Sometimes it can be hard to admit that you were wrong. The bitter taste of that humble pie. The humiliating feeling of egg on your face. That lump in your throat as you swallow your pride, and then the shame of having to come crawling back with your tail between your legs (okay I’m out of idioms now). It isn’t usually a pleasant experience. Right now, however, I couldn’t be happier that I’m being proven wrong.
In the summer I was one of those asking where the controlling midfielder was. Wondering what we were playing at not signing a left back. Doubting Henderson’s captaincy credentials. And baffled at what Georginio Wijnaldum was meant to add.
That’s not to say that I’d ruled us doomed to mid-table mediocrity, or that I thought we had weakened from last season. I just thought that we’d have a battle on our hands to claim that top four spot that we craved. I looked at the teams around us, and thought we needed to have improved further if we were to finish above three of Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester, Man City, Man Utd, and Tottenham. Not that we’re assured of anything yet when we’re only eleven games into the season, but to be top of the pile – after a particularly tricky start – is certainly very reassuring.
The incredible transformation at LFC over the last 12 months is quite unprecedented. Jürgen Klopp told us to change from doubters to believers, but maybe a few of us reacted to this the way a child would when told to eat their carrots to help them see in the dark. They make a token effort to do what they’re told, but remain quite sceptical as to whether they’ll actually see any sort of major improvement. What Klopp is doing now though, is akin to that child waking up with night vision.
Those of us who needed a little more persuasion to change from the doubters we were, are now being showed why we should believe. As – unlike certain false dawns we’ve had in the past – Klopp is developing the team his way, putting his stamp on it, and finally building us up to be a well-oiled footballing machine once again. We are seeing the plan put into motion; seeing everything click together whenever Klopp makes a tactical decision. There’s no stumbling across a certain formation or game plan that may see us get a few positive results over ten games. This is a long-term plan that is being implemented so thoroughly that our style is becoming known as ‘the Liverpool way’ as opposed to us being a pretender to anyone else’s football.
When Brendan Rodgers switched us to a 3-5-2 formation to stop the rot in 2014-15, we went on a 13-game unbeaten run. But at no point in that run did we feel like a masterplan was in place; a blueprint to our game that would stand us in good stead for the future. It was a temporary measure designed to milk each game for what it was worth, at the expense of every philosophy Rodgers had strived to apply. Even our diamond formation in 2013-14, which our current side has drawn so many comparisons to, didn’t seem to be in Rodgers’ thinking at the start of the season, and was merely a result of him finding a way to accommodate both Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez in the team.
So for the first time in a long while, we have an identity. And the proof of this is how Klopp went out in the summer with a clear plan of exactly what he did and didn’t need, and casually brushed off these questions of why he was deviating from what many people felt we needed. Our fluid, flowing football of the moment almost defies the confines of being labelled as a set formation. Calling it a 4-3-3 doesn’t do justice to how much the front three roam around and interchange, or the fact that the advanced midfielders are allowed to make surging runs ahead of the forwards. And it’s for this reason that Wijnaldum fits us so perfectly, and why Sadio Mané is making £34m look an absolute bargain. Only in our team could James Milner be the left back that he is, could Henderson’s skillset make him the ideal deep-lying midfielder, and could Adam Lallana thrive in almost playing as an eight and a ten all at once.
It’s almost embarrassing how many aspects of our team are proving me wrong, due to my harsh judgements and narrow-minded expectations of how a top football team should play. Klopp improved a great many of our players during last season, but I thought most of them had hit their ceiling, and that left me unsure as to whether they’d be good enough to help us mount a sustained top four/title challenge. Our signings seemed solid, but with a negative net spend I wondered why we hadn’t plugged a few more gaps in our squad. And with many of our rivals stealing the headlines with huge signings and megastar managers arriving, I can only think I got caught up in the hype and felt like I had to downplay our aspirations for the season. All the while, our dark horse Klopp was casually not giving a hoot (insert your own expletive) what anyone else said or did, and quietly went about his business of building and developing his team the only way he knew how. And my word has he done that, and never again shall I doubt him.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)