Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool: The story so far

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Having signed a three-year contract deal with the Reds in October, his arrival at Anfield was celebrated like one of a star signing – and he’s already begun to live up to the billing.

Jürgen Klopp. When rumours linking him to Anfield became concrete, and Brendan Rodgers‘ sacking from the club was finalised on that fateful Sunday evening, it would have been an understandable feeling for excitement to build within Liverpool supporters everywhere.

After all, the 48-year-old charismatic figure has asserted himself as one of the world’s best managers at an increasingly uneasy time for clubs and their managing staff themselves. In this day and age, it seems as though everyone’s future is virtually hanging in the balance once they’ve lost a few games, or the team are struggling for results.

Managers’ tenures are often finite

A few current examples, would be Louis van Gaal and Ronald Koeman. Both men are established professionals within the beautiful game, but due to shortcomings on the pitch for their respective Premier League sides – Manchester United and Southampton – speculation has begun to surface, suggesting that their futures may be at risk, if results continue in the same vein.

Manchester United, for all their financial firepower and reputation as one of the European heavyweights, haven’t won in any of their last six matches. Pundits, critics, even supporters are beginning to fall into the trap of suggesting there might be a crisis brewing at Old Trafford. But, whatever happened to patience?

The situation is similar at St. Mary’s. Southampton, who finished last season in a fantastic seventh place, have struggled to replicate that form on a regular basis this term. That in itself, shouldn’t be a surprise. So’ton have continued to silence their critics, who’ve tipped them for relegation after the inevitable departures of key first-team players. The likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Rickie Lambert, Morgan Schneiderlin and Toby Alderweireld have all left the club over the past 24 months to join stronger teams, and their importance to the team in itself could not be understated. They’ve made more acquisitions this past summer, but it obviously takes time for Koeman to establish his strongest starting line-up, and rotate accordingly with tactical shape and their opposition in mind.

Klopp an exciting, much welcome addition

After a successful, and frankly remarkable, 12-year playing career at German side FSV Mainz 05, Jürgen became the manager – leading them to promotion into the Bundesliga whilst becoming the longest-serving manager in the club’s history, in a successful seven-year tenure. Being a one-club man, highlights plenty of qualities in a player. So much so that in today’s game, players move almost every season, jumping from club-to-club, as opposed to sticking by one side and trying to improve them as much as they possibly can.

Klopp's success with Mainz propelled him to new heights in Germany

Klopp celebrating during his successful days at Mainz. | Image: Getty

Somewhere on the Internet, there’s probably a list of all the one-club players that have kicked a football professionally. Just imagine the sheer amount of people that have played competitively, for one club, throughout their career. Well, Jürgen Klopp is on that list.

For all of its non-stop, frantic action every matchday, plenty of questions have been asked as to whether the Bundesliga is as competitive or unpredictable as, for example, the Premier League or Sky Bet Championship. You may get the odd surprise result occasionally, but the general consensus is, that Bayern Munich rule the roost and they have virtually no competition challenging them for top spot.

When none other than Klopp himself, joined Borussia Dortmund in 2008, he silenced critics once more. After a transition period at BVB, they won the Bundesliga trophy, not once, but twice in consecutive seasons (2011, 2012). So much for a one-team league, huh. Four other trophies (DFL-Super Cup x 3, DFL-Pokal), a prestigious Champions League final as well as personal accolades came calling for the German, who was unsurprisingly named as the German Football Manager of the Year in back-to-back years too.

Sheer delight: BVB players hold Klopp aloft after the Bundesliga win of 2011

Sheer delight: BVB players hold Klopp aloft after the Bundesliga win of 2011

Feeling excited yet? Well, Klopp’s arrival had a Hollywood-type feel to it. Indescribable, some might say. A managerial appointment to not only revitalise spirits within the Liverpool setup, but also, to refresh the Premier League as a whole. Why is that though? His energetic personality, the willingness to get the best out of young players, he’s both friendly and stern when he needs to be. But as well as that, his passion for football really shines through.

Liverpool need change – for the better

That’s not to say that Brendan Rodgers, or any other of Liverpool’s predecessors, didn’t have that. They weren’t able to fully channel those energies into helping build success of the team on a consistent, extended period of time, in all honesty.

Klopp’s Gegenpressing tactic, counter-attacking style of play, is one that European teams struggle to handle. Partly because his formations, the way he tinkers, is never too predictable, but also, it’s genuinely hard to defend or contend with.

Performances against Chelsea, Manchester City and in particular, Southampton, have all given supporters and rival fans alike a glimpse of what’s to come – once he has the freedom to assemble his own side.

I take a specific look at their display against the Saints, not only because they thrashed them away from home, but the way in which they actually completed the impressive achievement. In a Cup fixture, form is irrelevant. It all boils down to, who is better prepared on matchday, most of the time.

If you start quickly on the frontfoot, take your chances, you should have enough composure to seal a win. Right? Well, Southampton did. So why did they lose 6-1, then?

Tactical analysis

In the following three screenshots, you’ll begin to understand both the positives, and negatives, attached to the task at hand for Klopp with his ever-improving Liverpool team.

From this first screen grab, it’s the seconds before Southampton’s early opener against the Reds. Sadio Mané broke the deadlock after just 45 seconds, sending the home supporters into raptures. But the main reason why the fans were so happy was because they’d split Liverpool’s backline in half effortlessly, due to some quick thinking on their part, but also some defensive deficiencies on the visitors’ part.

As the ball has been played down the line, the majority of the Liverpool players are ball-watching, as opposed to pressing tightly. This leaves a major gap (depicted, in red) for the So’ton players to attack in the area, where they eventually score. 

Next up, the art of effective pressing. By applying adequate pressure upon opponents, it often forces them to make mistakes that they otherwise wouldn’t, if they had enough time and space to make a positive decision in possession of the ball.

Ryan Bertrand is the player on the ball in this picture. Having initially delayed his chance to play a one-two with Dušan Tadić, it allowed ample time for the Liverpool midfielders to get tight to both him and his teammate on the left-hand side. Forcing him back towards his own goal, their pressure toward him has shut off the possibility of the pass altogether, which in itself is beneficial, considering they’d conceded from a similar position earlier in the match.

Bertrand’s option to pass forward has been effectively shut off by Liverpool’s high pressing tactic near their own 18-yard area, meaning the fullback had to play backward to retain possession. He didn’t, lost the ball by attempting to force play, and the Reds equalised on the counter shortly afterward.

Lastly, more defensive frailties being exposed. Albeit, slightly harsh from my part – but the smallest of mistakes can prove catastrophic at the highest level, and someone with such an error-prone reputation as Martin Skrtel, these things have to be flagged.

Southampton could have scored from this particular screengrab, if not ultimately for the sharp hands of Adam Bogdan. That probably would have changed the whole dynamic of the game, because a goal would have halved the deficit (making it 3-2 at the time), and pushed them on to equalise and possibly even end up victorious.

Skrtel is the player in the black box. As the lofted ball over-the-top is played, he’s already backpedalling. Hoping that Pellé, or another opponent, doesn’t get there before he does. The backline is disorganised and unnecessarily disrupted by one delivery into space – which shouldn’t be the case.

Managerial nous for varying situations

If there’s one quote, news piece or general player reactions since Klopp’s arrival at Liverpool, that has really stuck with me since, it probably isn’t the one you’re thinking about.

Alberto Moreno‘s hard-hitting truths truly hit home at the end of October, where the Spaniard admitted he felt angry at being left out of the side under Rodgers earlier in the campaign – even though the Ulsterman himself was saying he’d been “training hard.”

“I felt I was playing well, training well. He told me that I was training well, but I couldn’t see why I wasn’t getting a chance at the beginning of the season.”

Then, weeks after Klopp’s arrival…

“I just get the impression [from Klopp] that he really feels the game – he has a huge passion, which I think I do too. He wants you to express yourself, to give 200% and I think I offer that.”

“He talks with me a lot, I feel he trusts me. He spends a lot of time with me; he really wants me to learn English as quickly as possible so he can get his ideas over.”

Quotes’ source: The Guardian

So, what’s to come?

Despite some of their impressive results, there have been some forgettable games played, too. Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Watford have all recorded three points against the Reds in the League over the past month-and-a-half.

There are still some areas which need improving, moreso in defensive areas. Martin Skrtel looks alarmingly erratic, and opposition players are gradually beginning to expose him even further for that. Mamadou Sakho – if you’ll please excuse his display against the Hornets – needs a solid centre-back partner, which means it’s finally time for Dejan Lovren to step up and just like Klopp’s done over the years, silence the critics. Having got off to an inconsistent start at Anfield following his acrimonious departure from Southampton last summer, the Croatian will be hoping to prove his price-tag and quality once and for all.

Youth and fringe players will ultimately get more opportunities to play, as Klopp is yet to fully settle on a preferred starting XI yet, which is understandable given the depth of first-team players at his disposal.

Jordan Rossiter, 18, has been tipped for future stardom - and featured in their Europa League fixture with Sion

Jordan Rossiter, 18, has been tipped for future stardom – and featured in their Europa League fixture with Sion

Liverpool, much unlike their rivals Manchester United, have embraced the Europa League. After all, it is a prestigious competition to play in, even if it’s the sister alternative to the Champions League. What’s the point of being in a tournament that you’ve got virtually no chance of winning?

Ultimately, players will depart, acquisitions will be signed, and his style of play will shine through. With Klopp at the helm, he’s already provided some refreshing insight into the future success that awaits Liverpool. The next question is, when can he deliver it?

 

 

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