It was the Merseyside derby and Brendan Rodgers, the then Liverpool manager managed only a 1-1 draw. Liverpool had won only three of their opening eight games in the league. They were 10th in the league, the “spark” was gone and they were surely facing a mediocre season. The club had to react, and they did swiftly.
Back in October 2015, Liverpool’s club statement read, “Although this has been a difficult decision, we believe it provides us with the best opportunity for success on the pitch”
The club turned to the in-most-parts successful Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp. Klopp was appointed on the 8th of October 2015 and the self-proclaimed “normal one” when asked about the style of football he would play, said “a wild one”. Notorious for his jibe at Arsene Wenger’s “silent orchestra” type of football and calling his style “heavy metal”, Klopp has come full circle after one year at the helm at Anfield.
It is time for reassessment and reflection.
Klopp in his first interview as Liverpool manager said “The first thing, always, maybe in life, you need to have a stable defence. That's the first thing, always. Because you can only stay confident in a game when you know not each offensive move of the other team is a goal.”
However, Liverpool have not been able to replicate his words in terms of performances on the pitch. Klopp has conceded 50 goals in his first year as Liverpool boss, interestingly, comparing it to Brendan Rodger’s first year in charge Liverpool conceded only 43.
This picture is a comparison of Jurgen Klopp’s and Brendan Rodger’s first year in charge.
Under Klopp, Liverpool have more wins, more goals, more passes, more possession and more tackles completed than under Brendan Rodgers. Klopp’s first year in charge has been split over two seasons, inheriting a struggling squad from Rodgers last year but the review of Klopp’s first year has been much more positive.
Although only fine margins separate the two, Klopp has been more effective than Rodgers in delivering – a unity on the field among the players, a high pressing, aggressive style of play, instilling a never-say-die attitude and of course winning over the fan’s belief.
However, what he did not do so well was – Holding on to a lead, defending as a team and defending set pieces.
Liverpool lost the Europa league final to Sevilla 3-1 last season, highlighting the negatives mentioned above, as Liverpool relinquished a 1-0 lead allowing Unai Emery’s men to score three in 25 minutes.
Change in formation paying dividends
That being said, The Reds have shown a standout difference this season with their performances after their switch to a more forceful and fluid 4-3-3 from a tepid 4-2-3-1.
The frantic, fast paced, gegenpressing and flowing attacking football has been very evident this season. Their 2-1 victory against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, the recent 5-1 demolition of Hull and the 2-1 comeback against Swansea City have shown exactly how Klopp has turned around the football club in a year.
Liverpool sit fourth in the league table after seven games played tied on 16 points with Arsenal and only two points away from leaders Manchester City. The standout statistics are by far Liverpool’s creativity in the final third.
The Reds have created the most chances (111) in all of Europe’s top five leagues. They also lead all teams from the five leagues, in the total number of shots per game (19.3), shots on target per game (7) and are tied with Manchester City for most dribbles per game(15.1).
A full pre-season with a complete squad along with the astute signings of Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner have certainly helped in this.
A look into some key elements of Liverpool’s play and signings this season brings to the fore their attacking prowess.
#1 Fitness of Liverpool’s players
Klopp’s fitness regime has benefited the Merseyside club’s players largely and allows them to play at high intensities throughout the 90 minutes. Moreover, this is the key to them being able to press high up the pitch constantly through their games. They are more drilled and fit than under Brendan Rodgers.
#2 Playing James Milner at left-back
In what is Jurgen Klopp’s master stroke, James Milner has replaced Alberto Moreno as Liverpool’s left-back. This tweak has worked wonders mainly due to Milner’s inherent instincts as a midfielder adding to their cause going forward and keeping up sustained pressure up the field.
Milner’s crossing and general wing play seem suited to Liverpool’s style of play and it frees up more space for his team-mates when he is on the ball.
#3 Sadio Mane’s direct running
Mane has been another revelation for Liverpool. His direct style of play, i.e taking on players at will is a philosophy that goes well with Klopp’s pressing style. When Mane takes on players on his flank, this instantly frees up space for his team-mates in the centre of the pitch, allowing more options to run forward in attack.
#4 Wijnaldum and Firmino’s effect
Georginio Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino have particularly lessened the burden on Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho. The pair’s attacking prowess have helped Liverpool assign specific roles in their midfield. Firmino, in particular, has created 14 chances in the league thus far. As a result, the Liverpool midfield is more of a unit now and is filled with more creativity and bite than before.
Klopp’s true test is whether they can carry this form through the length of the season without capitulating. Liverpool are certainly showing that they are up there with the competition in terms of the title race but only time will tell whether the German can muster enough belief in the squad for a strong title push.
Ignore and write off Liverpool at your peril, they have their best squad and manager in years and although not being quite “there” yet they are the in-form team in the league and in Europe.
Liverpool have been making all the right noises so far this season, but rather than being overcome by this it is better to throw caution to the wind. The Reds have scored more away goals than any other side in the Premier League and they have also not kept a clean sheet away from home since February.
They flatter to deceive at times but while most fans and neutrals are getting carried away, Jurgen Klopp knows that they still have more work ahead and a long way to go. With the game against Manchester United next, only time will tell if they truly are set for that elusive Premier League title.
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