EVERYTHING in the garden is rosy. We have Jürgen Klopp as manager. We’re gonna win the league.
Oh, hang on a minute.
To what extent have we actually strengthened? Is Klopp capable of managing his pruned squad into contenders for the title or, if you’re not that bothered with the glory game, the empty chalice that is the top four?
P.S. It is early days, I know, but we’re 11th. Are we destined for another season competing with the also-rans?
I find myself oscillating between these two moods. Why can’t I be consistent? Because I’m a Liverpool fan and I want to win. I’m in no mood for hanging around and as a supporter first and foremost, my emotions aren’t always a bastion of rationale.
After Arsenal, I was bathing in the light of the rosy garden. After Burnley and Spurs — where five points were ceded frustratingly to title rivals — I have stumbled into a darker room. I detest deadline day with a passion but when the transfer window slammed shut, my eyes and equilibrium also adjusted to the dropping of an opaque blind.
Examining the Reds’ summer transfers, the hard facts of the matter are that Liverpool FC is in profit; only two Premier League clubs with a healthier summer balance sheet. This at a time when the eighth richest club in the world is awash with cash from a TV bonanza.
Making my guarded views public, via the insane medium of Twitter, brings out not so much the FSG apologists — though they do feature — but the staunchest of Klopp advocates.
Wails of “It’s what Klopp wants” and “It’s what Klopp did at Dortmund” most accurately sum up the defence of our cautious summer activity.
While Liverpool struggled during the middle third of last season, fans castigated the legacy of the players left at Klopp’s disposal. They bemoaned the timing of his appointment and insisted with a cull, his own men brought in, a punishing pre-season, and time to drill in his methods on the training ground everything would suddenly improve.
It’s an understandable argument given Klopp’s recruitment and development of young footballers at Borussia Dortmund and their high-intensity style which brought consecutive Bundesliga crowns. But, is Klopp the only manager in the Premier League capable of instilling high-octane fitness into his players? Are Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, and Antonio Conte, and dare I say Ronald Koeman, not also adept at coaching the best from their players; training their charges to realise more than the sum of their more expensively assembled parts?
If leaving some blindingly obvious gaps in the quality of the Reds’ squad is “What Klopp wants”, I’m struggling to get behind that. Most supporters would admit there is a clear issue at left-back. The manager himself recognised that in dropping Alberto Moreno in favour of James Milner.
In his recent interview with Gary Lineker, Klopp explained that he doesn’t want questions from players asking why they’re not in the team; explaining the obvious conclusion is that they’re not good enough. So, think of another question Albie, other than “OK, why am I still here, gaffer?”
Most would agree that Milner at left-back is a sticking plaster; a plodding right-footed midfield yeoman in a modern game that demands pace from full-back. A dubious improvement on a fleet-footed leftie prone to suspect decision-making.
I hear from fans that Klopp “Won’t spend money for the sake of it”, which alludes to there being no upgrade at left-back in world football available at the right price.
If that really is Jürgen’s opinion then I’d prefer to see the German adhere to his development philosophy and coach improved positional sense into Moreno. I’m not fussy on the alternative; to persist with honest medium-pacer Milner who was caught out by a long ball in the build up to Spurs’ equaliser last weekend.
If the left side of defence is the most obvious area to stick the boot in, we remain short in other positions. Cover for Nathaniel Clyne on the opposite flank appears non-existent and if Mamadou Sakho has been told he won’t play first-team football again this season, then we’re an injury or suspension away from Ragnar Klavan having to erase his Burnley nightmare from our consciousness.
The Burnley reverse also asks questions of the driving force and creativity in a midfield three of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana. Perhaps the eventual return of Emre Can partially resolves this issue, but if Liverpool had any real desire to go into the red during the window then an inventive bona fide midfielder with scope and pace to go past his man wouldn’t have gone amiss. Proven players of this ilk cost money and therein lies the rub.
What are the alternatives? How do we ensure a consistent spread of goals across matches, rather than racking up the occasional four or five when we’re allowed to play?
To me, unless Klopp envisages a diversion from false nines and/or one up front, the Reds will always struggle to create chances against teams who recognise our counter attacking strength and happily defend in numbers or “park the bus”.
Compounding concerns over breaking teams down (Burnley) and converting superiority into goals (Spurs) — home and away — is a confused picture up front. Danny Ings looks short of quality and opportunity and Divock Origi (still a novice) is struggling to recapture last season’s effervescence. When we do inevitably revert to fielding a stock-in-trade goalscorer, Daniel Sturridge remains, by a distance, the best poacher on the books.
Aside from the obvious — that his body no longer allows work-rate prerequisite for the Klopp pressing game — I’m struggling to make sense of the manager’s handling so far of a clearly disgruntled player; unless he legitimately feels that Sturridge with a point to prove is in his most potent mindset.
It seems increasingly fanciful to imagine Klopp and Sturridge not locking horns. However, following on from his omission at Arsenal, a stint on the right against Burnley and a needless snub at the hands of Origi and eventual 88th minute introduction at Tottenham (after goals in midweek at Burton) the only wonder is that a “surprise” Sturridge departure wasn’t the late gatecrasher to SKY’s deadline day party.
I constantly hear that Klopp “wants to wait” for his preferred targets and doesn’t want to spunk money like Brendan Rodgers. Bundesliga lads Mahmoud Dahoud and Christian Pulisic possibly fall into this category as we fiddle while another season burns.
Don’t hold your breath for January. The modern Liverpool FC has an array of excuses for waiting, particularly in winter. Two league titles shrivelled on the vine of January inertia and neglectful reliance on David N’Gog and Iago Aspas.
For transfer window balance, Sadio Mane, a long-held Klopp target, looks a fabulous signing. Wijnaldum shows promise as a midfield runner, supporting counters in the mould of a Terry McDermott. Joel Matip — on a sample of one league game — looks a classy centre-half. Loris Karius, arriving with a reputation much bigger than his transfer fee, still has to forge his way past an improved Simon Mignolet. Each acquisition has Klopp’s fingerprints all over it and for that, at least, we have to be thankful.
But is that all that Klopp really wants? I beg to differ and I hope I’m right.
I really want to win the league but I’m not convinced we’ve tried hard enough to achieve that this summer or even establish a bridge to challenge next year. Klopp — or the club (whatever that means these days) — might be happy to wait, but I’m not. Do you what you can and do it now.
I’m not going to apologise on anyone’s behalf for thinking that careful recruitment and development is what FSG want and they have a happy coincidence that Klopp views himself of the arch proponent of that strategy. It might work in this league — or it might not — but too much is being gambled on a wing and a prayer.
Perhaps at the root of all this Jürgen has been told to keep schtum. His paymasters might have had a word. Six year contracts are good for apparent stability when prospective suitors are sniffing around.
When we take our Liverpool FC and Jürgen Klopp blinkers off, maybe we look at a long list of departures –offset by some potentially prudent first-team investments that keep us competitive — and accept our transfer strategy this summer wasn’t all about the football.
However, as much we want to believe in Klopp wanting to play it his way and still win the unfair EPL game, our 2016 recruitment was more about respectfully taking part than the winning. Admirable soundbites pertaining to an ethical way of working in this game of dirty morals have been swallowed hook, line and sinker.
FSG might soon have another, more extensive profit to calculate from their portfolio. Analyse those healthy balance sheets again and ponder that eyes weren’t fixed exclusively on the glory this summer but instead cast to the riches of the Far East.
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