When Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield there was a chorus of optimism, not just from the Liverpool fans but the rest of the Premier League as well. The arrival of the charismatic German came with expectation, the great success he achieved from his time in Germany, not just with Borussia Dortmund but with FSV Mainz. His style of football has always received praise and his work with the media has been gracious and elegant for the majority. Klopp arrived in October 2015 taking over the reins from now Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, and if you look at the team and club since it has to be said not a terrible lot has changed.
Liverpool under Klopp do play such a high pressing game, when they attack it is undoubtedly great on the eye and the way they move the ball is well orchestrated and clever for the majority. The first half of the current Premier League season the team were fantastic in the final third, Saido Mane proving to be worth every bit of his 36 million the club spent, with Roberto Firmino thriving and Adam Lallana in a new role thriving in the system. The problem Liverpool has had in the recent past is the amount of goals they leak. In the goalkeeper position they have struggled massively, in the defence has been pretty shambolic at times and the protection in front of the back four has been at best average. That is why the question of has Klopp made Liverpool a better team has to be asked. The first part of the season they had no Europe just domestic cup duties, when fixtures start hitting them in December and January their season unravels with the demands of extra games and an added competition. Questions are now starting to be asked, is the Liverpool squad good enough to cope with so many fixtures, why didn’t Liverpool invest in January, can Liverpool even finish in the top four now? Taking a step back Klopp’s Liverpool team except from some individual brilliance cannot be seen as much better than the side that so nearly won the league under Rodgers.
The goalkeeper position at the club is very difficult, given the poorness of the Liverpool backline, with saying that there have been far too many individual mistakes from the Belgian number two Simon Mignolet to even merit being the Liverpool number one goalkeeper. Loris Karius who arrived in the summer was given an extremely hard time for some individual mistakes, his confidence has got to be poor given the lack of support from Klopp who straight away takes him out of the firing line, and now it is questioned of we will see the German stopper between the sticks again. Every goalkeeper will make mistakes; the problem is their mistakes ultimately lead to goals which puts so much emphasis on them individually, Klopp had to give Karius a run in the team the change to bring Mignolet back in who is more experienced in the Premier League has hardly benefitted the team defensively.
The Liverpool defence is nothing short of disastrous at times. The team has conceded more goals than team that sit below them in the Premier League table; this cannot be seen as good enough for a team who at one stage this season looked to be the strongest competition for challenging runaway leaders Chelsea. This was one area that Klopp and his coaching staff had to really structure and organise the team, when Joël Matip joined the club in the summer I was one who thought that is a good signing now get some pace beside him and they would be a lot more solid. This didn’t happen, Klopp decided to stick with Lovren who himself has been poor since joining Liverpool and using Lucas at times to fill in at the back since the manager exiled perhaps Liverpool’s best central defender Mamadou Sakho. Right back Nathaniel Clyne is somewhat reliable more often than not Liverpool’s most consistent defender however the other side is the biggest problem. James Milner does an admirable job at left back but ultimately he cannot play there. He has had some very productive games in this position and he is one of the hardest working footballers we will see in our time, but he cannot defend one on one, he has no positional awareness to cover his two centre defenders and his need to cut back on his right foot is both frustrating and problematic. The only other natural option to play in this role is Spanish flop Alberto Moreno, which has to addressed why has Jurgen Klopp not bought a left back? Surely he could not be relying on young Joe Gomez to come in and play in his most unnatural position at the back and make the position his own, the team needs a left back and in the summer it must be Klopp and Liverpool’s top priority. This adds more depth to the question has Klopp really improved Liverpool?
Protecting the back four is so important as well, especially with Liverpool playing such a high tempo pressing style, so in the summer I was expecting the club to really try and invest in this position, or even play Emre Can in what looks his most natural position in the pitch, instead Klopp plays Jordan Henderson. Now I will not start with my usual questioning of why Henderson even makes the team, but why play a player in a role that he really cannot play and does look to be interested in playing. He will take the ball from his defenders and perhaps Klopp thinks he can be almost be the ‘quarterback’ in this team but he is not a holder of a midfield, he does not really cover his fullbacks and he does not possess the defensive ability to almost drop in as a third central defender at times, this is more the Emre Can style and he looks to play as the released central midfielder, going box to box and popping up with late runs in the box. The balance in the Liverpool midfield was constructed with Adam Lallana being the player that plays in between the lines, and the first half of the season showed how good a player he can be, his form has sloped off slightly but inevitably will improve again. These issues again makes me question does Klopp have a plan b in his midfield to change the shape, to play more disciplined, the answer is probably no as he does not have the players to play this way unless Milner is moved back into the heart of the midfield.
The final third is where it is hard to criticise the team, Mane was an exceptional signing and one that could prove the difference maker if Klopp is to be a real success at Anfield. Coutinho and Firmino are both superb technical footballers and the interchanging between the three is a joy to behold, but I would question who the goal scorer is. Rodgers had perhaps now regarded as one of the best players in the world banging the goals in alongside perhaps the most gifted English strikers since maybe Alan Shearer in the form of Daniel Sturridge. The injuries that Sturridge has had over the last two seasons have been unfortunate and been questioned by some in media and fans, but he is Liverpool’s only natural goal scorer who even when fit is usually on the bench in the first team. The style of football does not suit the way Sturridge plays, he is not a high pressure type of player but why should he; let him show what he is good at. Klopp has made a mistake with the Sturridge situation; he needs to accommodate such a player like Arsenal do Mesut Ozil, like Chelsea do now with Eden Hazard and the way Real Madrid with Cristiano Ronaldo. Liverpool need to get their season back on track, the Saido Mane factor will be huge for the team in doing this.
After that Klopp has one more window before he stops getting away lightly by the fans and media alike, Liverpool’s recent form would have called for the sacking of the manager, Klopp has got lucky thus far not to come under scrutiny for what looks like a one method philosophy and cant or wont adapt this.