lots of space in front of them.
That is where they must work out a plan to become more probing, more patient and more penetrative. Without that, they will be left with frustration as they attempt to break down teams.
Indeed, success becomes a curse and by being second in last season’s competition, Klopp has brought about more awareness of his side’s capabilities. He must now alter the circumstances if he is to alter the consequences.
Credit to Klopp though for he has already had to alter his tactical plan. After the disappointing run two seasons ago, he realised that his team was playing a whirlwind type of football that ultimately made them wasteful. To rectify that, he made his team more poised and controlled for last season.
Yet, it is surprising just how quick they were last season. If that was poised and controlled, then Klopp may have to take it a step further.
- Jürgen Klopp …
- Manuel Pellegrini … (coming soon)
- Gerardo Martino …
- Antonio Conte … (coming soon)
[image courtesy of zimbio]