What is first line of defence? Analysis of Klopp’s 4-3-3 (false 9) system


We all know what Jurgen Klopp’s football is about, the ‘heavy-metal’ style of play and pressing from the front in order to win the ball as high as possible and be nearer to the opposition goal, in the below section we’ll analyse through as to how the German’s philosophy functions and what exactly is the first line of defence.

Firstly, let’s talk about the first line of defence. It is basically the line of a team where the front men press the opposition centre-backs and deep lying play-makers in order to win the ball back as high as possible and in the process be nearer to the goal, it can also be defined as the system where the furthest forward man closes the space very near to goal and his partners occupy the opposition goalkeeper’s distribution options. This will either persuade the team on the ball or the keeper to clear long to avoid any mistake to.

This is exactly what Klopp likes to do, his 4-3-3 system allows the front three to press in tandem and the rest push higher up to compress the play and squeeze the opposition on the ball. Until now, the German has preferred Firmino in that position to lead the pressing and be the first line of defence in many games.

Let’s now turn our attention towards the tactics board and then analyse as to how this system works, further we’ll also look at Liverpool’s formation to figure out few more points regarding this particular thing :-

As we can see in the image above, the functioning of the system and how each player has a different role in a very close area pressing. The false 9 integrates everything with his pressing just in line to the opposition GK. The split CBs are then in turn marked tightly by his forward partners which means no easy short ball can be played.

Adding to that, if the CBs do get the ball, they’ll tend to pass it forward either to the fullback or one of the midfielders, in this situation the no 8s will close down the pass towards the midfield and the wide forwards will become wide to stop the pass towards the fullback. By this time, the last line of defence steps up fair bit to compress the play and give no room in between the lines for any ball player to work with.

Even if the ball does go through that high press, the whole forward line drop deep and false 9 will take up a space in between the lines if possible or stop any meaningful pass from back being played. The wide forwards will track the fullbacks’ run and the no 8s will close any midfield space to not allow the ball being worked through centrally.

This system requires fair bit from the players of work off the ball as much as on the ball, the false 9 is the start of everything, he’s the ‘First Line of Defence’, his movements and pressing from first line will encourage his teammates to push further up and squeeze the play.

Now, let’s take a look at how Liverpool as a team functions pressing in spaces and why Firmino is used as the false 9 by Klopp in the recent past:-

Above image shows the preferred starting lineup for Klopp and how his team functions. The description of the system is done above with the front three Firmino, Mane and Coutinho as the first line of defence, the Brazilian Firmino in that false 9 position being the lead line of defence starting everything, be it attack or defending from the front line.

As a result of that high closing down, we can see the back-line also pushes up to give no space in between the lines and if any opposition attacker try to make the run beyond the last line, he’s caught offside by some margin.

With Firmino in that position, Liverpool and Klopp have a player who loves to be busy throughout the game, he loves to do off the ball work like no other in the team, if he’s willing to press that high and squeeze the play then others are encouraged to do the same and push up as high as possible to trouble opposition on the ball.

You got to say this requires many training sessions to instill these in the players, the tuning required is of the highest order. Any lapse in concentration will result in a very easy opportunity for the opposition to create a chance. The front man needs to be decisive in his closing down, if he’s not at it then the others could get in no man’s land resulting in a disintegrated team.

Until now this season, what Klopp has done well is tuned the team and given the roles to specific player in every possible moment that can occur in a game, that’s why we can see a more decisive Liverpool with much more cohesion and will to work more.

Significance of the first line of defence is immense which really shows as to how a team functions front to back, if the first line is high, the indication is clear to press high and if the first line is deep and ready to sit back then the opposition can have the ball in their own half without much pressure.

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