There was a significant moment on Wednesday night for observers of the styling, the optics, the physical theatre of Liverpool FC during the Jürgen Klopp years. With 83 minutes gone at Anfield and Newcastle’s players maintaining a fine pitch of drilled defensive aggression – plus, of course, some equally fine-drilled defensive time‑wasting – Kostas Tsimikas, Fabinho and Harvey Elliott produced a three-man blitz on the left side of the Liverpool midfield, nipping and snapping at Joe Willock’s heels and drawing a free‑kick 40 yards from goal.
And there it was at last: the Anfield face, the Klopp sweats, the red rictus – sweat-drenched, fretful, boggle-eyed, peering out at the world from some mind-bending lactic acid trip. A little late perhaps. But undeniably present as Willock turned to protest to the referee, to take a moment of respite in the middle of a first really sustained spell of familiar red-shirted condenser-football.
This isn’t personal. It’s tactics. Willock played really well on Wednesday, as did all of Newcastle’s players, resisting that process with great heart and a clearly defined plan. But this is a Liverpool team that have built an era on exhausting its opponents, that have inflicted the Anfield face from Vicarage Road to the Camp Nou, a moment in any game that acts as a signpost to victory, like a cut above a boxer’s eye or a distance runner rolling and writhing on the back straight.
Klopp’s Liverpool will make you run, will score second-half goals, will push you into that other place of red mist and twanging fibres. In the early years they did this through sheer physical pressure, the game of sprints and blitz-pressing; more recently with a kind of gruelling high-speed possession football. The system works this way. Fábio Carvalho’s late, late winner was a blow to the guts for Newcastle’s players, who simply collapsed, strings cut, tank emptied. But that state of induced exhaustion was just as telling. This is how Klopp wants you to look. The ability to make it happen, still, is key to how Liverpool’s season may progress from here.
More immediately it points to a fascinating Merseyside derby on Saturday, a meshing of high‑tempo styles that is familiar, old, neighbourly territory and tactically vital to both teams. Fulham and Manchester United have shown that opponents have been finding ways to combat that applied, structured exhaustion.
This has never been just about running or passion, but is a matter of playing smart, of drilled collective movements. At Old Trafford, United ceded possession and territory, sprinted less and made fewer passes but still seemed to be pushing Liverpool to their own physical limits, to be winning key individual duels.
Everton’s best moments under Frank Lampard have involved a similar kind of pressure. Last season turned after he had mused aloud on the need to play with “balls”, which seems to translate as high pressing, a tight midfield three and doing interesting things with Alex Iwobi, transformed from strolling about the pitch like a man playing a game of tennis ball three-and-in with a sausage roll in one hand to a maniacally busy ball‑winning deep forward.
Everton are top five in the league for fouls, tackles and cards. James Tarkowski, Conor Coady and Amadou Onana is a serious defensive rump. Dwight McNeil may not make or score goals, but he’ s a tackle machine. This could be gruelling, high-energy stuff. But then, what do we want from a Merseyside derby? A sense of instant, inconsolable outrage. Collisions, the adrenal fog, performative managerial rage. The last of those is probably on the cards in any case.
“You’ve won ONE league title and you’re giving it the big one, you can fuck off and sit down.” That was your catchphrase, Frank Lampard. Or at least it was during that strange, empty, midsummer 5-3 win over Chelsea two years ago. It is hard to begrudge Lampard’s attempts to inject some feeling into that occasion. He likes to give it the big one, too, and has a thing about Liverpool. But the best part of this prospect is that it is essentially a tactical thing, two teams whose final league position is likely to depend on the ability to drag opponents to the edge of their capabilities.
For Klopp’s Liverpool in particular this is an existential question. It is easy to forget that Liverpool’s recent run didn’t have to happen, that it is an engineered, coach-driven thing. It is rare to find an elite team in any sport where success is built to such an extent on an emotional state, in inducing feelings in an opponent, the crowd, your own players.
“We didn’t have enough power,” Klopp said during a slightly distracted ramble after the defeat at Old Trafford. He is of course talking about the way power is applied; shape and systems and movement rather than simply muscle and “giving it some”. And this is still a fragile thing.
Much has been made of the need for a new midfielder, and the arrival of Arthur Melo from Juventus promises energy, craft and Sopranos memes. But Liverpool’s net tactical effect, the feel of this team on the pitch, is about more than adding quality parts, just as Sadio Mané was more than simply an interchangeable high-class forward. Lose Mané and you lose a perfect fit, a player who offers Ayoze Pérez levels of tackles – 45 of them a season – married to a golden boot goal tally. Mané led the press and made the midfield work with endless creative movement. He was also perfect for Mohamed Salah, who has had four shots on target this season.
Plus, other teams come prepared. In their first three Premier League games (two draws and a defeat) Liverpool made fewer tackles, were dispossessed more often, won fewer headers than the opposition and were ambushed at times by opponents who have responded to Klopp’s innovations, finding ways to deflect that physical intensity, or raising their own levels.
Eddie Howe’s reconfigured team matched them for an hour at Anfield, although Klopp changed the trajectory at half-time. Fabinho and Elliott began to play closer together. Carvalho added craft in tight areas. And this is perhaps what Klopp will value most from Wednesday: the spectacle of two younger technical players relentlessly counterpressing, following the drill, reassembling the intensity of the past five years.
Much will depend on Saturday on Everton’s own ability not just to match that pressure, to resist the Klopp shakes, but to assert their own, to follow Klopp’s men into the red zone.