EPL 2016-17: How Jurgen Klopp has managed to change Liverpool fans from doubters to believers
"We must turn from doubters to believers" - this was the first message Jurgen Klopp delivered as Liverpool's manager. Nine months later, the charismatic German has managed to instil faith and hope in the hearts of millions of Liverpool fans who have been waiting for years to see their beloved team return to its former glory.
Klopp inherited a squad devoid of confidence, plagued by injuries and a few too many players who were unsure of their role. He inherited a fan base that was slowly accepting mediocrity and was revelling in the ghost of glory past. Jurgen Klopp had his work cut out.
The start of the Jurgen Klopp era at Liverpool was slow and dull. The Reds drew their first three games under Klopp but they defeated Chelsea by 3 goals to 1 at the Bridge after going behind in the fourth minute of the game. The German's predecessor, Brendan Rodgers, had failed to beat Chelsea in eight attempts over the course of three years at Liverpool and Klopp broke that in his first attempt and it was only his fifth game in charge of the club.
Despite the strong showing Liverpool produced against Chelsea, the Reds lost to their bogey team, Crystal Palace, at home in the very next game after Scott Dann scored in the 82nd minute. The Liverpool fans left the stadium in packs even though there was time to get an equaliser or maybe even go for the win and this hurt Klopp. The German never hides his feelings and he had this to say after his first defeat in charge of Liverpool.
“After the goal on 82 minutes, with 12 minutes to go, I saw many people leaving the stadium. I felt pretty alone at this moment. We decide when it is over. Between 82 and 94 [minutes] you can make eight goals if you like.
Big decisions are made in moments when you are tired. Tonight it feels so bad because it was absolutely not necessary.”
This defeat to Crystal Palace was a turning point for Liverpool under Klopp as his words hit the fans like bullets from a gun.
December 13, 2015: Liverpool host West Brom at Anfield.
The home side takes the lead in the first half through captain Jordan Henderson but the visitors respond brilliantly and take the lead through Jonas Olsson in the 73rd minute.
Liverpool toiled hard to find a way through the resilient West Brom defence and the Anfield faithful heeded Klopp's advice following the defeat to Palace and rallied the team forward. In the 5th minute of stoppage time, Divock Origi's shot was deflected into the back of the West Brom net and the Kop erupted in jubilation.
Jurgen Klopp was moved by the response he got from the supporters and at the end of the match, he made his team do something that was unseen in English football before. He gathered his team together and expressed their cumulative gratitude in front of the Kop in the same way he used to with Dortmund in Germany.
Anfield finally had someone who connected with the fans like the great Bill Shankly. Klopp understood the club and the fans and connected with them in a manner his predecessors in recent times couldn’t. It's probably the anthem 'You'll Never Walk Alone' as it was also the anthems of his previous clubs Borussia Dortmund and Mainz.
Change in fortunes and mentality
After less than just two months in charge of Liverpool, Klopp's men defeated two teams that finished in the top 4 in the previous season in away games. Brendan Rodgers had one such away win in his entire tenure after 14 attempts. The only top 4 team Liverpool defeated in away games under Rodgers was the underperforming Manchester United of David Moyes.
Liverpool's performance graph against top teams went up astronomically under Klopp. A double over Manchester City and wins against the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Manchester United, Villarreal and even the league winning Leicester City are testaments of the same. The Reds finally started to turn up in big games on a consistent basis and that's something which had been missing since that wonderful 2008/09 season.
However, the best thing Klopp has instilled in this young Liverpool side is a sense of belief.
The players started to play throughout the game with the same vigour and always believed that they could come back from behind to win any game. The 3-1 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, the 6-1 thumping of Southampton at St. Mary's, the see-saw game against Norwich at Carrow road and most importantly that memorable 4-3 win against Borussia Dortmund are all examples of the change in the mentality of the players.
Following Liverpool's heartbreaking defeat to Manchester City in the final of the Capital One Cup on penalties, Klopp came up with a spectacular comment instead of sulking over the defeat.
"It doesn't matter what I say. It does not change the result. We all have to feel it now. You can fall, but you have to stand up. We have to carry on, we will carry on."
Klopp's words of wisdom were taken to heart by the Liverpool players and three days later when Liverpool met Manchester City again, the Reds won 3-0 and outplayed the Citizens in all departments. Such is the aura of Jurgen Klopp.
Players finally make their mark
The German admitted that he inherited a good squad from Brendan Rodgers but it was a squad full of talented players who were underperforming or were being played out of position.
Klopp identified the best positions for many of his players and the biggest benefactor of Klopp's arrival was Emre Can. Can had a decent first season at Liverpool, but he was deployed as a centre-back or as a right-back in most of the games. Klopp took him out of defence and put him in midfield and the former Bayern Munich player thrived in his preferred role. In fact, Can was one of Liverpool's best players last season.
Brendan Rodgers' signings like Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, Divock Origi, James Milner, Kolo Toure, Joe Allen and Dejan Lovren struggled to give their best on the field under the man who signed them but there was a significant improvement in the performance of all these players once Klopp took over.
Others like Coutinho and Sturridge also benefitted from the former Borussia Dortmund manager's guidance. Coutinho has often been criticised for lacking consistency but he is slowly elevating his game. As for Daniel Sturridge, his fitness was a concern for the best part of two seasons but Klopp managed him brilliantly and didn't rush him back into action despite the striker woes Liverpool had. In the end, Sturridge finished the season with 13 goals and 2 assists to his name in just 19 starts and 6 substitute appearances.
In addition to the first team players, some academy graduates like Cameron Brannagan, Brad Smith, Kevin Stewart, Sheyi Ojo and Connor Randall have been presented with opportunities to stake their claim in the first team.
Klopp had to deal with several injuries in a season where Liverpool played 63 games across all competitions. Despite this, he took Liverpool to two cup finals without making a single signing and also without a pre-season. He has a track record of getting his signings spot on and with the money Liverpool can offer him to sign any player of his choice and an entire preseason to ready his players, other Premier League clubs should be wary of the heavy-metal football that's going to be on display. Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool are a match made in heaven.
Jurgen Klopp is a man you cannot hate. If you are football fan you cannot help but admire his sincere personality and I am sure we would all love to get a hug from Kloppo! Here is a video of Klopp speaking on that famous win against Dortmund to elevate your souls.