On the 30th of April 2018, Jürgen Klopp’s right-hand man, Zeljko Buvac, was given leave of absence from the club until the end of the season. Just a few weeks later, it was revealed that he would not be returning to the club in any capacity.
The press jumped onto a story that Buvac and Klopp had had an argument so bad that they could no longer continue with the managerial setup at Liverpool. Their friendship and their former title-winning formula was over. Seventeen years of success and shared greatness had come to an end.
Often credited for helping to create ‘attacking football’, which was key to Dortmund’s resurgence, Klopp often referred to his Bosnian accomplice as “The Brain,” with Buvac supposedly being able to read the game like no one else. If a tactical change needed to be made, Buvac would be the first to realise it. If Liverpool were being dominated in midfield, the Bosnian would suggest slight tweaks to help The Reds get on the front foot.
So, have Jürgen Klopp’s men missed the pearls of wisdom of The Brain? With the use of tactical analysis, this article will try and tell you exactly that.
In order to appreciate the importance of Zeljko Buvac to Liverpool’s performances, it would make sense to compare the starts of both the 2017/18 and 2018/19 Premier League seasons.
Whilst there have been some major additions to the Liverpool defensive line in the last year, going forwards, Liverpool’s front six has not changed significantly, with Naby Keïta being the only new player to feature notably since his Summer arrival from RB Leipzig. Therefore, this piece will focus its analysis on the offensive statistics of The Reds’ early-season performances.
During the first eight games of the 2017/18 season, the Merseyside club registered three wins, four draws, and one loss. These matches resulted in thirteen points for the Anfield club. Klopp’s men scored a total of thirteen goals within this period, facing challenging teams such as both Manchester clubs and Londoners, Arsenal.
To put this into comparison, Liverpool have thus far recorded six wins and two draws in the league, totalling twenty points and matching the club’s best ever start to a Premier League season. Despite the rumours that Liverpool’s fabulous front three are struggling to find their form, fifteen goals have already been scored by The Reds this season, bettering last season’s attempt by two goals.
Whilst it is by no means a perfect way of analysing the offensive output of a club, expected goals offer a truer version of how a team has actually performed. During the first eight games of the 2017/18 season, Liverpool registered a total of 17.28 expected goals.
This season, The Reds have registered 16.66 expected goals without the Bosnian’s guidance. The difference between the two seasons is minimal, at just 0.62 expected goals. Liverpool have also had a challenging start to this season, with tough away trips to Stamford Bridge and Wembley Stadium, whilst hosting Manchester City at home in a 0-0 draw.
It must also be noted, however, that The Reds have started this season without the ability of Philippe Coutinho’s masterful ability to unlock defences and drive his fellow teammates forwards.
As boring a statement as this may seem, it appears that the lack of Buvac’s presence at Liverpool has changed very little if nothing at all.
With seemingly very similar starts to the past two seasons, I believe a lot more will be revealed about the importance of Zeljko Buvac during the next run of eight games for Liverpool. In 2017/18, Liverpool really hit their stride in their following eight games as they went on to score an impressive twenty-one goals, picking up seventeen points in the process.
Klopp’s men are currently about to embark on a seemingly easier set of fixtures, with games against Huddersfield, Cardiff, and Fulham all in the near future. Will Liverpool have the necessary spark to continue their scintillating start to the season and overcome the loss of their once key tactician? Only time will tell.