Pain and glory the catalyst for Liverpool's success
- Liverpool suffered significant highs and lows in 2019, but the Premier League pain and Champions League glory has shaped 2020 for the Reds.
Liverpool are 30 points away from guaranteeing closure on 30 years of hurt. Opening up a 16-point lead at the top of the Premier League over champions Manchester City with a 2-0 win over traditional rivals Manchester United on Sunday, it now seems realistically impossible that the Premier League trophy will not be paraded at Anfield in the next couple of months.
The practicalities behind reviving the fortunes of Liverpool are well-documented. With key investment in players such as Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker, there is no secret formula behind the success. However, manager Jurgen Klopp has built a bond between the players and fans and has ensured the desire and hunger within the squad continues to burn. He has brought the very best out of players like Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and captain Jordan Henderson, and their performances are a testament to his work.
There was a divide within the club when Klopp arrived in October 2015, but the German quickly instilled a unity between the supporters and the players and bridged the gap between the boardroom and the terraces in the process. Starting with the famous show of appreciation from the players to the Kop following a 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion, Klopp had a clear vision of what atmosphere he wanted to create, even if few shared his belief at the time.
But Klopp has now created an unstoppable machine. Every area of the field has been fine-tuned, and there is sufficient competition in each position to keep players performing at their best. Crowned European champions in May and World Club champions in December, the side have had a taste of glory, and the elusive Premier League title is on the verge of becoming reality.
But Liverpool have put themselves in this position through the pain suffered over the last few years. Defeats in European finals and being second best to Pep Guardiola's Manchester City domestically could have had a negative influence on the manager, the players, the fans and the club as a whole. However, Klopp has retained his craving to succeed with this club, and he is now being rewarded.
Key signings have been pivotal for Liverpool, and the setbacks suffered did not change the direction of his long-term plan. Remaining true to his beliefs with the backing of his employers, Klopp has not made any radical change in his approach to finally take his club to the top of the world game. While Klopp always had faith in his vision, it is hard to believe he could have imagined the standard that his team has set this season.
The power shift
The context of the Premier League means that the environment and challenges are continually changing and evolving. New owners bring new investment, and the natural pecking order continues to adjust as the financial power shifts. New stadiums, new players, new managers, new philosophies, new projects, new goals and new ambitions. Each club name has become little more than a vehicle for the next big plan, but some traditions define the English game, and Liverpool is one such tradition.
Klopp ensured on his arrival at Anfield that he understood the history of the club, and it is a story that would have influenced his decision to accept the job. The glory years of the 1970s and '80s brought unparalleled success to the club and created heroes who are worshipped to this day. Appreciating the gratitude and love bestowed upon the likes of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, Klopp knew he could add his name to an illustrious list of legendary managers, and he is a sound fit for the culture that surrounds the club.
Rafa Benitez was the last manager to bring the Champions League trophy to Anfield in 2004/05. His achievements were masterminded through his tactical obsession, while Klopp will be considered more of a psychological messiah when his story is told in the future. Players will run through the proverbial brick wall for their current boss, and his post-match hug with each and every member of the squad is far more than a public relations stunt.
Premier League pain – Champions League glory
There are multiple factors behind the success of this Liverpool side. However, what has been crucial this season is the contrasting Premier League hurt and Champions League glory that occurred during 2019. The taste of a major trophy has inspired this group of players into reversing the pain of watching Manchester City eclipse their incredible points total. Liverpool lost just one league game in 2018/19 but had nothing to show for their efforts.
To go again after finishing second with 97 points is no easy feat, and that is the true testament of the character within this Liverpool squad. Manchester City clearly peaked in claiming the title against such tough competition, and Guardiola can now concentrate his efforts on lifting the Champions League for the first time since leaving Barcelona. It is a trophy he is desperate to claim, and there is little difference in comparison to Liverpool's pursuit to finally lift the Premier League title.
Of course, things could have been very different for Liverpool. Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea and the subsequent collapse against Crystal Palace in 2013/14 left a damaging impression on the club and brought an end to the Brendan Rodgers project a year later as his team failed to recover from the setback. The direction of the team altered as key departures followed, and while the margins between success and failure were very fine, it brought a significant change.
The difference under Klopp is that Liverpool continued to believe in the process, despite the setbacks. While failure can prompt massive change, Klopp kept faith with his ideology, and only strengthened on what was already in place. Success was never guaranteed, but his belief in his plan has ensured his players receive a consistent message throughout the course of his tenure, and now he is reaping the rewards.
There will be difficult periods for Liverpool before the end of the season, but their lead at the top will limit the severity of them, and they return to the continent next month to continue the defence of their Champions League trophy. Injuries and suspensions are inevitable as they enter the business end of the season, but they have successfully chartered such difficult waters earlier in the campaign, and will do so again if required.
The pursuit of perfection
It is fitting that Guardiola has emerged as Klopp's main rival in recent years, as few teams have looked as perfectly assured as Liverpool since Guardiola's great Barcelona and Manchester City sides. While their styles are quite different, both teams had the ability and character to dominate and take on all challengers during the course of their respective eras.
Although nothing has been decided yet, the reputation of this Liverpool will ultimately be decided on the longevity of their success. Nobody has looked beyond their first Premier League title, but once it has been achieved, the defence of their title beings. It was the ambition of former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson to knock Liverpool off their perch, and his ability to reinvent his side and keep them at the top in the way that he did has never been more appreciated than since his retirement.
There are key moments that define a successful campaign, and Mohamed Salah’s second goal against Manchester United on Sunday will be considered a pivotal point in the balance shifting back to Anfield after sitting in the shadows since their last domestic success. Restoring the previous order will be the next challenge for Klopp. Recruitment will be key, and there is a vital balance to find when it comes to making changes to a successful squad. With his new contract signed, this will be the next stage in the project as Klopp enters the start of a new chapter of his Liverpool career.
And the manager should be entrusted with the responsibility of developing this Liverpool squad, it is a privilege he has earned from instilling a winning culture at the club that has been missing for far too long. While Klopp has the drive and desire to continue to bring success to Anfield, there is no reason why Liverpool cannot stay at the top of the world game for a number of years to come. Solid foundations have now been built, and an exciting future is on the verge of following a famous past.Published 21 Jan 2020, 23:43 IST