SO, where do we start this week?
I was going to begin writing this before the Leicester match but decided to hang fire in case anything of note happened that rendered my article useless before it was published.
As it happened, we just got to watch the same match again that we feel like we’ve been watching for years, so I needn’t have worried. I could have written a post-match review in advance and predicted 99 per cent of what took place.
I’m taking my TV back tomorrow. Keeps showing me the same match over and over again.
— Paul Cope (@paul7cope) 19 September 2017
It’s exhausting, isn’t it?
I was watching the game at home by myself which led me to spend more time inside the world of Twitter than I usually would, and it’s clear just from my short sojourn into the crazy realms of social media that the edges are already showing signs of wear and tear in the Jürgen Klopp rein.
Despite usually keeping a calm and balanced approach to all things football related, I find myself questioning the manager at a far earlier stage than I usually would, but mainly from the viewpoint that none of what I have witnessed over the past couple of weeks makes any sense to me, rather than in any fundamental issue with my belief in his qualities as a football manager.
Klopp has been extremely vocal in his support of his players since the transfer window gently closed at the end of August, which I have defended in the past as being a necessary part of the way in which he manages and the team spirit which is essential for the way his teams play. What makes little sense to me is that a few short weeks after refusing to buy a centre back because there are apparently none out there better than the ones Liverpool have got, he has now come out post match looking exasperated by his players (in which he has put his complete faith) making the same mistakes over, and over, and over again.
The fact that we are watching almost carbon copies of the same goals against Liverpool every few days says to me that there are either serious problems with the quality of players in key defensive positions or there are serious problems with the way in which those players are being coached on a daily basis. The irony is that literally everyone I know thinks that it is the former, and that the personnel is simply not of the required standard to win the Premier League or, indeed, any number of difficult games on the run in multiple competitions. Klopp has, therefore, made a huge rod for his own back by trying to convince us all that the players are good enough and that not one centre back in world football (other than Virgil van Dijk) would or could have improved upon what we have seen so far this season.
I have to admit that I’m baffled.
This article was originally going to focus solely on the recent comparisons being made between Klopp’s record to this point and that of Brendan Rodgers at the same stage in his tenure as the leader of The Mighty Reds. It’s still worth a mention even if only to wind some of you up about the qualities of Rodgers and how much he is still underrated by many inside and outside of Anfield.
Whenever I see someone comparing their respective records, I can never quite work out whether they’re trying to say that Klopp isn’t very good, Rodgers was better than people thought, a combination of both or, more likely, that they’re both rubbish.
Whatever angle it’s being attacked from, I think the argument is flawed unless it’s that they’re both really good managers who have actually done pretty well in the circumstances in which they found themselves.
Rodgers took over a failing team with a squad limited in numbers but sprinkled with gold dust and turned it into one of the most amazing football teams I have ever had the pleasure of watching on a weekly basis, taking it as close to the Holy Grail as Liverpool have come since 1990 before the wheels fell off after the departure of their best player, the decline of one of their greatest ever players and the questionable reinvestment of the Luis Suarez money.
Klopp took over a squad after a terrible start to a season, taking it to European and domestic finals within months, as well as a semi final and Champions League qualification in his second (and first full) season.
For those of you who will jump straight to the argument that Rodgers was nothing to do with the league title challenge because he had Suarez, I’ll just quickly make the point that I always make by saying that I can’t remember a Liverpool manager who ever won the league without a world class player in his team. Using world-class players to challenge for trophies is part and parcel of how it’s done. The fact that Rodgers created what he did around a player who before then had been mainly wonderful at dribbling past people before hitting the post speaks volumes about his coaching ability, which Suarez himself still references to this day when there is no need for him to do if it wasn’t genuine.
So, when Klopp’s record is questioned because it’s equivalent to or worse than Rodgers’ record at the same stage, I find myself wondering what it is people want. Liverpool’s new boss might not have challenged for a league title yet, but his record in the league to date has been hindered in both previous seasons by the cup runs that his side embarked upon. It’s impossible to compare records of number of games won in isolation without looking at what other factors had an impact.
We all know, for example, that in the run up to the Europa League final in 2016, players were being rested in league games to give Liverpool the best possible chance of winning a European trophy. We also know that Liverpool suffered terribly in the league last season because they tried, and failed, to win a two-legged league cup semi-final during an already busy January that came hot on the heels of the traditional Looney Tunes Christmas period.
And, importantly, we also know that Rodgers’ record to which Klopp’s is being compared included a period during which Liverpool played football from another planet and so very nearly won the league.
Aside from the nonsense of trying to compare Klopp with Rodgers, generally speaking I am of the view that no manager is, or should be, immune from criticism, even when they are as charismatic as Klopp. It does amuse me slightly, though, that there are already people claiming to be supporters who are calling for his head, given that in the week after he was appointed I remember recording an Anfield Wrap show in which I commented that I’d never seen the fan base so united in its support for a new manager being handed the job, and noted that it would be interesting to see how long it took some of those fans to turn against him and call for him to be sacked, changing their Twitter avatars from his bespectacled grinning face to that of a grimacing Diego Simeone.
It looks like the answer to that question is about 22 months, and I suppose that’s not bad for a Liverpool manager in the modern era and the knee-jerk world of the internet.
Anyone who is calling for his head at this point in time really needs to calm the fuck down and have a little word with themselves in the mirror. I’d guess that if you’re already acting like a raving banshee screaming for him to be sacked or calling radio shows calling him a clown it’s either because you want a bit of attention because you feel sad and lonely, or that you’re generally really angry in life and might want to ask yourself why.
For the rest of us, it’s a case of continuing to support the players in doing what they’re trying to do. This season has thrown up a challenge that most of them are not used to, with rotation having become a necessity in order to make sure that the legs of star performers aren’t falling off in the middle of January again. It’s worth remembering as well, that Klopp has never managed a team in the Premier League and Champions League previously, and that challenge is a completely different one to dealing with rotation in Germany, where there are no doubt opportunities to rest players against smaller Bundesliga teams who aren’t likely to beat you no matter which squad players you use. It’s important for all of us to remember that this team are all still on an upward trajectory despite the past week dampening all of our spirits and ruining the mood in our houses.
We can question decisions made in recruitment, team selections, tactics and substitutions without calling for the manager to be sacked and without creating an unbearable atmosphere which creates another hurdle for him and the players to overcome.
Football, like life, is a fickle beast and one in which fortunes can change quickly. This time last season Chelsea were floundering and everyone had awarded the league title to a rampant Manchester City side. We know now how that turned out.
So, we stick with them and we do our bit to help to pull them through this early season sticky patch. The good news from last night is that at least we know that January won’t be as busy as last season.
Which gives Jürgen and his team more time to buy a fucking centre back or two.