THIS isn’t going to prove popular because Jürgen Klopp is universally loved by Liverpool fans young old and new.
For the majority of supporters; desperate that Liverpool become successful again, and in particular successful under this magnetic, “cool” personality, he can do no wrong. Journalists, too, even when he is spiky towards one of their own, fawn and guffaw at his news conference put-downs.
The German comes with a CV that apparently gives him a divine right to be a success — a record seemingly that we cannot doubt. Though by own admission he isn’t Jesus and he can’t walk on water, he has everyone in a thrall that suggests he is and that he can.
Let’s try and be balanced about this. He is new to the job — only two months and a couple of weeks in — and as a result he is still learning. What do they say? That you learn from your mistakes? Yes, so there has to be an admission that mistakes can be made, if there is to be learning. No-one is flawless.
We all make mistakes and Jürgen Klopp has made his fair share over the last few weeks. In his defence, he is still figuring out English football and he is still assessing the playing squad at his disposal; working out a hierarchy that determines his selection of players.
In terms of addressing important points about the atmosphere at Anfield he’s trying; at least recognising there is a problem and making an attempt to rectify it. He is doing his best to recreate a Holy Trinity between fans, manager and players, even if for now it is an extremely messy love triangle with the lads in Red being frozen out.
He also made a very good start to his Liverpool career. A solid draw at buoyant Tottenham, a notable win at a failing Chelsea, an outstanding victory at Manchester City; plus the Southampton League Cup goal-fest. It was a very good start, in fact.
Therefore, we empathised and laughed along with when he bemoaned that “fucking Crystal Palace” loss. We forgave him that because things were immediately looking up; he had instilled in his players belief, increased work-rate and superior organisation. The above mentioned results had some of us talking about title challenges in this topsy-turvy league — about lads being transformed, about new-found defensive solidity, about scoring hatfuls with no strikers and false nines.
Not only were fans upbeat, players too were queuing up to go public on how Klopp had re-energised Anfield, Melwood and their enthusiasm for the fight. Underperforming players like Alberto Moreno, Roberto Firmino, even Dejan Lovren were being viewed by fans in a different light, the seasoned Lucas Leiva suddenly looked five years younger, and Philippe Coutinho had rediscovered his spark. Instantly we were talking about a squad with options all over the field.
Since then, we have taken one point from nine. The run of difficult away fixtures out of the way, people were predicting a glut of points from three very winnable games and an assault on the top four. Newcastle (away), West Brom (at home) and Watford (away) is a run of matches that should bring points no matter who the Liverpool manager is, and two abject defeats and an arguably fortunate home draw, deserve critical analysis that can’t be exclusively laid at the door of the players.
In the away fixtures particularly, at Newcastle where we didn’t register attempt on target until the 82nd minute, and at Watford where we had no discernible shape throughout, the performance level was as least as bad as anything that went before Klopp’s arrival.
Perhaps the results at The Etihad and Stamford Bridge falsely reappraised our thoughts on the quality of the squad, but to argue that Newcastle and Watford were down purely to a lack of fight, character and belief is too simplistic. If you do want to go down the road of players being gutless, and having no brio from the off, is it not fair to ask whose job it is to have the team bouncing out the tunnel in the first place?
At Newcastle, was there the intensity — the rotational, organised pressure on the ball — to Liverpool’s game that we saw at Spurs and in Manchester? Was there the considered, calm but defiant response to conceding early at Watford that we saw against Chelsea? Can some of that be attributed to the respective set-ups, and not entirely to inconsistent players incapable of sustained effort and ability?
In the North East, when the Reds went into the game full of confidence after the 6-1 Capital One Cup win, Christian Benteke was reintroduced and Liverpool were reduced to a statuesque, error-strewn imitation of what had gone before. There was little high-energy pressing of the Newcastle back four; the reborn Adam Lallana was omitted and the petrified Geordies were allowed to feel their way into a fixture they shaded and deservedly won in the second half.
At Watford, on a small unreliable pitch, the pressing trio of Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Coutinho were re-united but against a team unlikely to spend long on the ball at the back there was nothing to press. Through the middle, Lucas was left exposed centrally, with Henderson and Can employed wide right and left respectively leaving Liverpool’s defence susceptible to Watford’s direct running and early balls forward.
When Klopp was forced to introduce the more rudimentary presence of Divock Origi, and later Benteke, and eschew the shorter passing, Liverpool made some belated inroads at the other end. A more simplistic approach from the off, against opposition known for their own uncomplicated tactics, might have paid greater rewards.
In the wake of these two recent surrenders criticism seems to all too readily have fallen on the shoulders of the players. The same lads who were going to launch a title charge under Jürgen a few weeks are now being labelled a useless shower of shrinking violets. Moreno is again “brain dead”, Firmino newly “anonymous”, Lucas “finished” and Coutinho once more “disinterested”.
Klopp needs to get them back to the level they were at a few weeks ago — that is his job. When we were beating City and Chelsea, no-one was saying results have to “get worse before they get better”. You change a manager to get better results, in the short and the long term.
At Anfield, too, we have witnessed a succession of home performances that have failed to raise the pulse. There has seldom been a tempo — when Liverpool will automatically enjoy a majority of possession — to unsettle a deep-lying opposition defence. Despite the apparent creativity of a glut of number 10s, there has been a stark absence of guile and chances created. It hasn’t been good to watch, and nor have the results been good enough with just one win from four matches for Klopp in front of the Kop.
It is absolutely fair to recognise that Klopp is working with players brought in under an old regime. It is an unbalanced squad, lacking in quality in several areas, but is a collection of players far better than the results and performances served up in the last three weeks. Everyone has to take a share of the blame for that.
January looms as an opportunity for Klopp to begin to redress that balance of personnel, and buy players to suit a style of football he is renowned for. In the shorter term, adaptation might have to be his new virtue; to get more from players more suited to different styles of play. It is incumbent on him to restore the belief and verve we saw from those very same players during that very definition of a honeymoon period.
Jürgen Klopp is at the start of his Liverpool journey. Like Rafa Benitez who arrived with similar credentials from his homeland but as a tyro in English football, he’s making mistakes along the way. The results bear that out. All managers make mistakes and Klopp is no different. It is alright to say that and our relationship with him long term will be better served by an understanding that he won’t get it all right all of the time. If we put him on an unchallenged pedestal, the fall will be a heavy one.
Hopefully, Jürgen will still be making mistakes — and learning from them at Anfield — in five years’ time.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe