Turning the mundane into a marginal gain — the benefits of Thomas Grønnemark’s work with Liverpool

The implementation and benefits of the Reds’ work with throw-in coach Thomas Grønnemark has received considerable — and perhaps overdue — recognition on social media and beyond.

There are many examples, of course, likely more than many of us can identify. Indeed, one of the key sets of stats doing the rounds on Twitter have been those used by Tifo Football in a mini-documentary last September.

It pointed out that the Premier League was one of the poorest when it comes to throw-ins, with possession retained from them only 48.6pc of the time, on average.

Also stated was the fact that Liverpool kept the ball on only 45.5pc of occasions in 2017/18, the campaign immediately before Grønnemark’s appointment. After he joined at the start of the following pre-season, that jumped to 68.4pc in 2018/19.

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That represented the second-best retention rate in Europe. The only team above them? FC Midtjylland of Denmark, another of the sides coached by the specialist.

A key point that the 44-year-old often cites when talking about throw-ins, and supported by those numbers, is that many teams lose the ball more than 50pc of the time when they have one ‘under-pressure’. With the emphasis Klopp and so many modern coaches place on turnovers — their value and, indeed, potential danger — it is perhaps unsurprising that the German sought him out in the summer of 2018.

It’s therefore clear that there have been benefits on the defensive and offensive front for the Premier League leaders.

In terms of isolated examples of opportunities and goals created from throw-ins — and Grønnemark’s work — here are four good ones. Including those already mentioned.

The first came in the opening seconds of the 4-0 win at Leicester City on Boxing Day. After the ball was headed out of play by Wilfred Ndidi a short distance inside his own half, Andy Robertson waited for a few moments before darts towards him by Naby Keïta, Jordan Henderson and Sadio Mané triggered what may have been a pre-planned move.

The Scot — whose throw length is understood to have increased from 19 to 30 metres courtesy of the Dane’s technical coaching — launched the ball over the Guinean and others and into the path of the centrally positioned Joe Gomez. With every Foxes player stationed in the vertical half of the pitch closest to the ball, the unchallenged Gomez was then able to feed Trent Alexander-Arnold to his right, who had even more room.

The 21-year-old was able to take three touches before rifling a 25-yard shot goalwards that was well-held by Kasper Schmeichel. Even by the time he took the shot, the closest player to the No.66 was Ndidi, who was still five-yards away. It certainly seems possible that Klopp and co had anticipated Leicester squeezing the play in such a way, meaning an unconventional switch such as this could open up acres of space for arguably the Reds’ best technical player.

Alexander-Arnold, of course, was a beneficiary of a somewhat similar move in the 78th minute. Robertson was again the man taking the throw on the left, this time around 20-yards inside his own half. Firmino dropped in noticeably deeper than usual — and unmarked — to receive before returning the ball to the left-back.

He lifted a clever pass up the line to James Milner who then fed the ball towards the centrally stationed Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mané, with the Senegalese picking up the pass.

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With Brendan Rodgers’ side collectively stationed similarly to that early throw, they again had to work hard to get over and cover the switch. Mané therefore had plenty of space to drive forward and Alexander-Arnold also had his fair share as the No.10 rolled the ball into his path for him to drill it first-time through Ben Chilwell’s legs and into the far-corner.

Then there are those two more recent examples.

Firmino’s decisive strike at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on January 11 came from another Robertson throw, this time higher up the pitch, around 15-yards from the Spurs goalline.

The Brazilian came short to go long, as he spun away from marker Harry Winks and into the box. Henderson and Wijnaldum moved themselves noticeably closer to the No.9 as Robertson sent the ball into the path of his run. Perhaps an attempt by the two midfielders to optimise a counter-press if the ball was lost?

Either way, it worked. Henderson beat Dele Alli to Toby Alderweireld’s header away to nod the ball into the feet of Mohamed Salah who, in turn, set up his fellow forward to score.

It was the same triumvirate, just in a different order, who combined to earn the three points at Molineux 12 days later.

Embed from Getty Images
Thomas Grønnemark speaks to Liverpool players during a training session at Melwood Training Ground on October 15, 2019. Photo: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Alexander-Arnold, midway inside the Wolves half, was the provider here. Henderson came short while Takumi Minamino went long and Firmino darted into the space left by the former’s movement. Conor Coady went with the 28-year-old and found himself out of position when the ex-Hoffenheim man’s dummy allowed Salah to collect possession in a pocket of space himself.

While the Egyptian twisted, turned and occupied three opponents, Firmino made his way into the box. Henderson again stationed himself in just the right spot to pick up the loose ball and, when Leander Dendoncker eventually poked it away from the No.11, he slipped slip it into the goalscorer. As we know, he did the rest.

In some ways, one of the most intriguing and potentially beneficial elements of all these moves and the work with Grønnemark is that it is tricky to judge to what extent they are preconceived — at least to the untrained eye.

Either way, the end results tend to be just about the best reflection of the processes preceding them. Those results continue to look highly positive.

James Noble

Contributor. 20-year-old uni student studying sports journalism. Southern Red.

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