Klopp’s rabbit and Mourinho’s duck: The rabbit-duck illusion

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The rabbit-duck illusion’s earliest known version first appeared in a German humor magazine in the 1890s. “Which animals are most like each other? Rabbit and duck.” the caption said.

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An image that was made famous by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who included it in his Philosophical Investigations as a means of describing two different ways of seeing: “Seeing that” vs. “Seeing as”.

Wittgenstein used the image as an example that things can be seen and understood in two different ways. You can see that it’s a rabbit, but you can also see it as a duck. One can often see something in a straightforward way, but at other times he can notice a particular aspect.

After the final whistle at Anfield, Jose Mourinho told Juergen Klopp that the better team lost. “I told him the best team lost, and he disagree….but that’s his opinion” Mourinho told Amazon Prime after the game. At first glance, it sounds like a regular Mourinho antic after losing the game in the 90th minute, but there’s another perception. A perception that Mourinho really meant what he said. Only the Portuguese would know.

Even if he meant it. That’s still Mourinho’s own perception of the game. The win on xG, multiple big chances in the second half, and a goal in the first. All originating from direct play from the back from Hugo Lloris and Toby Alderweireld could have swayed Mourinho’s perception that his attacking approach worked, and in reality it did.

In a parallel universe, Steven Bergwijn scores his chances and Mourinho shuts up shop till the trumpet is blown on Judgement Day.

The Rabbit

“I really think we deserved the three points. Of course Tottenham had chances, I know they scored a goal and had other chances. We can’t defend Harry Kane (for) ninety minutes. (Heung-min) Son and Bergwijn, the speed they have is incredible. But around these moments, we were completely in charge of the game.” — Juergen Klopp.

Klopp’s words in the post match press conference resembles Wittgenstein’s ideas perfectly. Klopp sees that Liverpool were completely in charge of the game apart from Tottenham’s chances, yet he still saw these chances as threat.

If the clear cut chances lets Mourinho see the duck, then how does Klopp see the rabbit ?

One of Liverpool’s approaches this game was to use an old trick from last season. Against a Tottenham side that moved away from its regular 4–2–3–1 to a 4–4–2 on the night, presumably to neutralize Liverpool’s full backs, Jordan Henderson dropped wide of Liverpool’s center backs and utilized the space vacated by Liverpool’s full backs to create.

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The idea is that with Spurs in a 4–4–2 shape and focusing on shutting down Liverpool’s full backs, Henderson would have space and time on the ball. As Liverpool’s full backs pushed up the field, Moussa Sissoko and Bergwijn had to retreat, allowing more space for Henderson who drops into the full back space away from Kane and Son.

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Henderson dropped mainly to the right side, but he also featured on the left. Here, Andy Robertson’s positioning is forcing Sissoko back. Thus allowing freedom for Henderson to create with Son not close enough.

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Henderson’s ball over the Spurs defence found Robertson who ignited the first Liverpool spark from open play when he played it across the pitch for Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian’s effort on target was saved though.

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Henderson’s freedom in the build up kept the pressure on and allowed Liverpool the control that Klopp mentioned. The control and pressure that often resulted in chances. From this ball here, Henderson has time and space to put in a cross towards the far side. It isn’t threatening, but the good cross forces Spurs into a poor clearance that results in a Liverpool effort on target. Sadio Mane’s bicycle kick however was easily saved by Lloris.

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Liverpool were keen to utilize Henderson’s underrated passing ability in that position. When either of Kane or Son moved out to neutralize Henderson….

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….Liverpool circulated the ball to force them back to the center of the pitch. Freeing Henderson from the attacking duo, while the full back’s positioning forced Spurs’ wingers to retreat. Eventually, providing Henderson with space and time on the ball.

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This attack could have envisaged the use of Henderson in that role perfectly had his pace not been slightly overhit. The space and time Henderson had on the ball allowed him to pick out Gini Wijnaldum’s run in between Tottenham’s defence. A more accurate pass could have created a dangerous chance for Liverpool.

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However, when it really mattered, Henderson’s role provided Liverpool with the winner. In the build up to the corner Roberto Firmino scored from, Henderson was again wide of Liverpool’s center backs. Sissoko who was shifted to central midfield in the second half pushed up to press Henderson, forcing Liverpool to circulate the ball.

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As we learned above, the whole purpose of the circulation is to free Henderson again. Now that Sissoko is back in central midfield and Lucas Moura is torn between marking the dropping Firmino and the progressing Robertson, Henderson could advance freely. He did, and the attack resulted in a corner kick which Firmino scored from to take Liverpool to the top of the table.

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During Henderson’s trips to the channel and wing area, there was another Liverpool player also trying to take advantage of the 2 v 2 lockdown Spurs were seeking down the wing area. That player was Curtis Jones.

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Jones was regularly seeking free spaces outside or inside of the 2 v 2 in the wing area. Spurs were focused on stopping Mane, Salah and the full backs that at times there was spaces for Jones to attack. In this example Salah’s cross doesn’t find him…

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….but he presses immediately to regain the ball and force a shot on target.

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Again, his presence here on the outside of Sissoko and Serge Aurier could have provided him with a chance to score…

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…had Firmino’s shot rebounded in-front of him rather than towards the corner kick.

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Jones created his own luck by initially being in a good position. On the outside of Tottenham’s wide players, he was free.

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Yet, his strike was blocked by the Tottenham defence.

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Tottenham were mentally consumed with the 2 v 2 out wide that at times they created spaces centrally for Liverpool to attack, and seeking the space was as always Jones. In the build up to the first goal, Aurier is slightly moved wide to mark Mane.

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Jones this time attacking the inside of the 2 v 2 rather than the outside, combines with Firmino and moves into the box before the ball falls for Salah to strike.

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Jones smartly sought spaces either on the outside or the inside of the 2 v 2 out wide. His movements in conjunction with Henderson’s role broke down Spurs’ 4–4–2, something none of the other big six managed to do. This is perhaps how Klopp saw that it’s a rabbit.

Liverpool’s performance and Tottenham’s clear cut chances are the rabbit and the duck. Perception can force you to see one without the other, yet both exist. So what do you see? The rabbit, the duck or the rabbit-duck?

English Football. United

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