Liverpool coach Pep Lijnders, who has been working diligently with the team during their pre-season American tour, gave an interesting and in-depth interview with the Liverpool Echo recently. The whole thing is worth the read, because it provides a more detailed perspective on the team's preparations during pre-season.
Klopp, while always a fascinating and charismatic interviewee, is often bombarded with broader questions about transfers, player injuries, and the type of minutiae that only the manager could speak about. Lijnders, on the other hand, as a former Academy coach who was brought into Melwood by Brendan Rodgers, has a lot to say about the team's training methods, their hopes for the pre-season, and the performances of the youth players who have been brought along Stateside.
In the interview, which can be found here, Lijnders lays out his expectations for the "first period" of pre-season training:
"In this first period, if you talk about intensity, it improved because the players starts making decisions based on the collective references and intentions of our specific way of playing," he said. "The intensity goes up because the lines, the sectors, the inter-sectors and the players individually start working better together.
"That’s the main thing in this first period – that everyone starts making decisions individually because of the collective idea and references. Pleased? Yes, of course, because there’s a big development in that part.
"We are very clear in what we want: how we want to prepare pressing situations; how we want to move the ball gradually up; how we can advance as a team using the free spaces the opponent leaves in their organisation; our positional play. The intensity is high because they start playing better together."
He talks about the importance of repetition in their training drills: "There’s a saying that success is repeating a few disciplines, but really well and constantly. It’s repetition but we don’t want a linear or mechanical style of play. That’s why we focus on principles and the principles are basically tactical patterns which give the individual stability in an unpredictable game."
Lijnders emphasizes creativity and freedom of expression for the players as a way to help the team collective, and that to improve, the players need to "test [their] limits tactically, technically, emotionally, individually and as a collective."
Having worked so closely with some of the youth players coming through the ranks now, Lijnders had plenty to say about the importance of the Academy players getting a chance to train and play with the first team:
"We have so much talent in our Academy and so many players who need guidance. You see what happened in three or four weeks with Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria – that’s gold in terms of development because that’s probably half a year of development in the Academy. Just because they see Phil Coutinho using the free spaces, they see Adam Lallana turning and protecting the ball. Trent sees how Emre Can drops into the defensive line to circulate the ball to get higher as a team.
"We want to create by bringing them up. We brought the boy up from 16, that’s Ben. We brought the boy up from 17, that’s Trent. And we brought the boy up from 18, that’s Ovie. It’s interesting because indirectly we also want to influence all the other boys who stay behind because they see it’s possible. And we want to bring boys up who love adversity and overcome adversity constantly, who adapt really easily to a quicker style of play."
In particular, the Dutchman had plenty of praise to lavish on standout performer Ovie Ejaria, the 18-year-old midfielder who joined Liverpool from Arsenal two years ago. Ejaria has made a name for himself amongst the Liverpool faithful by performing consistently well this past month, including in the team's recent loss to Chelsea.
"We want offensive aggression," Lijnders said about the youngster. "We don’t want to have a ball percentage of 70, it’s about chances created and that’s how individuals get stimulated in the game context, to constantly take more initiative to move the ball forward in the final third or really create. Ovie is a good example. If you can outplay, you unbalance the defensive line. If you can play quick combinations it tears them apart. If you dominate both then you are really a top player and he dominates both parts."
Lijnders goes on to give his opinion on Liverpool's new signings and the "direct influence" they're having on the team.
The start of the new season is only two weeks away, so it won't be long now until we see just how well the coaching staff's tactics will translate onto the pitch.