The night of October 8, 2015 was a landmark moment in Liverpool Football Clubs’ recent history. Jürgen Klopp, the man who made (and is still making) 'Liverpool great again', was appointed that night. In his first press conference, he asked everyone attached to the club, especially supporters, to go from “doubters to believers”.
Klopp asserted that he was not a miracle man and would require time to transform the team. He asked supporters to trust his project and be patient for four years for a trophy. And true to his word, Klopp’s enterprise has been rewarding, both aesthetically and statistically, and a dynamic one.
Klopp joined the club after the 2015-16 season had begun and inherited Brendan Rodgers' squad. Rodgers had fumbled in the way he splashed the cash which he received after the sale of the likes of Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling. The result was a dysfunctional team. Hence, the preliminary year of Klopp’s regime was about making the best of what was available.
With Klopp's arrival came “gegenpressing”, a counter-pressing system that pushed the team to press as a collective, not to only regain possession but to regain it in attacking areas which would in turn lead to chances.
This system required supreme fitness levels and discipline. The result of this was that in the early years of Klopp, Liverpool’s gameplay was very ‘heavy-metal’. They were a ruthlessly fast, aggressively offensive team in which the players ran like machines even though they leaked goals. On their day, this team proved a nightmare for even the big fish of the Premier League.
However, their defence was weak and anxious. And their goalkeepers made costly mistakes. This prevented the team from being as consistent as it was necessary to challenge for the title. Despite their fragile defense, Liverpool did reach the finals of the League Cup and the Europa League.
The next task for Liverpool’s manager was to convert the team into achievers. The arrival of Dutch centre-back Virgil van Dijk from Southampton in January 2018 was followed by the signing of the Brazilian Goalkeeper Alisson Becker from Roma in the summer of 2018. Both proved pivotal for making Liverpool a strong defensive unit.
Van Dijk was the UEFA Men's Player of the Year last season.
Alisson Didn't do too badly either.
In these recent years under Klopp, the club has grown up. Liverpool isn’t just about the rage anymore. Gradually, they learnt to see off games and become a consistent side with a better, a more stable defensive line.
Now the team combines possession play and counter pressing. They switch proficiently as per the game’s demand. They might have lost a touch of their aesthetics but they are now able to grind victories from the difficult games. They finished the 2018-19 season with a staggering 97 points, falling just one point short of the relentless Manchester City.
Despite the failure to end their barren run in the Premier League, the season would go down fondly for the club and fans as they were crowned the champions of Europe for a sixth time, going a step further in the Champions League than the previous year. Their rollercoaster journey involved one of the greatest comebacks in the Champions League against a very competent Barcelona squad lead by a certain Lionel Messi.
The 4-0 victory over Barcelona at Anfield, which might go down as one of the biggest wins in Jürgen Klopp’s golden career, didn’t happen in a vacuum. Liverpool are often called “Mentality Monsters”. Their knack of stealing games at the end justifies this tag.
It is a result of years of good work done by Klopp and his staff. Along with tactics, Klopp gives considerable attention to the psychology of his players. Man-management is one of his greatest skills. Like himself, his team too radiates positivity and energy. The belief that ‘everything is possible’ is constantly instilled by him in his players.
And they train to do this every week.
Another aspect that has made Klopp’s time in Liverpool so rewarding is the way he helps players develop. The manner in which the likes of Fabinho, Andrew Robertson and Naby Keita were given time to adapt in the league, the manner in which Klopp is able to rotate his relatively small squad and keep the substitutes happy and hungry, and the manner in which underperforming players rose up are just a few examples.
Considering the flying form of Liverpool in the current season and the fact that Klopp has signed a contract extension till 2024, his Liverpool project looks set for newer heights.