???️ Two years of Jurgen Klopp – What has he done right and wrong?

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October 8th officially marked 2 years since Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was hired by FSG following the sacking of previous boss Brendan Rodgers. It was a hiring that excited millions of Liverpool fans around the world, and worried many more fans of other teams. Klopp came with a notorious reputation for high pressing football that focuses on intense pace in attack. A well-celebrated and acknowledged feature of Jurgen Klopp’s tactics is the counter-press, which is essentially the concept of winning the ball back immediately after losing it, rather than waiting for certain triggers to press. Many pundits and fans were eager to see how this intense style of play would fare in the Premier League and how long it would take for the Liverpool squad of 2015/16 to adapt to the philosophies Klopp wanted to bring in. If I remember correctly, it was a Liverpool squad that was lacking pace. We had a shortage of nippy wingers and only one or two top quality players. We’d just lost Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers had struggled to replace any of the top players he had lost over the course his tenure at Liverpool manager. It’s fair to see that the last two years have brought ups and downs. I’ll give my overall verdict of Klopp’s time at the end of this article, because that verdict is going to based on how I think Klopp has performed in several aspects that I consider key to building success at our club, and I will be dissecting each of those individually.

Making use of the squad he had when he arrived

As I said before, Klopp arrived at Liverpool to a squad perhaps lacking the pace it needed to be capable of completely making the high-press style their own. In the last 3 summers of the Brendan Rodgers era, Liverpool had lost most of the spine that had been there when Rodgers arrived. Jamie Carragher had retired in 2013, Luis Suarez was sold to Barcelona in 2014, and Steven Gerrard left for LA Galaxy in 2015. It was the failure to properly replace these players that was the downfall for Rodgers. Try as he might, he signed some good players, but he couldn’t recover from losing these big names and his poor start to the 15/16 season saw him gone. It left Klopp with a squad containing players such as Joe Allen, Christian Benteke and Jordan Ibe when he arrived. While these weren’t bad football players overall, their true ability is reflected by the clubs they have ended up at since the arrival of Klopp, all are now at lower Premier League sides showing no promise of breaking into the top 6 any time soon. However, he had players with bags of potential who hadn’t yet thrived under Rodgers, and he’s starting to turn them into much bigger players in the team. The two big examples that are best to talk about here are Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino. Lallana had a few injury problems in his first season at Liverpool in 2014/15 but overall didn’t really live up to the expectation. However, he has become an integral part of the style of play Klopp wanted to bring to Anfield. He’s also missed the start of this season through injury and it’s so apparent how much we miss his energy in midfield when he’s not on the pitch. His creativity is also something that goes amiss. I feel like when we play a midfield three of Gini Wijnaldum, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson, these players are all quite similar and there is little creativity when it comes to starting attacks, and there is certainly less intensity in the high press when Lallana isn’t on the field. Firmino has the same influence. The Brazilian hadn’t even scored for the club when Klopp arrived, but he made the decision to play him in the false 9 role and this worked a treat. The first time we really saw what he can do was in the 4-1 win away at Manchester City almost two years ago now. This was where we began to see his potential for creativity and the start of his great partnership with Philippe Coutinho. He, like Lallana, has the work ethic that Klopp wants to see and that’s one of the reasons he remains our first choice centre-forward, ahead of our so-called ???best finisher’ in Daniel Sturridge.

Players he has brought to the club

So far this is perhaps one of the more controversial things about Klopp’s reign as Liverpool boss. He’s made some fantastic signings, that’s something that everyone can agree with. In fact, I’d even go as far to argue that he is yet to make a bad signing (we are yet to see enough of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to judge this, and I still believe that Loris Karius has the potential to come good). He’s brought Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, Gini Wijnaldum and Joel Matip here, all for reasonable prices given the current inflation of the market. These have all been good signings but the criticism has been that he hasn’t made enough signings in the right places, namely at the back. Our unsuccessful attempt to sign Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk this summer lead to a transfer window that overall most people saw as a failure, and even though I was sceptical to label it as that when it closed, the defensive mistakes we are making are indeed making me also feel that we should’ve done better. One of Klopp’s traits as a manager is he identifies players that will fit best in his team and is not prepared to accept an alternative option that, most likely, has less quality. This is both a blessing and a curse as when he gets his man, it works. Look at Salah and Mane, both have been great signings, but his naivety to not go for anyone else but Van Dijk this summer looks as if it could cost us. Dejan Lovren, despite reports he’s playing while injured, has proven that he isn’t good enough time and time again already this season. As much as Van Dijk was the man Klopp wanted, should a point have come when Klopp should’ve cut his losses and signed someone else? Possibly. But if he is planning for a world where is going to be at Anfield for 5/6 years, if FSG have assured him that that’s the time frame he will be given, why should he settle for shitty alternatives if he knows he has the time to build what he wants to build? His long-term targets are something to discuss another time, but what I am trying to take into consideration is the reasons why he has perhaps not bought in areas a lot of fans would’ve preferred him to do so. When it comes to the actual players he has signed since joining the club (he’s now had two summer windows) they have nearly all been successes, with some not quite there yet but certainly having potential. Overall I feel Klopp has done well in this aspect of the job and what some may perceive as mistakes in the transfer market actually have reasoning behind them in a long-term sense.

Competitive success on the pitch

We can discuss player management and signings off the pitch all day long, but it is the success a manager brings on the pitch that he is judged on at the end of his career. There were plenty of flaws to Rafa Benitez, but he will always be remembered as a successful Liverpool manager because his Champions League triumph in 2005 and FA Cup win in 2006, as well as another Champions League final in 2007. Klopp made two cup finals in first season, which was already a massive step in the right direction. We were painfully unlucky in the Capital One Cup final vs Man City, where we lost on penalties. The Europa League final was a tough watch, where we put in a very poor performance in the second half despite being ahead at half time. The thing is that people need to remember is that there’s a huge learning curve to Premier League football. Klopp came with such a successful reputation from his time at Dortmund that a lot of fans expected success overnight. 2 years is not a long time in football. It’s a fraction of the time Sir Alex Ferguson had at Manchester United. You could argue that football has changed and that no one is allowed the time he had anymore, but there’s a reason he was so successful. Some managers have the ability to come and make it work at clubs straight away, such as Antonio Conte at Chelsea and Jose Mourinho at Man United (neither of which have been perfect, by the way), but these two have mass amounts of financial backing thrown at them which Liverpool can’t compete with it. I do think we’re underinvested overall but it’s unrealistic for fans to believe that we can compete financially with Manchester City, I’m sure if we could, we would. As much as trophies are something we all desire as fans, Klopp has made us exciting and enthralling to watch, which is something every team wants to boast about. With the squad depth we had in the 2016/17 season, some may have argued it was unlikely we’d be able to secure a Champions League place and yet we did, which we did. No one can deny that we have seen progress on the pitch over the last two years and as level-headed fan, that’s all I ask for. In his opening press conference he said “I think when I am sat here in 4 years we may have one title”. This quote alone is recognition, from himself, that he can see he has a long-term job on his hands.

So, should we be happy?

Of course we should be. You hear pundits and some fans complaining, criticising, suggesting that the team is no further along than two years ago, but I completely disagree. Maybe at the back we aren’t much further along, but look at the incredible pace and ruthlessness we have going forward when it all clicks. Like I said before, Klopp doesn’t have the financial backing of Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte at his disposal, so he can’t go out and buy every Tom, Dick and Harry he wants to throw into the squad. He’s here for the long term, he knows that, the owners know that, the more switched on fans realise that. In another two years time, if we haven’t moved any further along, then start asking questions. For now, enjoy the ride, I honestly believe that Klopp is turning us back into a strong force in European football, one high press at a time.   By Ben Kelly
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