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Arne Slot Heading to Liverpool: Tactical Analysis and the Potential to Transform the Reds into a Dominant Force Again

Feyenoord’s manager, Arne Slot, is set to transition to Liverpool, succeeding Jürgen Klopp. In light of this, we’ve examined the statistical insights into the Dutch coach’s career thus far.

Arne Slot Image Credits Liverpool Arne Slot Heading to Liverpool: Tactical Analysis and the Potential to Transform the Reds into a Dominant Force Again
Arne Slot, Image Credits – Liverpool

Arne Slot, the 45-year-old Dutchman, has been officially announced as Jürgen Klopp’s successor at Liverpool. Following Klopp’s departure, he will assume control at Anfield, stepping away from his position as Feyenoord boss after three fruitful seasons.

Read More: EXPLAINED: How Oliver Glasner Has Transformed Crystal Palace And Why The Owners Must Support His Ambition

Comparing Arne Slot and Klopp: Finding Parallels in Coaching Excellence

Comparisons between Slot and the charismatic German Klopp are already surfacing. While Liverpool didn’t find someone with a body of work similar to Klopp’s when they hired him in 2015, they seem to have found someone with certain parallels in Slot.

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Similar to Klopp, Slot had a modest playing career but quickly showcased his coaching prowess, surpassing his achievements on the field. Those acquainted with the 45-year-old praise his exceptional communication skills, characterized by warmth and humor that resonate with both fans and players.

As you may know, former footballer Andy van der Meyde hosts a YouTube show and podcast called “Bij Andy in de Auto” (In the Car with Andy). A few months ago, he had Slot as a guest on his show. During their conversation, they delved into various topics, including Slot’s belief that players can become desensitized to repetitive training and instructions over time, which is relevant considering Liverpool’s recent form and their diminishing Premier League title hopes.

Slot also shared insights into his influences, such as Henk ten Cate, Marcel Keizer, and Henk de Jong, and casually brushed off alleged approaches from Tottenham and Chelsea last summer with a smirk. He also expressed his passion for padel tennis.

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Interestingly, Slot requested Feyenoord director Dennis te Kloese to build a padel court at the club’s training ground, with the agreement that it would be constructed if he won the Eredivisie title. True to his word, after clinching the title in the 2022-23 season, the court was built.

Similarly, Klopp is known to be a fan of padel tennis and included a court as part of Liverpool’s AXA Training Centre renovation. Having already secured the league title in 2019-20, he could make such requests from a position of strength.

Under different circumstances, Slot might have clinched the title in the 2019-20 season. Promoted from assistant to head coach at AZ Alkmaar, his team was poised for success, sitting in second place after 25 games, level on points with leaders Ajax. However, the Covid-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the season, leaving AZ with a sense of what could have been, especially with their solid defense, conceding just 17 goals in 25 games, six fewer than any other team.

The following season, however, wasn’t as remarkable. AZ found themselves in seventh place when Slot was sacked, not solely due to poor results but also because of negotiations for him to take over at Feyenoord the next season, a move that displeased the club’s management.

Slot’s arrival at Feyenoord marked a new chapter, replacing the experienced Dick Advocaat. Despite finishing fifth the previous season, Feyenoord saw significant improvement under Slot’s leadership. In his debut season, he won the Rinus Michels Award for Eredivisie Manager of the Year, guiding Feyenoord to a third-place finish and an appearance in the UEFA Europa Conference League final, albeit losing to Roma.

Despite losing key players in the subsequent summer transfer window, including Luis Sinisterra, Marcos Senesi, Tyrell Malacia, and Fredrik Aursnes, Feyenoord dominated the Eredivisie in the 2022-23 season, securing their second title since the turn of the millennium. Slot’s achievement made him the third-youngest manager to lead Feyenoord to an Eredivisie title.

The team’s away form was particularly impressive, accumulating 42 points, the highest in the club’s history, while also maintaining a scoring streak in 31 consecutive Eredivisie games, their longest since 1961 (37 games). Additionally, they reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League before bowing out to Roma.

In the subsequent 2023-24 season, Feyenoord finished second in the Eredivisie, trailing champions PSV by seven points. However, they exceeded their points total from the previous title-winning season by two points and maintained an unbeaten streak since December 3rd.

Opta’s expected points model is a fascinating tool that predicts match outcomes by simulating the number of goals scored based on expected goals (xG) values for each shot taken. With each match simulated 10,000 times, the model calculates the expected points for each team by considering the proportion of simulations they win, draw, or lose.

Interestingly, the model indicates that Feyenoord should have finished nearly level on points with PSV rather than trailing by seven (83.1 points to PSV’s 83.7), suggesting that overperformance from Bosz’s side was the decisive factor this season.

Slot’s managerial experience extends to the UEFA Champions League, although his campaign ended disappointingly with Feyenoord finishing third in a group featuring Atlético Madrid, Lazio, and Celtic, managing only two wins at home against the latter two (L4). Despite the outcome, Feyenoord notably outshot their opponents in every UCL group game, a feat not seen since Manchester United in 2015-16, albeit without advancing to the knockout stage. They subsequently entered the Europa League play-off but were eliminated on penalties by, predictably, Roma.

Feyenoord showcased their dominance in a remarkable 6-0 victory over Ajax just last month. Outplaying their old rival, Feyenoord unleashed 30 shots compared to Ajax’s solitary attempt. Despite Ajax’s struggles throughout the campaign, Feyenoord’s superiority was evident, with most goals originating from high turnovers, indicating their clinical efficiency.

Adding to their recent achievements, Feyenoord secured more silverware by defeating NEC Nijmegen 1-0 in the final of the KNVB Cup.

Why Liverpool Want Arne Slot: A Data-Driven Decision

Liverpool’s interest in Arne Slot likely stems from a strategic approach led by former sporting director Michael Edwards, who recently returned to oversee football operations at the club. Edwards, known for his role in signing key players during Klopp’s tenure, collaborated with incoming sporting director Richard Hughes and director of research Will Spearman in a data-driven recruitment process to find Klopp’s successor.

Despite the availability of more experienced candidates, Liverpool seemed to be seeking the next emerging talent in management. Hughes, who previously signed former Feyenoord players Senesi and Sinisterra for Bournemouth, likely had prior familiarity with Slot’s managerial style.

One of the standout aspects of Slot’s coaching highlighted by data is Feyenoord’s pressing game. Last season, Feyenoord ranked among the top teams in Europe’s major leagues for winning possession in the final third, second only to Benfica. This aggressive pressing style is particularly noteworthy as it aligns with Liverpool’s own pressing statistics. While Liverpool averaged 5.7 final third possessions won per game, Feyenoord achieved 7.8, indicating Slot’s adeptness at instilling an effective pressing strategy.

Feynoords High Turnovers In Dutch Eredivisie 2023 24. Image Credits Opta Analyst Arne Slot Heading to Liverpool: Tactical Analysis and the Potential to Transform the Reds into a Dominant Force Again
Feynoord’s High Turnovers In Dutch Eredivisie 2023-24. Image Credits – Opta Analyst

Additionally, Liverpool ranks third in high turnovers among Europe’s top five leagues, trailing only Manchester City and Tottenham. Feyenoord’s comparable performance in generating high turnovers, despite playing fewer games, suggests Slot’s ability to implement tactics conducive to creating turnovers and transitioning quickly to attack, a hallmark of Liverpool’s style under Klopp.

Last season, Benfica won possession in the final third 8.4 times per game, followed by Feyenoord at 7.8, and Liverpool at 5.7. In the current season, Manchester City leads with 7.5, followed by Cercle Brugge and Benfica at 7.0, and Feyenoord at 6.7, with Liverpool at 6.1.

Moreover, Liverpool ranks third in high turnovers among Europe’s top five leagues with 392, trailing behind Manchester City (416) and Tottenham (396). Feyenoord closely follows with 376 high turnovers despite playing four fewer games. In terms of shot-ending high turnovers, Liverpool leads with 71, closely followed by Feyenoord with 65.

Liverpool’s interest in Arne Slot can be attributed to several key factors, underscored by comprehensive data analysis led by former sporting director Michael Edwards, who has returned to oversee football operations. Edwards, alongside incoming sporting director Richard Hughes and director of research Will Spearman, employed a data-driven recruitment process to identify Jürgen Klopp’s successor.

More experienced and established names might have been available this summer, but Liverpool seemed to be looking for the next big thing. Hughes, who signed former Feyenoord stars Senesi and Sinisterra for Bournemouth, was likely already familiar with Slot’s work.

Key statistical insights reveal why Slot was at the top of their list. Feyenoord made 376 high turnovers last season, closely trailing Liverpool (392), Manchester City (416), and Tottenham (396) despite playing fewer games. In terms of shot-ending high turnovers, Liverpool led with 71, followed by Feyenoord with 65. Notably, Feyenoord excelled in goal-ending high turnovers with 11, surpassing PSV’s 8. Feyenoord’s pressing efficiency is further highlighted by their passes per defensive action (PPDA) rate of 10.1, indicating their aggressive pressing style. Only Liverpool (8.9) and Tottenham (8.8) in the Premier League had better rates.

Opta’s expected points model provides additional insight. Despite winning the league last season and failing to do so this season, Feyenoord’s underlying numbers have actually improved. Their inability to overperform against those numbers is what cost them. In the 2022-23 season, Feyenoord accumulated 66.3 xG for and 30.6 xG against. With one game remaining in the 2023-24 season, they achieved 95.2 xG for and 26.4 xG against. PSV recorded a higher xG (100.9), making them the only team in Europe’s top 10 leagues with a higher xG than Feyenoord this season. Only Slavia Prague (24.9) and Fenerbahçe (25.9) had a lower xG against.

Possession and formation preferences also align Slot with Liverpool’s style. Feyenoord’s average possession in league games increased from 58.9% last season to 62.3% this season, slightly higher than Liverpool’s 61.3%. Slot favors a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, aligning well with Klopp’s preferred 4-3-3. This suitability is crucial given Liverpool’s current squad composition, which lacks depth in center-backs suited for a three-at-the-back system favored by other candidates like Xabi Alonso and Rúben Amorim.

Alonso and Amorim prefer to play three at the back, but the group of players Klopp will leave behind isn’t overrun with center-backs, especially ones who have played in a three before. Liverpool does, however, have plenty of midfielders, so playing a system with more midfielders than defenders makes sense.

Liverpools Zones of Control. Image Credits Opta Analyst Arne Slot Heading to Liverpool: Tactical Analysis and the Potential to Transform the Reds into a Dominant Force Again
Liverpool’s Zones of Control. Image Credits – Opta Analyst

Feyenoord’s zones of control are similar to Liverpool’s, with Feyenoord exhibiting slightly more dominance on average, albeit against weaker opponents compared to those in the Premier League. Feyenoord’s control and dominance further align with Liverpool’s tactical approach.

Liverpool’s data-driven recruitment process highlighted Slot’s tactical compatibility and effective pressing style, making him an ideal candidate to succeed Klopp. His ability to implement high-intensity pressing, manage possession, and use formations that leverage Liverpool’s existing squad strengths aligns well with the club’s strategic vision. These factors, combined with his proven ability to develop teams and improve underlying metrics, make Slot a promising choice for Liverpool.

At AZ and Feyenoord, Arne Slot has largely relied on a double pivot in midfield. Slot could potentially use players like Alexis Mac Allister, Wataru Endo, Curtis Jones, Ryan Gravenberch, or even Trent Alexander-Arnold in such roles at Liverpool.

Feyenoords Zones of Control. Image Credits Opta Analyst Arne Slot Heading to Liverpool: Tactical Analysis and the Potential to Transform the Reds into a Dominant Force Again
Feyenoord’s Zones of Control. Image Credits – Opta Analyst

However, Alexander-Arnold may remain at right-back, as Slot prefers his full-backs to advance and deliver crosses. In his attacking setup, Slot favors having a left-footer cutting in from the right and a right-footer cutting in from the left. This approach suits players like Mohamed Salah, Luis Díaz, Cody Gakpo, and Diogo Jota. For the number 10 role, Slot could turn to Dominik Szoboszlai, Harvey Elliott, or Fabio Carvalho, who is currently on loan at Hull City.

Slot’s tactics include rotation between his number 10 and his right forward, partly to create space for the right-back, which aligns well with Alexander-Arnold’s strengths.

Despite often having to sell key players, Slot has shown a willingness to trust younger players. When Feyenoord won the league in 2022-23, only five squad members over the age of 25 had played at least 11 Eredivisie games, compared to 13 players under 25. This trend continues, with Slot mainly relying on players under 24 this season, with goalkeeper Timon Wellenreuther being the only player older than 26 who has featured in at least 40% of games.

This bodes well for Liverpool, as Klopp has introduced several young players this season due to injuries. Players like Conor Bradley, Jarell Quansah, Bobby Clark, and Jayden Danns have shown they deserve to be in the first-team squad and could have a decent chance of staying there under Slot.

Slot tends to start well, which is crucial in the highly-competitive Premier League. At AZ, he won 13 of his first 17 Eredivisie games (D2 L2), and at Feyenoord, he won nine of his first 12 (D1 L2).

With a Dutch captain in Virgil van Dijk and compatriots Gakpo and Gravenberch already at Liverpool, Slot—who speaks very good English—would likely settle in quickly and gain buy-in from his new players.

One concern for Liverpool fans might be that Slot has only managed in the Eredivisie, which is not considered one of the top leagues in European football. According to the latest Opta Power Rankings, the Dutch top flight ranks eighth in Europe when considering the rankings of the top 10 teams. However, Slot and Feyenoord have helped elevate this rating, with the club regularly appearing in the top 40 since his arrival in 2021.

Choosing Slot over more experienced and familiar names is a significant decision, but it reflects why the owners worked hard to bring Edwards back to oversee the post-Klopp era. The data suggests a potentially stable handover, at the very least.

You can imagine his handover meeting with Klopp ending with a friendly contest on the padel court in Kirkby.

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