In October 2015, former Borussia Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp succeeded Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. Now going on three years since his arrival, question marks still unfairly loom over the German manager. So, how has he really performed since joining the Reds?
It has now been two-and-a-half years since wildly successful former Borussia Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp was brought to Anfield. The question remains however: Has he actually improved things over the past 29 months?
Is Liverpool in a better place now than they were in October 2015? These questions have no easy answer and so it should shock no one that supporters of the club are divided in their responses. Should LFC be challenging for the league title at this point, rather than struggling to maintain a Champions League place in the table?
Klopp inherited a Dortmund side in 2008 that was a shadow of its former self from the previous decade. From 1995-2002 BVB won three German Championships and the 1996-97 UEFA Champions League. Borussia Dortmund was undeniably one of the best football clubs on the planet during this time. Things quickly unraveled though, as the club was in danger of becoming bankrupt only a few years later in 2005.
After a few seasons of avoiding relegation, poor managerial hires, and a depleted roster, Jürgen Klopp was appointed as the next manager of BVB during the summer of 2008. His positive impact was immediately felt as he guided Dortmund to a sixth place finish in the league upon concluding his debut season in the Ruhr. The year prior the club was 13th in the final Bundesliga table.
Under Jürgen Klopp, BVB qualified for Europe in six of his seven seasons as the boss (the lone exception being his first season), won the Bundesliga twice, won the German Cup (DFB-Pokal) in 2012 and advanced to the 2013 Champions League final. His time at Borussia Dortmund was an overwhelming success as he helped make the club’s “Echte Liebe” brand a worldwide-known commodity. They were once again a giant in the Bundesliga.
The Liverpool rebuild begins as “The Normal One” comes to Anfield
Klopp was rumoured to be Pep Guardiola’s replacement at Bayern München once the Spaniard was to depart the Säbenerstrasse follwing the 2015-16 campaign. Before this could even happen, the Liverpool managerial position opened up out of nowhere. In October, 2015, a struggling Liverpool side found themselves in the middle of the Premier League table, with all title hopes dashed and the possibility of qualifying for Europe a laughable one.
“Kloppo” inherited a side that was miles away in terms of being in contention for a league title. This was primarily because of a horrid transfer policy during the Brendan Rodgers era, meaning, Rodgers himself was perhaps not the primary issue. There are still those who subscribe to the notion: It was FSG’s fault, not Rodgers’.
An overhaul of the Liverpool roster was desperately needed, though, would likely have to wait until the 2016 summer transfer window. In the meantime, Klopp would have to make do with the squad he had. LFC finished eighth in the Premier League that season, but Klopp, ever full of surprises, did guide the The Reds all the way to the Europa League final, losing 1-3 to Sevilla. After only seven months having been at Anfield, this was quite the accomplishment.
When a new manager comes to a club it is crucial for that person to stamp his/her brand on the squad. For Klopp, the brand was “heavy metal football.” Klopp is considered a mastermind of the Gegenpressing philosophy, which he popularized during his stay in the Bundesliga. It requires all outfield players to press the opposition immediately after being dispossessed. This style of play is highly aggressive and can be dangerous if everyone is not in sync, operating as a unit.
Gegenpressing essentially does not allow the opposition a chance to organize their attack upon gaining possession. This leaves them vulnerable to making an errant pass and poor execution in general. In theory, the suffocating press allows for a quick regaining of possession by the defence. Additionally, the side who was trying to advance will be caught off-guard with their own players streaking forward towards goal. This makes the opposition highly vulnerable to a quick counter-attack themselves, which is precisely the result Klopp aims for.
In order for Liverpool to excel in Jürgen Klopp’s system he would need the necessary players to carry out his vision. During the summer of 2016 Liverpool acquired Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan, Georginio Wijnaldum, and the sensational Sadio Mané. These players were to be the first pieces of Klopp’s LFC puzzle. Adding them to a nucleus of Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Adam Lallana, and the incredibly-gifted Philippe Coutinho appeared to be a good first move toward sustained success.
Return to Premier League relevancy and the Champions League
For Klopp and Liverpool, the 2016-17 season was a success. LFC achieved their goal of a top-four finish in the Premier League, qualifying them for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in three years. More impressive perhaps, the Reds did not lose a single match against any of England’s other “Top Six” sides (Chelsea, United, City, Spurs and Arsenal). For many supporters of the club, this was viewed as being ahead of schedule in Klopp’s rebuild phase.
Liverpool were back where they belonged: among Europe’s elite and a legitimate contender for English football supremacy. In the summer of 2017 Klopp would again target names that fit his style of play. This particular transfer window was a tale of two players, one of which signed with Liverpool immediately, the other having to wait until the winter. Of course we are talking about Mohamed Salah, and Virgil Van Dijk.
Salah has been the undisputed best transfer in the world this season and Van Dijk has ascended to captain of the defence in only a matter of weeks. With the addition of RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita already guaranteed for next season, Liverpool’s transfer market business has been nothing short of sensational. Not to be left out of this discussion is Andy Robertson. The former Hull City full back has progressed nicely since coming to Merseyside.
Even injuries and off-pitch drama cannot stall the Klopp agenda
Things got off to a rough start for the beleaguered Liverpool back-four during the first half of the 2017-18 campaign. They were conceding goals at an alarming rate, essentially negating the brilliant efforts of attack which can only be described as “world class.”
Was the lack of VVD the prime reason for this? While Van Dijk is certainly a good player whose impact was immediately felt upon joining the Reds, there is simply no excuse for the complete lack of intelligent defending that plagued Liverpool during the early part of the season.
Many pundits compare Klopp’s first two years at Borussia Dortmund to his first two at Liverpool. This is absurd for a variety of reasons. To begin, the Bundesliga is a vastly different league from the English top flight in terms of talent and playing style.
While on the subject of talent, the roster at BVB certainly had far less of it than that of his inaugural LFC squad. Lastly, the two clubs have incomparable finances when comparing Klopp’s first season with each.
Let’s not compare the 2008-10 Borussia Dortmund sides with those at Liverpool from 2015-17. Instead, why not examine what went right for Klopp in his first full season at LFC, and how the team has progressed over the course of the 2017-18 campaign.
To begin, there was a complete lack of pitch awareness and communication between centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip. This was on clear display in an early season match against Newcastle United in which the LFC back line was absolutely horrid over periods of time.
They conceded a critical goal which can only be described as one of the worst of the Klopp era. The injury to right back Nathaniel Clyne has certainly had an impact on the LFC defence, though, young phenom Trent Alexander-Arnold has done an admirable job to fill that role.
Alberto Moreno has drastically improved this season over last, but many believe that Andy Robertson has outplayed the Spaniard since his untimely injury in December. Moreno will struggle to supplant Robertson upon his return.
Team captain Jordan Henderson has slightly regressed in year two under Klopp. A popular belief for this is that the player is required to do far more than a traditional central defensive midfielder. Henderson’s fitness should also be taken into consideration as the player has suffered numerous injuries over the past few seasons.
Ragnar Klavan has never developed into a top-tier Premier League centre-back since coming to Liverpool from FC Augsburg and Joe Gomez still has much to learn before he can be considered a week-to-week starter at this position.
The offence, comparatively speaking, has faired far better than the defence in 2017-18. It has not come without it’s own headlines though. The Philippe Coutinho transfer debacle, which started over the summer, finally came to a conclusion in January with the sale of the player.
Sadio Mané has seen a drop in form this season, scoring only five goals in league play since September 9th. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has certainly had his positive moments such as in LFC’s win over Manchester City in January. The “Ox” needs to show more consistency in order to increase his selections into the starting XI.
Emre Can appears to have one foot out of the door at times. He, like the aforementioned players, has had his good and bad moments. It is likely Can will be departing Anfield at the conclusion of the current campaign.
Liverpool’s two most consistent players in attack this season have been Roberto Firmino and the undisputed club MVP of 2017-18, Mo Salah. Where would Liverpool be without Mo Salah and “Bobby?”
Firmino has become one of the world’s best “false 9s” and Salah is breaking club records seemingly every week. The two of them have combined to make Liverpool a threat to beat any team on the continent this season.
Has Klopp moved Liverpool forward?
LFC currently sit in second place in the Premier League with 60 points. The Reds are four points ahead of their 2016-17 pace as well as being two positions higher in the table. They have scored six goals more after 29 matches played from a year ago and have conceded four fewer.
In short, Klopp’s side has improved both offensively and defensively, if only marginally. Some clubs such as Chelsea and Arsenal have taken a step back this season while Liverpool, despite their Champions League commitments, has continued to improve.
This despite the lack of depth at centre-forward, having loaned both Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi out, and midfielder Adam Lallana being injured for most of the season. We have seen a changing of the guard at Anfield as the “Klopp-era” players have replaced their predecessors at almost every position.
Still, many people want to compare his Dortmund success with his Liverpool results. If we are going to do that, it is key to note that it was in fact year three when Borussia Dortmund took the leap from being a top five Bundesliga side to becoming German Champions.
It was the summer prior to Klopp’s third season at Dortmund when the club signed additional cornerstone players Lukasz Piszczek, Shinji Kagawa, and Robert Lewandowski. Those were added to a roster which already included Sebastian Kehl, Sven Bender, Kevin Grosskreutz, Marcel Schmelzer, Mario Götze, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Roman Weidenfeller, Nuri Sahin and Mats Hummels.
To summarize, Borussia Dortmund in 2010-11 was better than Liverpool is currently (if only from a chemistry and tactical understanding perspective, not necessarily as a direct player to player comparison). Klopp needs and deserves slightly more time to complete his vision of the squad.
How far can Jürgen Klopp take Liverpool?
After 29 months at Anfield, Klopp’s Liverpool is very close in terms of team success to his Dortmund sides after that same amount of time. It takes time to build a winner. He is still missing one or two pieces, one of which, Naby Keita, will arrive in the summer.
Offloading Coutinho will ultimately be a positive transaction, especially if the money from the sale is put to good use, unlike the Luis Suarez funds. The development of the youth such as Joe Gomez, Ben Woodburn, and Trent Alexander-Arnold is crucial, as they are being considered vital players for Liverpool moving forward.
Koppites everywhere may simply have to get used to Liverpool winning matches and the final score reading 4-2 or 3-1. A clean sheet might be a rarity, however, when Klopp truly has his desired team in place his “heavy metal” brand of football will not only be entertaining, it may also be unstoppable.
To quickly jump back to the BVB comparision, with the right players for his system, his 2010-11 Borussia Dortmund squad conceded a mere 22 goals in 34 matches, by far the best defence in the Bundesliga (the next best was 39 goals against).
I am by no means saying that Liverpool will go through a Premier League campaign with the fewest goals conceded. What I am saying is that with a competent back line that can support the signature Klopp Gegenpress, Liverpool is capable of wining their first League Championship of the Premier League era.
If given the necessary time, Jürgen Klopp can and will lead Liverpool FC to Premier League glory, of that I have no doubt. He inherited a squad that required a complete overhaul in order to fit his tactical philosophy.
Some are perhaps spoiled because of an almost immediate return to the Champions League in just his second season as the boss. This was slightly ahead of schedule if we are honest with ourselves. Liverpool are currently in an excellent position to repeat this feat.
Their performances in the Champions League have been nothing short of spectacular this season. LFC won their group and look primed to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2008-09, following a complete destruction of FC Porto in their round of 16 first leg match (LFC leads 5-0 on aggregate).
With another transfer window prior to next season, Klopp should be able to bring in the final pieces of his Liverpool puzzle. At that time he may finally have a squad that is on par with Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City, position for position.
Perhaps next October, at the end of Klopp’s third year with the club, we will be looking at his complete Liverpool product that so many supporters have been patiently waiting for. A product finally capable of hoisting the one piece of silverware that has alluded countless Liverpool managers since the days of Kenny Dalglish: the Premier League trophy.