We’ve had Jurgen Klopp in the Premier League for nearly 16 months! How time flies. Nearly a year on from Liverpool’s Capital One Cup defeat on penalties to Manchester City, I want to review how Klopp’s done so far, and whether he’s really taken Liverpool forward or not. In this I’ll look at what I believe are the 7 most important things a manager should take care of in their role as Manager of a football club; trophies, performance in big games, being respected and loved, their position in the league, good signings, bringing through youngsters, and ultimately the club’s image as a whole.
1. Achievements And Trophies
Well, there are none, and probably will be none this season. But he’s come really close on several occasions. As mentioned before, they suffered defeat to Manchester City in the League Cup final on penalties, and made the Europa League final as well, beating Man Utd on the way and losing 3-1 to a very impressive Sevilla side. He’s taken Liverpool close to two trophies, and this season reached another League Cup semi final. Now, don’t knock a side just because they haven’t won these individuals trophies. That fact that they’re getting close on a consistent basis suggests there’s a strong mentality in the side during cup games, that they’re able to play knowing ‘it’s win or lose today, no draws’. However, whilst I think this is a good trait of Liverpool as a club, I can’t say this is necessarily down to Klopp.
In fact, Liverpool have been the ‘nearly men’ for many years now, going back to Kenny Dalglish as well. Liverpool appeared in an FA Cup final against Chelsea which they lost, and under Brendan Rogers were also Cup semi-finalists. Rogers also took them to within a Gerrard slip of the title, and they haven’t come as close since. Apart from a League Cup win with Dalglish in 2012, they haven’t got over the line often enough. You’d have to go back to the years 2000 to 2007 to find Liverpool’s last purple patch in winning trophies, where they bagged themselves 2 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, 2 Super Cups, 2 Community Shields, a Europe League win and the most famous Champions League title win of all time.
All that said, I’m not sure if Klopp is taking them any closer to Cup wins or titles than Rogers, Dalglish or Benitez themselves did.
2. Big Game Performances
This is where I’m convinced Klopp has had a real impact. He’s managed to implement a style of football that really stifles bigger sides, and makes managers really question how to approach a game against the reds. Liverpool this season have bagged wins against Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, all away from home, and totally outplayed Spurs at the lane on the third week of the season, never mind two good draws against Manchester United. Klopp has made his side very hard to beat for the big boys, with Chelsea struggling for a draw at Anfield despite being probably the most form side the league has seen in recent years. Their high pressing style brings out their determination, drive and hunger in a very physical manner. Whilst maybe not an efficient style of football, it’s a truly infectious one that gets the team and crowd excited and fills the stadium with energy. In big games, it gives Liverpool an edge. Klopp has really nailed this, and big clubs are still struggling to find a way to beat them in this kind of form.
3. Earning Respect
Klopp is very charismatic. He comes across as fun, and bluntly honest when he needs to be. He’s a journalist’s delight and isn’t short of a strict comment or stern facial expression. More importantly though, he’s won over the fans, most of the public and press, and has bought himself an extra year more than other managers in the job no matter how bad results are, simply because he’s so loved and everyone buys into his methods. The respect has certainly been earned, but football management is a tough business and he needs to deliver acceptable results on a regular basis if the Liverpool owners are going to keep buying into him. I think this is another thing he’s certainly got spot on. If he shouts at, or criticises the crowd, they almost seem to agree and blame themselves – they’re under his spell. I think this certainly gives him a boost when trying to implement his style.
4. Position In The League
The position isn’t really improving too much. An early run of form put Liverpool right in the mix of a title race, but they’ve fallen short and maybe a lack of experience and squad depth has cost them in vital weeks where almost all hope of any silverware quickly diminished. It’s hard to think Rogers’ wouldn’t have taken them as far, considering he built the most entertaining Liverpool side of the last 7 years. Klopp needs to finish in the top 4 to prove he’s really taking this team forward. However, it’s looking like top 4 will be a struggle with United and City finding form, Tottenham looking impressive, and Arsenal always finding a way in no matter what.
Klopp gets mixed reviews on his signings. I suppose Sadio Mane is the real star of the bunch, adding pace and directness to a side that really lacked it. He’s made them a far more effective team when space opens up, and players like Coutinho and Lallana are really benefiting from it. Wijnaldum is a great signing as well. He can score from anything and works like a dog in midfield. He’s physical and skilful, and has been used really well by Klopp. He is undoubtedly one of this hits.
With regards to the ‘misses’, I think Loris Karius has to fall under that category. The kid is young and has been involved in a lot of off-field drama in his first months in England, and he may prove everyone wrong, but at this very moment he’s looking like a poor signing. Joel Matip is also considered by most as a hit, but I just don’t see it. He’s probably the best of a bad bunch, but Liverpool haven’t improved at the back with him and continue to leak goals. I don’t see him having a real impact on the side in the way Mustafi, Alderweireld, Bailly and Luiz have had on all of Liverpool’s rivals. Klavan is a similar story, though I don’t think he’s played enough for Liverpool to be judged, and at the Emirates looked impressive in handling Alexis Sanchez, so I wouldn’t rule him out just yet.
6. Youngsters Coming Through
Klopp has shown he’s not scared to throw youngsters in when the squad’s had injuries or suspensions, but I don’t think they’ve quite lived up to expectations. Woodburn is very young and could definitely make an impact on the side as he grows and matures, and Alexander-Arnold looks a good young player too. Liverpool have young talent coming through, but I wonder if Klopp is the manager to bring the best out of them. It’s all well and good giving them a chance, but you need to nurture them as well and I’m not sure he’s capable of doing it at the level of Pochetino or Wenger, or Southampton in general, who seem to churn out young English talent every season and then sell them on to Liverpool. We’ll see though, this is the kind of thing that takes a while to get right and Klopp’s impact on the academy won’t be felt for many years, if at all. Playing these youngsters in the first place is a good start though.
7. Liverpool’s Image
Klopp has definitely installed a style and an image. They’re known as enternainers, capable of the very best or the very worst, but ultimately doing everything all-guns-blazing. Whether Liverpool fans are happy with such an erratic approach is down to them to say, but as a neutral I definitely enjoy it. Despite no trophies, and questions over whether Liverpool have really risen up the table much, there’s definitely a sense that Liverpool are a top 4 club again, whether they finish in it or not. Many clubs will be dreading their trips to Anfield, and bigger sides are very aware that Liverpool are a real rival again, where they maybe haven’t been in recent years.
Compared To The Rest?
I’ve questioned Klopp’s league finish and current position so far, and saying that perhaps doesn’t suggest improvement from the Rogers’ era. However, I think this is more a reflection of the Premier League as a whole rather than Klopp as a manager. Liverpool are sitting amongst Arsenal, Man Utd, Man City and Tottenham – where they belong. At the beginning of the season they’d have taken that, obviously not knowing how incredible Chelsea were going to be just one year on from finishing 10th. This does show progress, because big spending Guardiola, Mourinho and even Wenger are struggling to climb this table as well, and that only further cements the idea in my mind that Liverpool are a top side again – always a top club, but now a top side.
What Do I Expect From Them?
Bigger and better! Klopp has made an impact, and it’s about growing that now. He needs a squad, not an XI. He has the XI. Liverpool can win the league and compete in Europe if they fix the small things that need fixing. This season, I’ll stick with my original predictions; which is that they’ll finish 5th. I’m sorry Liverpool fans! Perhaps you’ll prove me wrong, but the teams’ start to 2017 and the fact that they didn’t add depth in January suggests to me that they’re slowing down and struggling to get through games in the effortless way they did before. I don’t think they’ve been found out, I just think they’re exhausted and they’re looking to Coutinho and Firmino to get them through games, which doesn’t happen so easily in this league anymore. I predict 5th, but this shouldn’t be considered bad. It’s all steps in the right direction, towards where Liverpool want to be again. Maybe UEFA can give us a 5th Champions League place? We bloody deserve it over some of the rubbish in there now.