How Peter Krawietz, Jürgen Klopp’s “eye”, helped reinvent Liverpool

How Peter Krawietz, Jürgen Klopp’s “eye”, helped reinvent Liverpool

“We rehearsed that for weeks”, joked Peter Krawietz after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s alacrity from the corner flag rounded off Liverpool’s miraculous Champions League comeback against Barcelona. In the same breath, Krawietz unwound the thread of his humour: “No, that was actually due to Trent’s responsiveness,” he beamingly acknowledged.

“The fact is that we repeatedly address fast-paced set pieces, we consider different scenarios around a corner or free-kick and continuously practice them. But we encourage and demand variability from our players in every case. In this case, long-term training and constant repetitions resulted in a wonderfully spontaneous action.”

In a sense, the German’s jest was more than superficial; like all good jokes, it contained a grain of truth. 

For nearly two decades, Krawietz has been the eyes in the back of Jürgen Klopp’s head. Earning the sobriquet of “the eye” for his visual processing and video analysis, he has been a constant source of insight from the very outset.

Born in Mainz and a graduate of the city’s university, Krawietz used his newly-earned sports degree to secure a video analyst role at his hometown club in 1996. This was during the time that Klopp was still playing for the team. Ironically, it was Krawietz’s duty to point out Klopp’s positional shortcomings while stationed at right-back, a fact his fellow German took umbrage at. Despite a cold onset, a warm relationship eventually developed after their first analytical session, sitting together and exchanging ideas as they would go on to do countless times in the future.

Of all the players at the club, Klopp was one of those most interested in Krawietz’s work and quickly saw the process as an opportunity to learn more about the advantages of video analysis. After being appointed as Mainz’s manager, Klopp promoted Krawietz to the role of chief scout in 2001. He then joined Klopp’s backroom staff in a seven-year tenure as assistant manager at Borussia Dortmund. 

From 2008 to 2015, Krawietz evolved and optimised his video analyses for Dortmund’s players. His focus was constellated by a drive to improve team performance, as well as preparing tactical dissections of the opposition to ascertain their relative strengths and weaknesses and how these could be exploited. “That is the bottom line of any video analysis,” he said, speaking in 2012. “The players should leave the session with great respect for the opponent, but also with a good dose of confidence.”

What is clear from looking back over Krawietz’s career with Klopp is that, since following his old friend to Merseyside in the autumn of 2015, the same constant desire to develop, improve and learn has never abated. After helping to prepare every single one of the 250-odd games Liverpool have played under Klopp, Krawietz’s eye for analysis has remained keen as ever.

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In December 2019, Klopp delivered the emphatic news that he had signed a new five-year deal with Liverpool to keep him at the club until 2024. It silenced speculation of yet another seven-year cycle. “When the call came in autumn 2015,” he grants, “I felt we were perfect for each other; if anything, now I feel I underestimated that. This club is in such a good place, I couldn’t contemplate leaving.”

During his signing speech, Klopp stressed the importance of his assistant managers, Krawietz and Pep Lijnders, plus the rest of his first-team coaching coterie without whom, he confessed, he would not have been able to commit to Liverpool. “I am blessed to be surrounded by so many amazing staff. Honestly, I feel the luckiest manager in the world in this regard,” he rhapsodised. 

Beyond his assistant coaches, there are around 40 members of Liverpool’s backroom staff at all levels. From Mona Nemmer and Andreas Kornmeyer  the head of nutrition and head of fitness and conditioning respectively – to Jack Robinson and John Achterberg, the first-team goalkeeping coaches, to Thomas Gronnemark – the woefully underappreciated throw-in coach – and Lijnders’ replacement as elite development coach, Vitor Matos, Klopp’s Liverpool is a symposium of ideas.

Innovation and pragmatic delegation within Klopp’s specialist retinue is another key reason why the club has been so successful. “Peter and Pep have contributed just as much as I have to the development of this team and although as the manager, many may see me as the face of the club, their input and expertise is invaluable to what we’re looking to achieve,” he eulogises.

Klopp, the leader and face of the team, is the one who defines the spirit of the side and stimulates his players: self-proclaimed as “the heart”. Lijnders, seemingly replacing former aide-de-camp, Željko Buvač, as “the brain”, is responsible for the training process, while Krawietz, “the eye”, is in charge of analysis and video preparation to provide winning insight. 

Together, they create a gestalt coaching entity where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is in that very togetherness that decisions about development and training are made, designed to foster Liverpool’s playing psyche in the image of Klopp’s “mentality monsters”. 

Krawietz, perhaps a more shadowy operator, rarely conducts interviews with the media. He appears to be much more content with carrying out his business away from prying eyes. Lijnders,  on the other hand, is, inarguably, the most visible of Klopp’s tactical partners. After taking on the mantle of press conference mouthpiece on several occasions, the Dutchman has shown himself to be a passionate proxy – a fact that has seen his name talked up as a long-term replacement to his manager.

After the chequered departure of Klopp’s long-term confidante, Buvač, the 37-year-old Lijnders might more accurately be described as his right-hand man. That said, loyalty is a precious commodity in football, and as one of Klopp’s oldest advisors, Krawietz remains one of his most trusted deputies. “I have worked with Pete for many years now, going back to my time at Mainz and Dortmund. And even now I am still amazed at the things he spots during a game. He has an incredible talent and one that is priceless for us.

Read  |  How Jürgen Klopp’s focus on psychology has evolved Liverpool’s players into “mentality monsters”

“It has been one of the best professional experiences for me to see him grow and become the coach he now is. He’s always been essential to me, but his own personal development since arriving at Liverpool has been outstanding. He is so smart, so insightful and so important to us.”

Adapting to the pace of English football, the pre-match training sessions of Liverpool’s ‘Meister der Videoanalysen’ are mostly contained to tactics, where physical exertion is secondary to the acquisition of knowledge. They more accurately resemble lessons in understanding the procedural behaviours of the opposition and how to enact particular processes in certain game situations. 

Along with the players, the ethos of Krawietz and Liverpool’s management is to simulate the intensity of their identity using game-state training scenarios. Mirroring the team’s intent to subjugate the opposition through relentless pressure and a desire to win the ball high up the pitch, coaching sessions at Liverpool are devised with that chief focus in mind. Gegenpressing, for instance, a system which has become ever more sophisticated during Klopp’s time at Anfield, requires the entire side to push up quickly and to operate with a collective consciousness for it to work. 

Liverpool have developed into one of the world’s most effective sides in recent seasons; while skill, tactics and mentality have all played a part in that, one of the most vital reasons is the unity and togetherness of the entire club. One of Liverpool’s greatest strengths is their respect for the maxim ‘strength in numbers’.

Yet, the idea behind coaching with such rigorous, joined-up thinking is that Liverpool’s players can also find ways to be more spontaneous and creative. Attacking coaching yields striking results. This leads to a similar point Krawietz disclosed to The Athletic’s Raphael Hönigstein, in one of few extensive interviews: “They also remember previous situations and solutions to a problem,” he says. “That’s why they’re later able to implement these things at the highest tempo and under big pressure on the pitch. It is the highest form of collaboration.”

This is the true punchline of Krawietz’s joke. In many ways, it is perhaps likely that they had in fact rehearsed at least the possibility of that kind of spontaneity. Alexander-Arnold’s famous corner is a direct result of a foundational training that drills in automatic movement to allow for ad-libbed ingenuity.

These kinds of set-piece routines and tactical choreographies require a great deal of video analysis and elaborately detailed sessions with individual players. Those one-on-one sessions, in particular, are an intriguing part of Krawietz’s role. A feature of Klopp’s management dating back to Mainz, players would be delivered hours of video analysis sessions with Krawietz in order to choreograph their bedding-in process. 

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At Liverpool, both Naby Keïta and Fabinho have benefitted from watching hours of footage with Krawietz; the midfielders in Liverpool’s system, in particular, require a robust knowledge of how the side moves laterally and horizontally, both on and off the ball. With the Brazilian in particular, the latency of his introduction has paid dividends, offering further vindication of Krawietz’s expertise.

And yet, Krawietz still does not have a Wikipedia entry. Not necessarily the touchstone for individual impact, but it does demonstrate the relative obscurity of the 48-year-old. Oblique though that may be, the impact of his work behind-the-scenes and on the touchline has been nothing if not direct. Nowhere has that been more apparent than in set-piece situations.

In the 2018/19 season, Liverpool scored 20 league goals from dead-ball scenarios, nearly double the amount from the previous campaign. At the start of last term, it was a department that Klopp and his staff had explicitly called for improvement in, particularly given the talent of the likes of Alexander-Arnold in such scenarios. “We just didn’t score enough from these situations,” Klopp admitted. “So we focused on that a lot more; not more [in terms of] time but in a different way. The analysis department came up with proposals for what we could do and we work on them. It is just brilliant what the outcome is. The boys enjoy it. At the beginning, it wasn’t quite like that but now they enjoy [the practice] because when it works out it’s brilliant.”

Liverpool’s visit to Stamford Bridge in September of the 2019/20 is one of the clearest examples of how this has continued into the current campaign. A 2-1 win over Chelsea was the product of two converted free-kicks – routine rehearsals with Krawietz at Melwood. “We’ve worked on them,” Andy Robertson revealed after his in-swinging assist. “The first one was probably a bit less work done on it, I think Trent said he wanted a touch and a hit but the other one we’ve been practising on and luckily it has come off.” 

After victory was sealed in London, Klopp confirmed his left-back’s routine revelation. But, after Mohamed Salah’s inventive backheel implored Alexander-Arnold to pull the trigger for the opener, Klopp also claimed: “This little move changed the whole angle and made it pretty impossible for Kepa [Arrizabalaga] to make a save. It was a brilliant goal. Pete Krawietz and our analysts, they do a really good job around set-pieces, especially corner kicks. I loved the corners in the second half where we probably should have scored twice. But it wasn’t a set-piece game, we played a lot of good stuff and in the end you have to score and that’s what we did. All good.” All good, indeed.

At that stage of the season, Liverpool were topping the table with full marks – 18 points from six wins – and had established a winning run of 15 games stretching back to a 2018/19 league season that had seen them lose just once. Victory at Stamford Bridge was Klopp’s 150th game in charge, having registered 92 wins along the way. Thanks in no small part to the pre-planned engineering of Krawietz, there would be many more to come as Liverpool’s march broke records with a game-by-game approach.

By the start of February, the Reds held a remarkable tally of 73 points at the summit of the table – a clear 22 points ahead of Manchester City in second. In a run 42 league games unbeaten, Liverpool had earned 100 points from 102 available. For further contextual perspective, Klopp and his staff’s first two full campaigns in charge at Anfield (2016/17 and 2017/18) yielded fourth-placed finishes of 75 and 76 points.

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“We are pleased with the recent development, but also know that the end of the story is far from being achieved,” a determined Krawietz said in 2016. He was right, of course. Three years later, after reaching three finals without success at Liverpool, Klopp and his team finally attained trophy triumph and opened a new chapter of victory by winning the Champions League in Madrid. 

After this ineffably impressive league campaign, plus nearly five years of exponential development at Liverpool, Krawietz’s continued humility is arresting: “I would say it’s not too bad so far, a few things worked out pretty well. Today we are where we are and it was a good journey so far.”

It’s a journey that, this season, has already seen the Reds add to last season’s silverware in the form of the UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup, and, presumably, a coveted Premier League title. After achieving a record-breaking, 97-point finish last term, Liverpool look set to one better this season – a target apparently set at the very close of the last. 

Krawietz’s public comments after the 2018/19 league campaign, which came just before their Spanish showdown with Tottenham, reiterated a collective desire to achieve holistic results. In hindsight, they show a telling foresight. “Much more important is always the entire work. We do not just focus on the championship, we want to initiate long-term development and improvement. Against this background,” he added, “the championship is undoubtedly a goal and our maximum desire. We know, however, that Liverpool will probably not be the financially strongest force in England in the next few seasons. Therefore, this remains an insanely ambitious goal. We will keep trying. However, the fact that squad quality and depth are a major factor in this cannot be ignored.”

As a glittering summer stretched out before the Reds, few would have had the foresight to predict just how decisively that insanely ambitious goal would be realised. The 2019/20 season that followed has seen an utterly indomitable Liverpool surge ever-closer to ending an interminable 30-year wait.

And yet, one thing that seems palpably evident in Krawietz’s thinking is this unwavering confidence in his methods, coupled with an incessant desire to further the development of the team. “You have this point,” Krawietz says knowingly. “Even if maybe two days before you think, ‘How can this work?’, at the end – always – after sitting together, after watching the video, after the team-talk, we are always confident that we can win. If there is one possibility to win then we try it very hard.”

Under Krawietz’s composed and laidback exterior is a wildly ambitious tactician: “To stay physically strong, to get stronger, to work on your tactical ideas, to work on your technical skills – we try to always put this in every day,” he professes. “Everything we do follows an idea and a target: to get better, to play better football. What do we need the next time? What do we have to change? What do we have to improve? Is it the defence? Is it the attack? Most of the time it’s both. It’s never boring.”

After watching Liverpool’s development over the last few years, let alone their inapproachable procession to this year’s league title, it is hard not to see eye to eye with Peter Krawietz.

By Enis Yucekoralp @Enis__Y

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