How a focus on set-pieces and having 18 different throw-ins transformed Liverpool
The shake-up, caused by Zeljko Buvac's departure, led to changes including being more dynamic at throw-ins according to Jurgen Klopp
It is more than a year now since the successful group of the heart, the brain and the eye were broken up.
Temporarily, it initially seemed, but probably permanently. Zeljko Buvac, assistant manager at Mainz, Borussia Dortmund and then Liverpool took a leave of absence for unspecified personal reasons, before leaving Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp had branded the long-haired Bosnian, and his long-serving sidekick, as “the brain”. Klopp himself, obviously, was “the heart”. Peter Krawietz, the German who had linked up with Klopp when Mainz’s chief scout, was “the eye”.
A year ago, without Buvac by his side, Klopp was asked if he was lonely ahead of a Champions League final.
Fast forward 12 months and the questions have changed. Klopp remains the charismatic front man, swallowing all the attention, but his backing band has expanded and excelled.
“I don’t normally speak about it because I will forget somebody and that wouldn’t show the respect that I want to show,” the German said.
“They all know how important they are because we don’t hide our praise in our daily work. But to speak about it publicly is not always easy because there are so many.”
Pivotal among them is Pep Lijnders, the Dutchman who, a year ago, had just finished an ill-fated spell in charge of NEC Nijmegen. Klopp lured the former first-team development coach back to Anfield. The 36-year-old has brought fresh energy to the backroom staff.
“I still don’t know what his title is,” Klopp said. For the record, it is assistant manager. “Pep Lijnders, I could write a book about him, about what a fantastic young coach he is, what a lively presence he is, how big the influence of his optimism is and how lively he is on the training pitch.
"It is just a fact. I was like that when I was young and I am not like that any more, that’s how it is. You cannot use the [same] words always and again... so it gives me the opportunity to watch and to go in the right way.”
Klopp namechecked others: Mona Nemmer, the head of nutrition; Jack Robinson and John Achterberg, the goalkeeping coaches who have helped Alisson excel; Thomas Gronnemark, the throw-in coach whose appointment was greeted with scepticism in some quarters.
“It’s not obvious because when people talk about throw-ins they think it’s a long throw-in and you head it in,” Klopp said. “No, we have 18 [different] throw-ins in other areas and we want to have the ball after these throw-ins. It makes no sense if you have a throw and then after a 50-50 situation. So how that improves is massive.”
The importance of new ideas was reflected in a more pragmatic reboot that helped Liverpool get 97 points. Klopp’s zany persona can camouflage an attention to detail.
Set-pieces became more of a focus and they scored a Premier League high 20 goals from dead-ball situations, nine more than in 2017-18.
“We decided at the start of the season we needed more consistency,” Klopp said. “And it was clear that [with] the talent of the boys who take set pieces and crosses, that we just didn’t score enough from these situations. So we focused on that a lot more; not more [in terms of] time but in a different way.
The analysis department came up with proposals for what we could do and we work on them. It is just brilliant what the outcome is. The boys enjoy it meanwhile. At the beginning it wasn’t quite like that but now they enjoy [the practice] because when it works out it’s brilliant.”
Should Liverpool win the Champions League, the same may be said of Klopp’s new-look supporting cast.
Updated: May 26, 2019 09:31 AM