If you had told a Liverpool fan on the date of Klopp’s appointment as Liverpool manager that “just over a year from now Liverpool would be sitting atop the Premier League” they would’ve laughed at you. To most, just securing Champions League football with a top 4 finish would have been more than enough. Particularly with the excruciating pain of the 2013/14 season (which saw them land a narrow 2nd place behind Manchester City) living firmly in the memory of the Anfield faithful and leading many to question if they’d ever lay their hands on that elusive 19th league title. However, times have changed, and following the 6-1 drubbing of Watford over the last Premier League weekend Liverpool find themselves right at the top after 11 games. A run which has seen Klopp’s men only lose just the 1 game, despite playing some of the titans of the league and already claiming the scalps of Arsenal, Chelsea and previous champions Leicester. But how has the influence of one man so explicitly changed the club’s fortunes so drastically and are they know genuine title contenders?
The Klopp effect has been profound on Liverpool. Taking over any club three months into a season is always going to be a challenge, however Liverpool in particular had become stuck in the mud with former boss Brendan Rodgers. Having mounted a significant title challenge two years earlier, the wheels were falling off Liverpool at an alarming rate. Plagued by inconsistent form, the loss of key team members (Sterling, Suarez and Gerrard to name a few) and a terrible showing in the Champions League, which saw the side crash out of the competition in the group stage, Liverpool were experiencing a huge fall from grace. Rodgers in particular seemed to have lost the plot, something which saw him become associated with the catchphrase ‘we showed great character’, an excuse he’d roll out for even the most embarrassing of losses. However Klopp’s introduction in October of last year, something which in itself was a real coup for John W. Henry and the Fenway Sports group, breathed new life into the stagnating team. Even with a squad decimated by injuries there were signs of instant improvement, with the installation of his renowned ‘gengen pressing’ tactics proving an immediate and popular success. For the first time in a couple of years there was a feeling at Liverpool that the players were visibly putting the effort in for their manager and that fortunes were changing.
The template was really set in the later half of last season, with emphatic wins against the likes of Manchester City in the league and Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United in the Europa League acting as feelers as to what Klopp and a Liverpool side imprinted in his own vision could achieve. Nevertheless there were still a fair share of dramatic losses along the way, which grounded many Liverpool fans and brought with it sharp criticism of the enigmatic German and his methods. With embarrassing loses against both West Ham and Watford standing out as examples when the German hasn’t quite got it right. There was always a feeling however that the 2015/16 season was very much a ‘work in progress’ for Liverpool, with painful defeats in the Europa League and League Cup finals, although being disappointing for the Reds fans, also standing out as occasions that would build the character of the young Liverpool squad.
right mix of blistering speed, grit and stamina
Even at the start of this season there were eyebrows raised at some of the signings. Wijnaldum for £25 million and Mané for £32 million in particular seemed somewhat excessive, especially given the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United splashing big bucks on world-renowned talent. However the critics couldn’t have been proved more wrong, with both making huge impacts. Mané in particular contributing 4 goals in his 5 premier league appearances at Anfield, whilst Wijnaldum’s energy has given a much-needed boost in the centre of midfield. It’s not just the signings that have changed Liverpool’s fortunes this season but Klopp’s ability to bring the best out of the players he already has. Case in point would be Adam Lallana’s rejuvenation under Klopp’s guidance, who’s insistent work-rate has been influential in taking Liverpool to where they are today, as well as bringing much needed goals and assists to his game. Further examples of how Klopp has revolutinised the players already owned by Liverpool FC, can be seen in James Milner’s excellent performances at left back and Jordan Henderson’s transition into a more worthy Captain of the club, leading by example and dictating the play from the middle of the field. Something which when coupled with Firmino and Coutinho world class performances at the top end of the pitch (something that must see them both banging on the door of the Brazil first team) has made Liverpool a formidable opponent for even the strongest Premier League sides. Sensible acquisitions have also steadied the ship. In particular Joel Matip being brought in at centre back for free as well as the young German keeper, Karius, who has strong potential in a position that has provided the team with great uncertainty. Not many would have had possibly Liverpool’s most renowned striker, Daniel Sturridge, sitting on the bench at the start of the season, but at present it looks hard for him to regain his position in a Liverpool side firing on all cylinders. Not a bad problem for Klopp to deal with and further indicating the squad’s strength in depth.
But can Liverpool go the whole way and win the league? Current form suggests they definitely could, with 30 goals in their opening 11 games they do appear to be a formidable attacking force. You could even go as far as saying that there are very few teams in world football at the moment that are as aesthetically pleasing to watch as Liverpool, who under Klopp’s coaching now possess the right mix of blistering speed, grit and stamina. However as is usually the case with most Liverpool sides, it’s a matter of whether they’ll be able to prevent goals at the other end of the pitch. With only the one clean sheet all season and a lack of real depth at the back it appears that this may again be the Achilles heel of Liverpool’s title challenge. But there’s a lot of football left to play and at the moment the Reds are going strong.