Anyone who has played soccer at any level will be familiar with certain truisms entrenched in the fabric of the game. At the highest levels of the game, though, the basic traits we’re taught as we learn the game — closing down opponents, working as a unit, springing into shape — haven’t always applied in the way. Now though, gradually, these rudimentary duties are creeping back into English soccer’s top flight again.
For Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, players are pressing, shutting off gaps, retreating back in defensive shells smartly; the kind of commands which are vital at the grassroots level, yet those traits have been forgotten as the English game has sought to immerse itself in tactical and technical-based trends.
It’d be reductionist to claim both Pochettino and Klopp employ the same principles, even if they are often branded as staunch purveyors of pressing in the mainstream media. However, there are key credos which clearly resonate with both, of which a high-intensity style of soccer is the most pertinent.
It’s not a style which has been prominent in successful sides in the Premier League in recent years. Last season’s champions Chelsea and Manchester City, who had won the league title in two of the three campaigns previously, aren’t high intensity sides, preferring to build meticulously, probe for opportunities and then spring into life in flashes. As is often the case in the Premier League, these sorts of patterns catch on. Managers look to these prosperous sides, and while those in the division’s mid- and lower-table don’t possess a quality of player similar to the elite outfits, there are stylistic segments which are sought to be replicated. So the skeleton of those systems have dripped down.
That’s often been the case in the top flight. When Liverpool came so close to winning the Premier League in 2013-14, they opted for a scarcely used diamond formation, catering to the attacking qualities of Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge. In the wake of their remarkable run, it was a system a plethora of teams started using. Similar happened during the glory days of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side. In the campaign following their treble triumph, teams were suddenly splitting center backs, having a holding midfield player drop between them and trying to play out from the back, regardless of the technical qualities of their personnel.