When the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge and a scowling Jose Mourinho bundled into the tunnel along with his distinctly frazzled posse of Blues, a ray of hope glimmered in the heart of every jubilant Liverpool fan. The visual of Jürgen Klopp strolling around the field with his horribly infectious enthusiasm, awarding a million-watt smile and a bear hug to every single player in sight was euphoric for every Liverpool fan around the globe; and the expertly masterminded victory, while being hugely impressive, was emblematic of something far bigger.
In merely 24 days at the helm, the effervescent German had succeeded in restoring the parity and momentum that had been desperately missing in recent times. There was a sense of unity in the camp – a prominent feeling that the manager, the fans and the players had finally gelled together into a single, cohesive unit.
Stark contrast to the Brendan Rodgers era
It also bore a shocking contrast to the despondent situation that the club had been embroiled in towards the end of his predecessor's reign. A deep sense of malaise had been prevalent in Anfield towards the fag end of the Rodgers era, fuelled by the gaffer's negative tactics and a strange affinity for a toothless brand of football.
After an ill-fated Luis Suarez-driven title challenge, the club suffered a spectacular implosion under Rodgers in the 2014/15 season, finishing eighth after a plethora of terribly spineless performances culminating in a disastrous 6-1 hammering at Stoke city. After a further sub-£80 million splurge in the summer and yet another string of insipid performances, he was inevitably jeered off his job by fans tired of his ineptitude and political games, amidst whispers of a dressing room mutiny.
Enter Jürgen Klopp. The appointment of the self-proclaimed advocate of “heavy-metal football” was a coup that induced an overwhelming amount of scandalised hysteria, with his cult of personality sending the media into a full-blown tizzy.
Take a look at his track record, and the fervent excitement regarding his appointment is thoroughly vindicated. He kicked off his managerial career at Mainz, taking the lowly second division side by the scruff of its neck, and guiding it first into the Bundesliga and then into the UEFA Cup.
His seven-year spell at Dortmund was a tour de force, as he converted a side languishing in 13th into an imperious, back-to-back Bundesliga title-winning European powerhouse seemingly by the sheer force of his personality.
Liverpool slowly adapting to Klopp’s philosophy
The feverish excitement regarding his appointment culminated in an anticlimactic draw at White Hart Lane. But while the underwhelming 1-1 scoreline was an inconclusive affair, the German's Red blueprint was clearly perceivable.
From the off, everyone seemed to possess a fumbling urgency, chasing down passes, pressing, and generally going about the game with a refusenik conviction. The manic running was a bit over-the-top, with the players often frantically pressing and gaining the ball, only to look clueless once they gained possession.
But as the matches progressed the players started to adapt to the new system and find their rhythm. The draw at Southampton showed hopeful glimpses, but also highlighted the side's niggling inability of holding on to leads. But with the win against Bournemouth, last Sunday’s resounding thumping of Chelsea and the resolute victory in Kazan, it seems as though the pieces of the Klopp-puzzle have finally begun to click together.
The side have already begun to play the intense, moreish brand of football associated with the club that had gone missing with the departure of Suarez. And there has been a significant uptick in the performances as the players have finally begun to display shades of the “character” that has been talked about so often.
Klopp’s tactics have changed player performances
The main tactical talking point for the last two weeks has been Gegenpressing – a tactic that Klopp’s Mainz and Dortmund teams were revered for. It is a term that is set to become second-nature at the Merseyside club, with the German coach being the high-intensity game's biggest proponent.
Winning back second balls, pressing in numbers and playing the kind of quick, zippy passing that is a prerequisite for this tactic requires pacy, technically gifted players. And in Philippe Coutinho, Firmino, Emre Can and Adam Lallana, Liverpool have an abundance of them.
The changes in tactics and formations have inspired a mini-revolution in the playing style and performances of all players. The defence, which had perpetually seemed leaky under Rodgers, has suddenly started seeming resolute. Martin Skrtel has been a rock as a deep-lying centre-back while Mamadou Sakho’s shackles have been finally freed.
Alberto Moreno and Nathaniel Clyne have been quietly impressive, while the midfield three of Can, Lucas and Lallana have enjoyed a remarkable renaissance. Firmino and Benteke have begun to justify their large price tags while Jordan Ibe has been a revelation on the wing.
The only anomalies have been Coutinho and Milner – both have suffered a turbulent time, but that can be pinpointed to a temporary loss in form rather than any genuine trouble adapting to the new system. With club captain Jordan Henderson and talismanic striker Daniel Sturridge expected to make a return from injury in coming weeks, the idea of a full-strength Liverpool team with a four-pronged attack of Coutinho, Firmino, Sturridge and Benteke is indeed a mouth-watering prospect.
Klopp’s man management is a desirable trait
Famous for building tight-knit squads, his astute man-management skills are there for all to see. The loquacious German is a sprightly presence on the touchline, constantly waltzing up and down, screaming instructions and gesticulating violently.
One moment, he will be fuming like an angry teacher because one of them drifted out of position, and the next he will be fawning over them like an overenthusiastic parent, clapping them on for producing a good passage of play. His actions are didactic and backslapping in the perfect proportion, and Borussia Dortmund are still reaping the benefits of the spectacular team chemistry that he cultivated there.
Another telling aspect of the German's phenomenal man-management has been his knack of motivating and almost cajoling a good performance out of his players. This is underlined by his brilliant handling of teenage sensation Jordan Ibe, who has flourished under him.
His impact at the Merseyside camp has been instantaneous, with many players like Moreno vociferously expressing praise for the convivial German. He has marshalled the entire dressing room, injecting in them a positive mentality and a dose of his own infectious effervescence.
In Klopp, Liverpool have a high-grade galvanizing spirit who has the efficacy to replicate the dynastic success that the illustrious European powerhouse deserves. Beneath all the fluff, the overpowering charisma and the cartoonish likeability, he remains a spectacularly erudite footballing mind.
He possesses the ideal, heady concoction of guile, charm and tactical nous that could provide much-needed stability to the club that for the past few seasons has been oscillating wildly between aggressively mediocre and genuinely great.
Not even a month has passed since his appointment, and he has already taken the cadaver of Rodgers’s team and thrust it into a state of finely poised rehabilitation. The emphatic victory at Stamford Bridge has ignited his reign and reinvigorated the club as a whole, with bookies cutting the odds on a top four finish for Liverpool; the general consensus being that the sleeping giant residing within the team has finally woken from its slumbers.
Surviving the Premier League is often considered as the ultimate test for the creme de la creme of the footballing world, and Jürgen Klopp has proven himself worthy of the challenge. In his precious few days in England, he has already won the respect of and endeared himself to fans, peers and rivals alike in a feat of unanimity that is rare in today’s fickle and volatile footballing world, and has finally begun the excruciating process of delivering on his onerous promise of “turning doubters into believers”.