EPL 2016/17: Tougher tests await Jurgen Klopp in title chase
Liverpool have been here before but under Jurgen Klopp, their title chase seems more legit although sterner tests await the Merseysiders.
Atop the Premier League table heading into the game-crazy month of December, Liverpool have it going their way and Jurgen Klopp is not overlooking the possibilities that face them in the coming months as the talk of lifting the title grows increasingly.
His side has flattered in the opening episodes of the league season having brushed aside the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, and Leicester City, among others. Their play is very much desirable by the neutrals, having won many hearts in the course of lifting the hopes of their title-eluded fans.
A sense of Deja vu?
They have been here before. Their closest title push in a decade arrived when Brendan Rodgers took them above Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, only to be halted in a dramatic fashion at Anfield by the latter, led by Jose Mourinho. Their ambitions were crushed and their slim hopes of the odd title win brought to an earth-shattering end. Gone were those days when the Anfield club boasted of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.
There’s a new attacking trio at the club and they are equally breathtaking. Their attitude and mentee are even better. Klopp’s gradual change in this Liverpool side has started earning them some aggrandisement that easily makes rival hearts grow covetous.
The former Borussia Dortmund manager has gently altered the shape and personnel of the side, turning them into the right force for a strong title push. The arrival of Sadio Mane was greeted with much acclaim, as he was to partner Roberto Firminho in attack, but it was the Coutinho masterstroke that has attracted more plaudits. The Brazilian looks a different player these days.
Between the trio, Liverpool have 16 goals to their credit this season after 11 games, that is already more than half of the 26 goals Coutinho, Firminho and Sturridge got them the entirety of last season.
Prior to this season, you could greet the Brazilian with a mischievous “Mr Inconsistent” and his response will be a reluctant nod. Fine performances in the Liverpool shirt were punctuated by the consistently inconsistent blips in games. There were moments he went AWOL and many doubted he could actually achieve anything great as a player, but he’s proven them wrong. He scored eight goals in 27 appearances last season but has seen an upturn this season with five goals in 11 games.
(Video courtesy: LFC entertainment)
The desire to unleash his talents anytime his boss calls for it has given Liverpool the boost for challenging for the title this season. However, Klopp prefers a careful approach to building up momentum for the season.
“Of course, it’s better that they think something like this than they say ‘thank God it’s Liverpool at the weekend, so quite an easy game’,” Klopp said to reporters. “But in the end, it’s not a big value for us, what other teams think about us – it’s good and it’s positive but not too important.
Feet firmly on the ground
“The main thing is that we actually think about ourselves: ‘Yeah, we are quite a good team.’ We have big expectations on ourselves and I’m not pessimistic, I’m really optimistic, but I don’t like to make these positive assessments all the time and say ‘we are really good – my God, how good are we?”
The tactician on Merseyside is fully aware of the troubles that await them during the marathon and has called for calm when they do step on the mines. “I know about the problems we could have in the future, and we need to stay in the race. It’s not about celebrating each time like ‘my God, that was so fantastic!’ he emphasised.
“It’s a kind of sign and a kind of confidence we need to have that we celebrate it in the moment, then we accept this is normal – this is our quality and what we expect,” he added.
Liverpool have conceded in every league game played this season, minus the clash against old foes Manchester United – well, the Mourinho-led side were fully happy to sit deep and barely troubled Loris Karius. With 14 goals shipped in, Klopp knows where their weakness lies and time is running out for the Reds to solve that defensive problem.
Klopp has introduced Karius in place of Simon Mignolet among the many changes he’s made to this Liverpool side. Joel Matip has found a new home at Anfield while Nathaniel Clyne continues to shine at right back.
Sterner tests to follow
He will count on players like Coutinho and Matip to lead the deadly pack as a first Premier League trophy since 1990 is on the cards. The pain of failing to pick up a trophy last season despite making the Europa League and League Cup finals could trigger the thirst for success this season.
With sterner tests to follow after Arsenal and Chelsea have rediscovered their mojo following the defeats to Liverpool and games against Manchester City and trickier games against weaker sides, Klopp knows the sustainability of his praiseworthy system and philosophy will be put to test more than ever this season.
(Video courtesy: LFC entertainment)