Klopp and Guardiola; the difference

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By Reliance Udoenyin

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City may have won the domestic treble, being the first and only male team to do so as well as beat Jugen Klop to the premier league title back to back recording 100 points in his second season, the first premier league manager to do so but no. That's not the difference this is about.


What many may not know is that Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola play the same style of football but why is Klopp about to run the season unbeaten and Pep is never coming close? Why was Klopp the first to hand Pep Guardiola his first Klopp-Pep league defeat in that 4-3 thriller two seasons ago? Why has Klopp's Liverpool succeeded in Champions league finals back to back, wining it the second time coming but Pep is yet to get pass the quarter finals? This is an ultimate search for answers.


History of football says “Counterpressing” is not a really new concept. Reference has been made to the big Dutch teams – Ernst Happel’s Feyenoord, Rinus Michels’ Ajax Amsterdam and the Dutch National team with Johan Cruijff as captain. These teams it's believed adopted a formation that saw them pressed immediately when losing the ball.




Nonetheless, the coast wasn't clear as at the time until Arrigo Sachi's AC Milan. Before Sachi's, most teams immediately dropped back after losing the ball; often the strikers just stayed passive and upfront, the others trying to drop in front of the defenders and the defenders not really advancing anyways. But, Sachi introduced a pattern of football that saw players counterpress immediately after losing the ball. Sachi was very offensive and aggressive with his counterpressing. Hence many have credited Sachi as the umpire of the counter pressing.


Rene Maric, football analyst on Spielverlagerung.de notes that "Sacchi’s Milan did not press all the time highly nor did they always counterpress. Because of this, Milan wasn’t as consistent, fast and collective in their counterpressing as their modern counterparts would be. The players around the ball would sometimes counterpress with the other players dropping deeper again or wait", only a little twist to the conventional approach before then on losing the ball. 


Pep Guardiola and Jugen Klop however set the tone too high and made counterpressing, now attributed to Klopp for its popularity as Gengenpressing, very beautiful and admirable. Yes, both coaches adopted Sachi's counterpressing but with a great improvement and changes to the goal at which the pattern is played in the first place. For Sachi the goal was to ensure stable defensive shape, stop or prolong oppositional counter and then start pressing again. His method was however crude and inconsistent, opening more gaps since the players leaving their zone to counterpress would do it individually and not being followed by the other players in the team. Klopp and Guardiola created a much different structure to Sacchi’s team in counterpress.


Just so we're clear, Counter pressing or what many call the Gengenpressing is a style of football at which the players instead of running behind to form a defensive shape on losing the ball press forward to the opponent to regain the ball immediately thereby halting whatever attacking threat the opponent may conceive and put forward at the time.


Guardiola does this but with more focused on regaining position and ensuring no deformation to his attacking shape and to be able to secure the ball. Then Pep will rearrange his players with short ground passes, building on attack again. The goal for Guardiola according to Maric is clear: Don’t allow the opponents to build attacks, don’t let them build up calmly and try to get the ball back as fast and high as possible. By so doing, Pep will enjoy more possessional play while launching attack forward. 


Unlike Guardiola, Klopp sees counterpressing differently. Klop doesn't wait to regain organized possession and positional play with the ball before launching attack just as Pep would do. For Klopp, counter pressing is the best play maker and creates the best shots. Klopp operates on the school of thought that when the opposition tries to counter, they surrender their offensive structure whereas your team is still in it’s offensive structure. If you are able to win the ball at this moment, you’ll find gaps in the oppositional shape to attack them with your attacking players already in the proper positions and orientations. Simply put, Klopp doesn't want to enjoy possession and regain shape before laughing attack. On losing the ball, Klop's men press to regain the ball and on succeeding, attack is being launched immediately with penetrating passes and dribbes forward when the opposition is still vulnerable to conceding spaces while attempting to regain defensive shape. When you have Mo Salah, Firminho, and Mane with great pace together always waiting like a roaring lion seeking for whom to devour you'll understand why Klopp's Liverpool is best at this. Moreso, Klopp has pacy wing backs whom are also unleashed forward to do the damages. In fact Curtis Davies gave a better explanation of this after Liverpool thrashed Hull City 5-1 at Anfield. “They are a side which literally plays with Henderson and the two centre-halves at the back and the rest can go wherever they want.


“That is not an ill-disciplined thing. That is organised. That is what causes all the problems – the inter-changing, the good football, the passing…”. 


Klopp enjoys it high and 'unorganized'. When explaining his football philosophy compared to Arsene Wenger then of Arsenal, Klopp said “He likes having the ball, playing football, passes. It’s like an orchestra. But it’s a silent song. I like heavy metal more. I always want it loud.”. Heavy metal football, that's what he calls it. The intensity, the energy, the pace, the unorganized organized, the uncontrolled controlled but immediate attack is Jugen Klopp's, unlike Pep. This is what has worked for Klopp from Mainz 05 and BVB in Germany and the man has perfected his skill set and Philosophy in Liverpool with enough resources better than what he could've gotten in any of the previous Clubs he has coached.


 In reality Klopp had never been a fan of Barcelona Tiki-Taka style of play. When discussing this the back to Back Bundesliga winner(2010/2011 and 2011/2012) with Dortmund said “It is not my sport. I don’t like winning with 80% [possession]. Sorry that is not enough for me. Fighting football, not serenity football, that is what I like.


“What we call in German ‘English’ — rainy day, heavy pitch, 5-5, everybody is dirty in the face and goes home and cannot play for weeks after.”. In summary, Klopp's team run you out and get you exhausted. Now, you should understand why Naby Keita despite fitting into the Liverpool set up just perfectly even from his first kick of the ball for the reds barely enjoys first team shirt because there's no home in Klopp's Liverpool for circulating passes.



Another reason why the Liverpool's sixth champions league winner has been completely different from Pep Guardiola and is now regarded as the master of Gengenpressing is that Klopp has learnt to be conservative with his "high metal" football. For instance, in the 2019 UCL final against Tottenham, with both managers (Jugen klopp and Mauricio Pochettino) known for high pressing football, many expected an electrifying final, ladened with goals. But this wasn't to be. That early penalty that gave Liverpool an early lead changed the course of the match. Klopp became conservative with his high pressing football just to preserve the lead but to show his perfection of his football philosophy added another goal to end it 2-0. Yes, you also described the final as boring didn't you? But who cares! Victory was secured! The reds became six times European champions courtesy of Jugen Klopp. This is something Pep Guardiola is yet to learn. Guardiola launches it forward from the blast of the whistle to the end. You remember the recent Man City defeat to Wolves? Even with Ederson Moraes sent off, reducing the Manchester blue to ten men, Man City went on to score two goals. But, how did they lose the match 3-2 to Wolves after leading 2-0 from first half? With his first team defenders out injured (Aymeric Laporte etc), Pep should've resolved to damage control with 2 goals in the bag and a man down but no he wouldn't. Guardiola believes in how many goals is scored whereas Klopp believes in the spirit at which each goal is scored.






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