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Liverpool have been forced into a drastic change, and front-three are benefiting most

The Reds have had to alter how they setup and press this season due to an increased schedule, but it hasn't altered how effective they are in crucial areas.

The physical demands placed upon players in elite-level football have always been intense. However, in the hothouse atmosphere of the 2020/21 season, where the same number of club matches have to be squeezed into a tighter time frame while international teams play more, not fewer, games in each of their allotted fortnights, the workloads the players are facing have reached insane levels.

Not that Liverpool or their supporters need reminding of that of course. Fifteen different first team players at the club have missed at least one match thanks to injury or illness in this campaign, which has had the knock-on effect of preventing the reliable workhorses from getting a break when they need one.

While certain players will remain unavailable for some time yet, it appears the Reds are close to putting the worst of their injury crisis behind them. Nonetheless, there can be few managers that are more demanding to play for than Jürgen Klopp. His famously forceful brand of football requiring levels of fitness and preparation that will be hard to come by in this unprecedented season.

The difficulties which the champions have had in maintaining their intensity have been reflected in their statistics for pressing ( via FBRef.com ) as the 2020/21 campaign has progressed.

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Liverpool averaged 148 pressures per match in their Premier League title winning season, and 163 on their way to finishing second the year before. They flew out of the traps this term by posting 174 against Leeds United in the opening match. There was a dip to 152 against Chelsea, but that was to be expected when half of the game was spent in almost total control against 10 men.

The figures have continued to drop ever since though, and their average now stands at 134 per league match. The decline in their final third pressing has arguably been even starker.

Again, Liverpool started 2020/21 strongly on this front. They pressed opponents in the final third between 74 and 78 times in each of their opening three league games. Yet across their last seven matches, the total of 238 pressures in the attacking third is barely more than the 226 they managed in their opening trio of league fixtures.

The Reds’ average for the season is now down to 46 per match, and the proportion of their presses in the final third is at a season-low of 34 per cent too.

No doubt some of this drop is a deliberate tactical choice to protect the soft tissues of the players, and nobody could blame those that take the field for not being in peak physical condition at present.

But wait. The drop in pressing frequency might appear to be a concern, and considering how vital it is to how Liverpool play, that’s understandable. It would be wrong to judge the Reds in isolation though, and a look across the Premier League illustrates why.

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In the English top flight last season, a team made an average of 162 pressures per game. If your first thought is, “that’s quite a few more than Liverpool made” then don’t forget that only Manchester City had a higher possession average in 2019/20, and a team can’t press when they already have the ball.

And while the Reds’ pressures per game have dropped by 10 per cent on last season, across the division as a whole pressing has decreased by 17 per cent. Only Everton, Sheffield United and Tottenham have seen a smaller proportional drop in pressing than Liverpool have experienced, and every club who was in the top flight both last season and this has seen a decrease of some level.

Coincidentally there has also been a 17 per cent dip in final third pressures per game in the Premier League, yet Liverpool have only lost one per 90 minutes from their average. And while their proportion of pressures in the final third is at its lowest figure of 2020/21 it’s still higher than any other team has offered.

So if you think Liverpool aren’t pressing as much as they were, you’re not wrong. But it doesn’t mean they’re not still the team to beat when it comes to closing down opposition players in the Premier League.

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