“I always said in that moment where I believe I am not the perfect coach anymore for this extraordinary club I will say so.
“I really think the decision is the right one. This club deserves to be coached from the 100% right manager.”
When Jürgen Klopp announced on 15th April 2015 that he was stepping down as Borussia Dortmund boss, it was clear that he would be one of the hottest managerial candidates for any job in world football. He and his trusted team of Peter Krawietz and Željko Buvač had taken Dortmund as far as they could winning two Bundesliga titles, a DFB-Pokal, a DFL-Supercup and a UCL Final appearance at Wembley. However, during the 2014-15 Bundesliga season, Dortmund endured a rollercoaster of a campaign as they entered the traditional winter break bottom of the league before recovering well to finish seventh. Klopp would also state in the same press conference that tiredness and fatigue had absolutely nothing to do with his decision. Klopp’s representatives had confirmed that very quickly, a number of clubs made contact wanting to lure Klopp in as the managerial spearhead for their respective clubs. Maybe his last pre-season game, before this rollercoaster season, had begun to sow the seeds of where he would next look to set up foundation. On the 10th April 2014 Anfield, Klopp took his Dortmund team to face Liverpool in a final pre-season warm up match. Both clubs were synonymous through the melody of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ that rings around both Anfield and the Westfalenstadion during the pre-match rituals, not to mention the adoption of it for the club with whom he spent 18 years, FSV Mainz 05. When Klopp emerged from the visitors dressing room at Anfield and walked down the narrow staircase, he already seemed at home in the surroundings, touching the ‘This is Anfield’ sign with a hint of delight. Destiny Maybe?
The Normal One
“I am a totally Normal Guy, I am the ‘Normal One’ if you want this”
After Brendan Rodgers was relieved of his duties on October 4th 2015, Jürgen Klopp was officially unveiled as Liverpool manager on 8th October 2015. His first task was meeting his predecessor to sit down and analyse the state of the current squad. With another away day looming against a strong looking Tottenham Hotspur FC, a team who would challenge eventual Champions Leicester City for the English Premier League crown, Klopp and his team began to implement his counter-pressing methods within the squad. The teams played out a 1-1 draw. Liverpool’s output in terms of mileage and sprints began to increase with the demands of Klopp’s style of play. Liverpool have been the only team to outrun Tottenham over 90 minutes.
Liverpool would eventually finish the season eighth on 60 points, as the club went all the way in both the Capital One Cup and UEFA Europa League only to finish runners up to Manchester City and Sevilla CF respectively. A tough end to a season where cup heartaches would again be the major theme.
Liverpool’s Storming Start to 2016-17
At the beginning of the 2016-17 season, we took a look at the transfer reinforcements secured by Klopp. Many questioned why senior cover wasn’t brought in to challenge Nathaniel Clyne at right back and Alberto Moreno, who has been usurped by Milner after a shaky start, wasn’t just simply replaced. Klopp and his coaching team evidently require the full backs to be involved in the overall team play. Squawka have Liverpool’s leading chance creator as Roberto Firmino with 20 chances created. Clyne and Milner are very close behind with 14 a piece with Clyne playing approximately 100 minutes more than Firmino and Milner. Trent Alexander-Arnold could be the answer, and was named in the opening match day squad of the 2016-17 against Arsenal. He has been playing well in the new U-23 Premier League 2 Division 1 competition. Even with Klopp’s record of trusting youth, should one of the full-backs suffer a serious injury that requires a lengthy absence, throwing him in would represent a significant risk on Klopp’s part.
Arsenal 3 - 4 Liverpool Burnley 2 - 0 Liverpool Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 1 Liverpool Liverpool 4 - 1 Leicester City Chelsea 1 - 2 Liverpool Liverpool 5 - 1 Hull City Swansea City 1 - 2 Liverpool
Liverpool’s fixtures for the first seven games of the 2016-17 season would already see them playing the top three from the season before. Also, due to the expected completion of the Anfield redevelopment, the Burnley game was switched to Turf Moor. This meant that Liverpool would face five of the first seven fixtures before the October international break away from home. Five wins, a draw and a loss means Liverpool currently sits fourth with 16 points. They are joint top scorers with 18 (Manchester City) and have conceded 10 goals. Many will point to the defensive frailties of the team, which was certainly evident in the first two games. Naturally, however, away from home against top opposition there will be periods of the game where you are put under pressure. This was the case in the Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea games. Against Burnley, early unforced errors were brutally punished. Swansea, despite such, had begun the season poorly and this was a case of a team playing out their skin to try and save the managers tedious position. Liverpool were able to weather the Swansea storm, and then assert themselves on the second half, turning the tie around after half time. Over this period of games, Liverpool have used four different centre-back partnerships whilst also changing the keeper for the Hull and Swansea games. There simply has not been a settled defensive back line with injury troubles continuing to be a problem.
The new recruits have settled well, notably Sadio Mané, Joël Matip and Georginio Wijnaldum. Mané has already contributed to the goals with the hope being that he continues throughout the season and not just in spurts. Ragnar Klavan has deputised well when called upon and Marko Grujic has been limited to a few cameo appearances, whilst a broken hand in pre-season has limited Loris Karius’ availability. Overall, Liverpool’s new signings have not only been helped by how early the deals were concluded, but none had the distraction of an international tournament over the summer months. They joined up with the rest of the squad at the earliest opportunity to begin their integration within the squad. Liverpool also has no European football. There is more training time for the coaches to get their respective methods across, as well as the squad being able to cope with the adjustments required due to injuries.
From Doubters to Believers
Jordan Henderson endured a painful 2015-16 season, playing through the chronic pain of plantar fasciitis. A player whose absence, after receiving a late red card against Manchester City in 2014, is still regarded by many Liverpool fans as one of the major reasons Liverpool lost out in the title race that season. Then he provided the legs in midfield that masked the fading influence of the legendary Steven Gerrard who had dropped back to the traditional six (6). He had gone from a potential transfer to Fulham, to fighting back and cementing himself as a mainstay in centre of the midfield. This determination convinced the then manager Brendan Rodgers to hand him the armband, taking over from the iconic Gerrard who would move to pastures new in Los Angeles. However, it appears that the weight of a chronic injury with this new found responsibility had begun to weigh heavy on Liverpool’s number 14. Klopp and his coaching team had ideas of re-deploying Henderson as the ‘6’, the anchor in midfield, to which Henderson immediately doubted whether he could fulfill this role. Klopp and his team spent time convincing Henderson that he does have the quality to excel in this role, and Henderson has again shown his determination to work and learn what it takes to fulfil the role. The result is a player who now looks comfortable in himself, capped with an absolute stunner of a finish at Stamford Bridge. Henderson looks visibly more comfortable on the field, averaging 84 passes a game, but could he become Liverpool’s new dictator in the middle? Nothing suggests he will reach much higher heights, but the dynamic of the team doesn’t require a superstar in this position as long as the midfield trio provide adequate cover for the defence where required. Jordan must continue in this vein, and continue to reinforce his belief in his own ability to fulfil what the manager asks of him regardless of what endless pundits think.
Adam Lallana has been a mainstay in Klopp’s system. With Mané signing, he has been redeployed further back in the midfield trio often alongside Henderson and Wijnaldum. He has been a lot less frustrating as a result, already contributing three goals and three assists in the league. He scored four goals, and managed six assists throughout the entirety of 2015-16.
It has been a very good start to the season for Liverpool but the ruthlessness in front of goal must continue and the demand remains for the defence to become meaner! However, this team needs to start winning silverware, for the hallways of Anfield have been starved for too long. They are reminded every time they enter Melwood. There are reminders of the great European nights in the dressing room, but the team needs to write their own history. Klopp has told the players they are forbidden from touching the ‘This is Anfield’ sign until they deliver silverware. Nights like the one against Dortmund are lost in history if no silverware is delivered at the end. They are aware, is this the season they deliver?