THE gates at Melwood opened last week to greet Jürgen Klopp and his players after the summer break, writes SEAN ATKINSON. With that, so began his much discussed pre-season training schedule under the stewardship of new fitness coach Andreas Kornmayer and nutritionist Mona Nemmer, both recruited from Bayern Munich.
The fitness of the Liverpool squad has been something under intense scrutiny since Klopp’s arrival in October. Weeks after being appointed, a spate of muscle injuries were suffered, nullifying the Reds’ defensive lines so much so that Steven Caulker was turned to on an emergency loan.
Prior to the Capital One Cup game against Exeter, Liverpool had 11 first team players out due to injury, with six of those sidelined due to muscle injuries. Klopp was forced to defend himself at the time, protesting that it was not his style of play or training methods that was culpable.
With there being just one Liverpool player left at Euro 2016 at the time of writing in Emre Can this means that the rest of the squad will be on the plane to the USA to take part in Klopp’s full first pre-season. With such a heavy emphasis on the power of the training pitch and a prescription of triple training sessions, Klopp will be looking to his squad to hit the ground running come August.
In previous seasons, Liverpool’s starts seem to have correlated with the strength of season they would go on to have. In 2013/14, when the Reds came so close to the title, Liverpool were out of the blocks with 10 points after five games played. The next two seasons gleaned six and seven points respectively, as Liverpool stumbled to sixth and eighth in the league.
So how have Klopp’s previous teams started their season?
FSV Mainz 05
Klopp began his managerial career at Mainz, after the sacking of Eckhard Krautzun, being appointed on the February 27, 2001. It was a massive undertaking for a man who was on the end of a sceptical reception from the local press upon his appointment.
He managed to guide a relegation-threatened squad to 14th place, after earning six wins out of his first seven games at the club.
This meant he could look forward to his first full pre-season at Mainz. It’s here where the dynamics between Klopp and his coaching staff Zeljko Buvac were established.
Reinhard Rehberg has followed Mainz for 25 years, writing about them for German newspaper and website Allgemeine Zeitung. He told of the dynamics between Klopp and his staff during pre-season training.
“Zeljko is outstandingly creative in inventing new complex forms of play in training,” he said.
“Klopp does the training plan, and the training schedule is almost completely Buvac.
“The most important part of pre-season was the development of the new players. Results in friendlies do not have as much value. We (journalists) rated the team tactically, and the group rehearsed play and tactical operations.
“If the necessary automatisms were seen, then we could rule on a good season.
“It (pre-season) was very important. The debilitating Klopp football with pressing/counter pressing and many intense runs and springs in the offensive switchover made it necessary that the squad was physically in top form after preparation.”
Much has been made of triple sessions, however Rehberg says it’s not just hours upon hours of running.
“Three sessions a day has already happened in Mainz,” he said.
“Not always, but often. The day often looked like this: early in the morning, a loose session plus stabilization, coordination and gymnastic. Noon, endurance and/or spring training and in the late afternoon, technique and tactics in complex shapes with game ball.”
However, the long haul pre-season flights is a change Klopp will have to get used to at Liverpool.
“In Mainz there was no major promotional trips. The club had, in the winter, a one week long training camp in Germany or Austria.
“If Liverpool make their US trip, Klopp and Buvac are doing their training program. They are content and (will) take no consideration to travel stress and test matches.”
With his first full pre-season under his belt, Mainz tallied up nine points after five games. Despite a dip in form in latter seasons, Reinhardt says that Klopp didn’t face intense scrutiny from the media in Germany.
“There was not pressure of the media in Mainz. For example, in 2005/06, Klopp started with his team in the Bundesliga with five defeats and only one goal scored.
“One reason for this was that Mainz played in the UEFA Cup parallel to the league for the first time.
“This was not usual for the players and added stress.
“We as journalists were positive and optimistic.”
Despite such a disastrous start to the season that year, Mainz went on to secure a respectable league position in that season’s Bundesliga.
Whether or not Klopp will be afforded similar patience by a notorious English media and an expect Liverpool fanbase if things don’t quite go to plan remains to be seen.
“The first five games of the season should never be underestimated for Klopp,” says Reinhardt.
“The team will be physically very fit, but the mentality, team spirit and sense of community unfold only usually during the season.
“Klopp loves to have a set matchday squad at the start. In Mainz he usually pulled through a season with 14 or 15 regulars. With three competitions in England, he of course (may not) work like that.”
Klopp moved to Dortmund after failing to regain promotion with Mainz after their relegation in 2006/07.
His time at Dortmund, if anything, is a testament to patience. He was allowed time to grow his team, allowing for a couple of what, some may call, substandard finishes over his first couple of years.
Players such as Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski took their chances, growing to become players of great stature in future seasons. Klopp also gave many youth and fringe players a chance to consolidate themselves in his teams. Over time, players like Kevin Grosskreutz, Sven Bender and Marcel Schemzler developed into first-team players.
This patience led to great success but some years after his initial appointment. Klopp lifted the Bundesliga title in 2011 and 2012, whilst also lifting the DFB Cup in ’12. Will fans afford Klopp the same patience if it takes that long to arrive? FSG seemingly will, with Klopp being offered a longer deal just nine months into his stay.
At Dortmund, on the whole, Klopp’s teams started mildly impressively. In their first title-winning season, the team started the first game of the season by running over 10km more than their opponents, Hamburg. This perhaps explains Klopp’s emphasis on the importance of pre-season.
His pre-season schedule while at Dortmund was highly thought out, showing expansive technical improvements since his time at Mainz. It included pioneering training exercises powered by the Footbonaut — a machine that aims to increase players’ reactions and accuracy.
He also employed a training system named Life Kinetik, aimed at improving the sharpness of the brain. It’s a system since employed by Ronald Koeman during his time at Southampton, and something that company founder Horst Lutz says Klopp is planning on bringing to Liverpool.
Over his seven seasons, the club only gained under seven points from their first five games on one occasion, his second season.
If anything, this record signifies the need not to panic. It would appear unlikely that a Klopp team starts the season catastrophically; even in his well-documented, difficult final season Dortmund began with a modest rather than disastrous seven points from five games.
Equally, even after his 2013/14 squad stormed their way to five straight wins, they ended up being eclipsed to the title by a strong Bayern side.
This season however it’s likely he’ll be expected to hit the ground running. Patience will surely be extended, but if the team stutter over the first five games, which include away fixtures at the likes of Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea and a home fixture against Premier League Champions Leicester, is it conceivable that questions may be asked? They shouldn’t given it is his first full season in charge of Liverpool but…
It’s easy to forget just how little time Klopp has spent on Merseyside. His first full year will be marked in October, yet he has already taken charge of 52 games.
Even if Liverpool haven’t taken the maximum 15 points from their first five fixtures this September, we shouldn’t worry. The two years Klopp won the league, Dortmund averaged 9.5 points after five games. A similar tally would surely be welcomed and set expectations high. However, if past history is anything to go by, a season with Klopp as manager is most definitely a marathon and not a sprint.
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