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There are echoes of the great AC Milan side of the late 80s in everything Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool do, and looking back at those teams can give us further insight into modern-day Liverpool.
In February 2013, influential Italian manager Arrigo Sacchi was asked what football will look like in 20 years.
“Football will be further perfected,” he told German outlet 11freunde. “The eleven players will move more and more as a unit, and the game will be even faster.”
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are probably what Sacchi had in mind, but have arrived 15 years earlier than the former AC Milan manager imagined.
There has always been a mutual respect between these two football minds who could be seen as master and disciple, especially when it comes to the evolution of pressing tactics in football.
There are plenty of parallels between Sacchi’s Milan at the peak of their powers, and Klopp’s Dortmund and Liverpool sides at the peak of theirs, and we were lucky enough to be witnessing the latter as they conquered all of Europe (and the world) in 2019, and don’t look like stopping there.
Just as great international teams are defined by World Cups, the greatest club sides and the greatest coaches are nearly always defined by the European Cup, something which Liverpool know all about.
For Sacchi, his back to back continental triumphs with Milan in 1989 and 1990 saw him and his idea of how to play football at the peak of their powers.
For Klopp, his brand of football finally produced a European Cup win in 2019 after reaching finals against the odds with Borussia Dortmund in 2013 and Liverpool in 2018.
From Sacchi to Klopp via Wolfgang Frank
Unlike some managerial connections which are passed from manager to player before said player moves into coaching, Sacchi’s influence on Klopp and his mentor at Mainz, Wolfgang Frank (pictured above), came indirectly.
Just as Sacchi had was the first to remove the libero, or sweeper, from the defensive catenaccio systems in Italy at the time, replacing them which his own versions of 4-4-2 featuring zonal marking and a high defensive line, Frank did the same in Germany.
Frank didn’t know Sacchi, but in a football sense, he did. He would study Sacchi’s AC Milan team and their tactics, and passed these ideas onto Klopp.
In a TV interview with Mediaset while at Dortmund, with Sacchi in the TV studio, Klopp explained: “Everything I am as a coach I took from my former coach Wolfgang Frank, and he took it off him [Sacchi].
“We knew if Arrigo Sacchi can do what he did with Maldini, Baresi, Albertini and all these guys then we can do the same.
“OK not as good, but tactical discipline is no problem. If they can do it, we can do it. So my team is ten percent of the team of Arrigo Sacchi.”
How Sacchi’s Milan took apart Madrid, defining a team and its tactics
One of the most famous Milan games with Sacchi at the helm is their 5-0 dismantling of Real Madrid in the 1988/89 European Cup semi-final second leg. The first leg in Madrid finished 1-1, but this second match was a Sacchi clinic which would go on to be perfected in a 4-0 win against Steaua Bucharest in the Camp Nou final.
During their training drills, Sacchi’s side would often practice without the ball, receiving direction from their coach as he ran around the pitch indicating where the imaginary ball was, while the players responded as if in a game situation.
This is obviously evident in the game against Madrid, and all this tireless work on the training pitch began to pay off.
The match paused for a minute following the second stoppage
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