How Jurgen Klopp transformed Liverpool's fortunes
- A look at how Jurgen Klopp laid the groundwork for Liverpool's Champions League and Premier League triumphs.
- The German tactician has built a team that is arguably one of the best in Europe.
Crystal Palace and Willian: Liverpool fans have indelible memories of this duo. A series of cursed incidents that took place within eight days in 2014 led to Liverpool's talismanic skipper Steven Gerrard not lifting the Premier League title in the entirety of his Reds career that lasted almost 17 years.
Much to Liverpool's agony, the Brazilian ended the Reds' title hopes by securing the all-important goal in stoppage time as Chelsea won 2-0 at Anfield. Jose Mourinho's chest-pounding sprint towards Chelsea fans at Anfield's away end after crushing the title aspirations of Liverpool that turned him down in 2004 particularly irked the Anfield faithful.
On the way back home, the former skipper Steven Gerrard couldn't hold back his tears. The flashback of his ill-timed slip kept haunting him. Being a Merseysider, Liverpool's former number eight knew what the elusive league title meant to him, the club and the fans. It hurt him very deeply.
Brendan Rodgers' side had an opportunity to put the past behind them and turn up the pressure on Manchester City who had two games in the bag. However, Liverpool's defensive frailty after three-quarters of the game against Crystal Palace did the Citizens a huge favour. Liverpool squandered a 3-0 lead as the Eagles dent the Anfield side's title ambitions by playing out a 3-3 draw.
With that result, the much-anticipated arrival of the league title in the red side of Merseyside collapsed all of a sudden. The Reds eventually finished behind the EPL table toppers for the second time in five years. Pin-drop silence followed when Luis Suarez announced his departure from the club to Barcelona during the summer of 2014.
Manchester City, a club funded by multi-billionaires, were champions for the second time in three years. What happened to Liverpool? Why aren't they able to lift the Premier League title? Why aren't they able to keep their star players?
Several questions were raised about how the club, that had the world's best players and dominated English football like nobody else in the 1970s and 1980s, had fallen off the top echelons. Liverpool entered the next season by gambling on the bad boy Mario Balotelli, who was an immediate replacement for Luis Suarez. But the move failed as Liverpool also failed to reach the later stages of the Champions League.
Another year of wait went on as Jose Mourinho marked his comeback with the Premier League title during his second stint with Chelsea. Liverpool, by contrast, even failed to qualify for the Champions League, and it became evident that Brendan Rodgers' tenure was about to conclude after a poor season.
Rodgers didn't move on. In fact, it was Steven Gerrard, the Scouser, who decided to depart Liverpool and join LA Galaxy after 17 long years with his boyhood club. Days after his catastrophic final Liverpool game against Stoke City, the legend revealed his regret not adding the Premier League title to his cabinet.
Rodgers was heavily backed in the transfer market as Liverpool signed the likes of Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings to add more firepower to their squad. In spite of the exciting and glamorous signings, Liverpool continued to struggle till the international break in October.
The draw in the Merseyside derby proved to be the final straw for the former Swansea manager. The 47-year-old was axed from his duty as Liverpool manager after winning just four of eleven games since the beginning of the 2015/16 season.
How Jurgen Klopp transformed Liverpool's fortunes
Liverpool approached three potential managerial candidates before handpicking Jurgen Klopp. The other two were Carlo Ancelloti and Frank De Boer. However, it was the German who emerged as the frontrunner because of his slow and steady avenue to success at his previous clubs, Borussia Dortmund and Mainz. It matched the strategem at Liverpool to slowly outwit their rivals by making steady progress every season.
It was clear the former Mainz manager promised to bring about a radical change at Liverpool but asked for time to clear the mess and plonk his ideas during his debut press conference as the club's new manager. The Liverpool boss also implored the fans to turn from doubters to believers.
Even though Liverpool finished eighth in the Premier League in Klopp's first season in charge and ended up losing the Europa League and League Cup finals, the glimpses of tiny steps towards development provided encouragement to Liverpool fans.
Klopp's ability to improve players coupled with tremendous success in the transfer market gradually turned around Liverpool's fortunes. Sadio Mane, with his breakneck pace, proved to be a fabulous signing. His presence along with Georginio Wijnaldum, Joel Matip and the other players from the 2016/17 campaign helped Liverpool produce fluid counter-attacking football, albeit with a touch of inconsistency.
Jurgen Klopp's side produced a bright start to the new season, but their form imploded in January and February, winning just once in seven outings. Despite the sudden dip in form, Liverpool finished fourth to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in three years.
The summer of 2017 saw Liverpool welcome Mohamed Salah, Andrew Robertson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Fans were ecstatic about the incoming trio but lost their mind when Philippe Coutinho went on a strike to force a move to Barcelona.
Despite the Brazilian's bullheaded nature, the Liverpool owners promised Klopp to keep hold of Coutinho and thwart Barcelona from signing him. However, their resistance was usurped by the former Inter Milan's midfielder's insistence of playing for his dream club. Liverpool eventually sold Coutinho for €142 million in the January transfer window.
After the departure of Coutinho, Klopp said:
“I have been here long enough now to know in the history of Liverpool, key players have left before but the club always goes on. You cannot transfer the heart and soul of Liverpool Football Club, although I am sure there are many clubs who would like to buy it."
It was a brave move from Jurgen Klopp to jettison a player of that calibre during a crucial phase of the season, especially after a string of good outings that saw Coutinho amass 12 goals and eight assists from 19 games. But Liverpool used Coutinho's transfer money to upgrade their squad and announced the arrival of their long-term target Virgil Van Dijk for a record fee of £ 75 million.
The Dutch defender emerged as the bulwark the Liverpool backline while another new signing, Mohamed Salah, was shattering records every week that season. The Egyptian reached unprecedented heights, contributing 60 goals from 52 appearances during the season.
As in the previous season, Liverpool sealed a Champions League place on the final day of the season as a convincing 4-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion drew curtains to their domestic season.
But Liverpool had a bigger fish to catch. The Reds were in their first Champions League final in more than a decade where they faced the back-to-back champions Real Madrid in Kyiv.
Los Blancos were given a good fight till Mohamed Salah suffered a shoulder injury midway through the first half. The Egyptian, who was virtually unplayable throughout the season, was forced to walk off after a clash with Sergio Ramos.
The match ended chaotically when goalkeeper Loris Karius apologised to the Liverpool supporters after a nightmare outing. The German keeper committed a couple of costly blunders as Real Madrid won their third consecutive Champions League title. Liverpool fans demanded to upgrade the man between the sticks as Klopp endured his sixth consecutive final loss with Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund.
During the post-match interview, skipper Jordan Henderson came out in support of the beleagured Karius by asserting:
"We win as a team and lose as a team."
Despite their loss, Liverpool continued to revamp their core, bringing in more players to add depth to the squad.
Within two days of the Champions League final loss, Liverpool signed Fabinho from AS Monaco. Xherdan Shaqiri, Alisson Becker and Naby Keita soon followed the Brazilian to Anfield in the summer.
When Jurgen Klopp signed for Liverpool, he talked about 'expectations' considering the history of the football club. Unwavered by lofty expectations, Liverpool kicked off the 2018/19 season remarkably and were involved in a pulsating title race.
Prior to their final league game against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Anfield faithful faced the prospect of another trophyless season after a 3-0 away loss to Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal. With no Salah and Firmino in the return leg in Anfield, the odds were against Liverpool but the club produced a mesmerising performance, winning 4-0 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate, to reach their second consecutive Champions League final.
Wolverhampton Wanderers were comfortably beaten 2-0 on the road, but that victory was not sufficient for Liverpool to get their hands on the Premier League trophy. Despite amassing a record-breaking 97 points in the league, Liverpool were pipped to the Premier League title by a point by Manchester City.
This breathtaking point tally would have won the Premier League for all but two seasons in the competition's near three-decade history. Fans thought that this near-miss would be a psychological blow to Liverpool, but it only egged them on to greater heights.
In the post-match press conference, Jurgen Klopp said:
"There’s a lot to come, a lot of years and it’s all about you, what you do with it – and that’s what we do with it. We will go again."
Despite missing out on the Premier League title, Liverpool weren't going to end that season without a trophy. In the first all-English Champions League final since Manchester United beat Chelsea, Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur to reign supreme in the competition for the first time since 2005.
In the final against Spurs, Mohamed Salah opened the scoring. Although Mauricio Pochettino's side pushed on for an equaliser, Divock Origi's left-footed strike moments sealed Liverpool's sixth Champions League crown.
While Manchester City added more depth to their squad with the additions of Rodri, Angelinho and Joao Cancelo, Liverpool did so with Adrian, Sepp van den Berg and Harvey Elliot to Anfield before the 2019-20 season.
After the culmination of the pre-season in the US, Jurgen Klopp spoke about the importance of keeping the current group happy to help them become dominant.
"You have a player, he's good, you want to keep him, if he signs a new contract then for a few people, it means only that he will be more expensive when we sell him or whatever, or that it doesn't mean anything nowadays," Klopp said.
Liverpool started the season with a 4-1 win while Manchester City swept West Ham aside 5-0 to sit at the top of the pile. But the reigning Champions League winners were up for the fight and stepped on the accelerator to decimate opponents in the Premier League as Manchester City's challenge frittered out.
Liverpool embarked on an impressive 17-game winning run in the Premier League that was ended by Manchester United at Old Trafford. However, it was a minor blip as Liverpool continued with their imperious domestic form, streaking miles clear of the second-placed team.
The Premier League title was Liverpool's for the taking until the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March. Amidst uncertainty about the season's restart, Premier League action eventually resumed after a three-month break.
Liverpool were held by Everton in the first game after the restart. However,two dominating wins soon followed as their title challenge was back on track.
With Chelsea beating Manchester City 2-1, Liverpool were confirmed as the newest Premier League winners.
Within five years of Klopp's arrival, Liverpool turned the tables on Manchester City, eventually laying the ghosts of their near miss against the same opponents to rest. Who else could have predicted this script?
A tinge of unhappiness with Steven Gerrard missing out on the Premier League title may remain forever. However, Jurgen Klopp dedicated the league title to Gerrard and Kenny Dalglish while speaking to Sky Sports on Thursday.
“This was built on your soul, Kenny and on the legs of Stevie (Steven Gerrard). It is easy for me to motivate the team because of our great history… But we found a good way to get rid of it because we had to write our own story,” said Klopp.
Gerrard responded that Klopp's statue must be built alongside legendary managers Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. However, the modest Jurgen Klopp divulged shrugged off comparisons with the legendary Liverpool duo.
Klopp deserves enormous credit for imbibing the winning mentality in his players and for building a team that is close to perfection and can be arguably called one of the best in Europe.
The German tactician's years of hardwork and discovering the right players helped Liverpool win two of the biggest titles on offer - the Premier League and the Champions League. If Klopp manages to keep his players grounded, Liverpool may dominate the English and European football landscape for a very long time.Published 29 Jun 2020, 16:47 IST