Premier League games under Brendan Rodgers this season: played 8, won 3, drawn 3, lost 2. Premier League games under Jürgen Klopp this season: played 8, won 3, drawn 3, lost 2.
The point of that statistic isn’t to proclaim that Jürgen Klopp is doing no better than Brendan Rodgers did this season as Liverpool manager. The most important thing here is that one manager was working with a squad he spent three years and £300m assembling, and the other has come in and is doing what he can to get the best out of these players whilst implementing his own system and philosophy on our team.
What it does show is that this squad has a ceiling in terms of what it is capable of. We hardly made a great start under Rodgers, but those results alone wouldn’t have been enough to get him the sack. It was the fact that this was the start of his fourth year in charge here, and we still weren’t looking at a squad that had a clear vision and idea of how to play. I, for one, had little patience with Rodgers this season, as I had no belief that I was looking at a group of players who would turn into a top quality side when they all clicked together.
That belief is only being maintained into Klopp’s tenure here. We’ve seen improvement; the Chelsea, Man City, and Southampton games being the stand-out performances. But we’ve also seen that it wasn’t a simple case of bringing in a world class manager and suddenly making this team an elite side. Even if Klopp were to get every ounce of quality he possibly could out of these players, I still think we’d be in a top four battle as opposed to anything more. And that is taking into account the inconsistencies of the other top teams this season.
Some of the main culprits were caught out in yesterday’s game against West Brom. Simon Mignolet made yet another error leading to a goal, a trait which he always seems to have in him and is becoming all too familiar. Some decent enough performances had led to a degree of papering over the cracks with him, and there’s even been talk of him being offered a new contract. But when ‘decent’ is the best word you can find to describe a player playing at the best of their ability, you should know that he’s not a long term solution. Adam Lallana falls into this category too; I’ve talked to fans who have referred to his recent ‘good form’, but that form is showing no goals and only two assists on his last fifteen appearances. So that is Lallana playing at a level close to his best, whereas an out of form Roberto Firmino, with the potential to get far better than he’s currently showing, has one goal and three assists in that time.
Then we have players like James Milner and Christian Benteke, who aren’t even playing close to their best regardless. Question marks were raised over both players when we signed them. Milner wasn’t the controlling midfielder that we needed, and thrived best when doing the dirty work for higher calibre players such as Sergio Aguero and David Silva at Man City. And it seemed clear for all to see that Benteke wasn’t a striker who was going to thrive in our style of play. We were fed some nonsense about how he’s actually a brilliant all-round player who can fit into any system, and while he is more than the big lump of a target man he may look, there were many, many more suitable strikers we could have signed at that price.
Along with the issues of underperforming players and players who aren’t good enough when they are performing, we have a general squad balance issue in terms of the eleven we put out. Between Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, and Adam Lallana, we’ve got three players who like to play as a number 10. They would fit best with Daniel Sturridge or Danny Ings as the striker, but both are injured. So we shoehorn Christian Benteke into the mix, but he then isn’t getting the service from wide he likes. Similarly, no one is stretching our play with width to allow the number 10s more space to operate.
In midfield we’ve got players who like to get up and down the pitch, as opposed to a playmaker who can provide the number 10 with a pass when he picks up a pocket of space. So we have a Milner or Henderson charging ahead of play, and therefore a Coutinho or Lallana dropping deep to get the ball. The striker then moves to the space out wide because the advancing midfielder is attacking from deep, so therefore that full back has to either cut inside or drop back. Basically our whole play gets mixed up. And if you’re Barcelona or Bayern Munich and your full backs are as ridiculously talented as your strikers, you can get away with that. But we are no way near that level, nor are we operating that way through deliberate tactical choice, and so it only results in us being disorganised and erratic.
With the players we’ve got, we’re only going to reach a certain level before we hit our maximum potential, and even if we get there it may not be enough to see us secure a top four finish. Klopp has stated his faith in this squad, but he would hardly say anything otherwise. We need reinforcements, and unfortunately in positions that have been plaguing us for a number of years and should have been rectified long before Klopp was ever appointed. January can be a tricky time to do deals, which is why I’m effectively considering this season as Klopp’s ‘induction’, where he lays the groundwork and identifies our key issues. When he’s given the chance to bring in some new players, I think we’ll start looking like a very different side.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)