On the 8th October 2015, the city of Liverpool went into meltdown as it was announced that Jurgen Klopp would end his footballing sabbatical and take over at Anfield. He was hailed as the club’s saviour, the man that could bring the glory days back to Merseyside and he was certainly seen as an upgrade on the outgoing Brendan Rodgers, over a year on now though we ask, has Klopp really lived up to expectations?
Klopp’s arrival in England was heralded by a fanfare as his exploits in Germany with Borussia Dortmund earned him a reputation as one of the world’s best managers and Liverpool’s ability to capture his signature was certainly viewed by many as a major coup. He managed to break Bayern Munich’s dominance with consecutive Bundesliga titles between 2010 and 2012, his German Cup and two German Super Cup wins help him to earn the German Manager of the Year award in 2011 and 2012 and let’s not forget the Champions League final he led the club to in 2013.
However, Klopp’s time at Dortmund ended on a sour note, in April 2015, he announced he would be leaving the club at the end of the 2014/15 season, he led his side to a 7th place finish before leaving the Westfalenstadion a hero. The final position doesn’t do justice to just how disastrous Dortmund’s season was though, they lost 11 of their first 19 games and at that stage, incredibly, sat bottom of the Bundesliga. Thankfully they were spared what would have been one of the most unexpected and embarrassing relegations of all-time as nine wins from their last fifteen games carried them up to a 7th place finish. Never the less, this turbulent season forced Klopp into a sabbatical from the game.
Upon taking over at Liverpool, he inherited a side stagnating under Brendan Rodgers after their 6th place finish the previous season, following on from their infamous capitulation started by Steven Gerrard’s slip that cost them their first ever Premier League title. Rodgers was gone just eight games into the 2015/16 season with the Reds sitting 10th in the table with 12 points. Klopp’s charm and track record immediately seduced the Anfield faithful and dreams of a return to the glory days was immediately being whispered about. The idea of another fairytale rise like Klopp’s Dortmund dominated the headlines and when you consider the fact You’ll Never Walk Alone can be heard belting out before Dortmund and Mainz games, Klopp’s two previous clubs, could there be a more perfect fit?
Liverpool’s problems certainly lay in the defence. Only Manchester City outscored Liverpool the season they missed out on the title (102 to 101) but Liverpool conceded 50 goals to City’s 37, a deciding factor in a title race settled just by two points, particularly when you consider the two dropped at Crystal Palace in the 3-3 draw after they led 3-0 with 10 minutes to go. The following season, they shipped ten more goals than any other side in the top four, this time scoring considerably less also, only 52, hence the 6th place finish. Even in Klopp’s first season, the Reds shipped 50 goals as to the 36 of Leicester and Arsenal and the 35 of Manchester United and Tottenham.
Liverpool are crying out for leaders in the mould of former heroes such as Pepe Reina, Jaime Carragher and Sami Hyppia. With three windows now under Klopp’s guidance, Liverpool have brought in ageing Estonian centre-half Ragnar Klavan, who has struggled for game time, even being left out in favour of Lucas Leiva, Joel Matip, who can be considered a success, Alex Manniger as a third keeper and Loris Karius.
Karius being by far the most disappointing of the acquisitions, brought in to replace the error-prone Mignolet, he has looked just as poor, so much so, Mignolet has managed to reclaim his first team place. High-profile errors against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth have cost Liverpool valuable points and left the club right back at square one with Mignolet in goal. There are many tabloid rumours, denied by Klopp, linking Joe Hart to Anfield. If not in public, Liverpool must be desperate to attract a keeper of Hart’s calibre. With 30 goals conceded in the league so far, including four to Bournemouth, it is clear that Klopp is still yet to address the issue that has dogged his side since before he took over, leading to embarrassing defeats to Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea and Hull. Is the personnel in that defence really any better than when Klopp took over?
Going forward, Klopp deserves credit, he has transformed Georginio Wijnaldum from an uninterested dud at Newcastle to an all-action central midfielder who has weighed in with three goals and four assists, and the acquisition of Sadio Mane for £30m was inspired. The Senegalese international weighing in with 11 goals and four assists so far. It is certainly no coincidence Liverpool suffered a downturn while Mane was away at the African Cup of Nations. He has been a key component to Klopp’s all action style supported by the winning back of the ball with the high-press. This ‘heavy-metal football’ has proven itself highly effective in the big games this season with Liverpool picking up impressive wins at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge, as well as home victories against Man City and Spurs.
Critics claim this style, while pleasing to watch and effective, isn’t sustainable and inevitably leads to fatigue. This would certainly explain Liverpool’s inconsistent form and surprising struggles against teams rooted to the bottom of the table. When teams come to Anfield and sit in prepared to let Liverpool come to them, they often look ponderous and lack a cutting-edge. They currently sit 11 points adrift of leaders Chelsea but how much closer could that be if they cut out the silly losses and found some more consistent form?
Klopp is also yet to deliver any silverware to his new club. While this is not automatically a negative, when you delve into their results, Liverpool fans can be disappointed they have not achieved more. Two finals have now got away from them, meaning that Klopp has lost his last five major finals. The first was the League Cup final defeat last February to Man City. Liverpool were let down badly by Mignolet who gifted City the lead after allowing Fernandinho’s shot from a tight angle to squirm under his body. Despite this, Liverpool came roaring back and deservedly equalised by late on through Phillipe Coutinho, they grabbed the initiative in extra time too but couldn’t make their dominance pay and were ultimately let down by a mixture of woeful penalties from Lucas, Coutinho and Lallana and heroics from City’s reserve goalkeeper, Willy Caballero.
Then in May, they were once again left with the pain of a cup final loss plus the frustrating sense of what could have been. Daniel Sturridge’s wonder goal put his side ahead against Sevilla in the Europa League final and Klopp’s men continued to dominate the half but a lack of clinical finishing denied them a second. A second they sorely needed as Sevilla came bursting out the traps in the second half and after just 17 seconds, Mariano Ferreira had capitalised on Alberto Moreno’s error to feed the ball into Kevin Gameiro who levelled proceedings. From then on, Sevilla didn’t give Liverpool a sniff and ran out 3-1 winners. Another agonising final defeat for the Anfield club, particularly as this denied them a Champions League place and due to their failure in the League Cup final and 8th place finish, were resigned to a season without European competition at all.
Looking at the exploits of European-free Leicester and Chelsea these last two seasons, a case could certainly be made that this could turn out to be beneficial for Liverpool but so far, things have not turned out that way. Their title challenge is yet to materialise and success in other cup competitions has alluded them.
Time and time again, Jurgen Klopp has been stung by his underestimation of the Football League. Last season, a severely weakened side were taken to a replay by League Two Exeter City in the FA Cup and were then knocked out by West Ham in the fourth round. This season, a similar story, they were once again taken to a replay by League Two opposition in the Third Round, this time by Plymouth Argyle and only scraped through the replay at Home Park 1-0. They were then soundly beaten by Wolves 2-1 at Anfield, with a late Divock Origi consolation giving the impression of a tight game. Weakened sides, including the likes of Karius, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Klavan were fielded against Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final which resulted in two laboured 1-0 defeats, denying them the chance to make up for last year’s Wembley heartache.
It appears that Klopp has favoured the league greatly over the cups during his reign. This tactic has seen Liverpool throw away chances in very winnable competitions so with this in mind, the pressure of reaching the Champions League becomes all the greater. They are certainly well in the six-way fight for the top four places but with City and United both on a resurgence, they will need to start picking up wins and edge back into that top-four soon.
Better than Rodgers?
The question to be asked of Liverpool now is are they really any better off than under Brendan Rodgers? The comparison between the two is eerily similar. In their first 54 league games in charge, both managers won 26, drew 16 and lost 12. With Rodgers’ side scoring more (110 to 107), conceding less (61 to 70) and keeping more clean sheets (20 to 14). This is certainly a case of the reputation of a manager buying him more time and earning him more approval than one without such a glittering previous career. In the same way, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal were awarded more time and resources at rivals Manchester United, despite returning very similar records to the much maligned David Moyes.
Clearly, we are still waiting on the Klopp revolution, a surprising fact considering he has had three transfer windows to mold this team and let’s not forget that Brendan Rodgers oversaw the development of one of LIverpool’s greatest strikers, Luiz Suarez, fought a title challenge right up until the last day of the season and returned a 6th place finish following season. Therefore, should Klopp miss out on the Champions League this season, his reign will have achieved no more success than that of Rodgers. Jurgen Klopp’s reign is certainly still a work in progress and he has a lot to do to justify his hype and reputation before his reign will be called a success.
Feature Image Credit: PAUL ROBINSON