‘Satisfied’ was Jürgen Klopp’s choice of word to sum up his feelings on Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Tottenham, and I think most fans would echo that. For all our excitement at the German’s arrival, Liverpool fans also kept their feet on the ground and knew that he couldn’t click his fingers and instantly turn us into ‘his’ team. Not least when our squad was heavily depleted with injuries, and his maiden game was to go away to a team who had just convincingly swept Man City aside.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the result was secondary to the performance, but it was vastly important that we saw a change from the stale, laboured football that had plagued our team under Brendan Rodgers. A certain degree of enthusiasm and energy naturally buzzes around players when a new manager comes to a club, as the lads want to impress and show what they can do. But it’s still up to the new gaffer to harness this desire in the correct way, because, as we saw in Rodgers’ first game in the 3-0 loss to West Brom, the result of this zest can end up being quite chaotic if not controlled properly. Klopp put his own stamp on the team, but also ensured that we were disciplined, and players clearly knew exactly what was expected of them.
Individually, there were no real surprises. Simon Mignolet again demonstrated that he is a terrific shot stopper, but not so impressive with his distribution. We knew that. Martin Skrtel’s judgement was hit and miss, and he made a couple of clumsy mistakes. Again, we knew that he has that in him. Alberto Moreno was energetic but a tad wild. James Milner was industrious but not exactly productive. Adam Lallana got possession in pockets of space, but could never deliver the final ball. We knew all of these things about our players, and we also knew that there was no way that Klopp could iron out these issues in the three or four days he had working with them.
What we did see, was how Klopp improved these individuals to work better as a collective. If the players themselves had the same attributes as the day Rodgers left, the team had a monumentally different way of working. An early quote from Brendan Rodgers said that he ‘wanted to win the ball back within six or seven seconds of losing it’. This sounded good on paper, but we never really saw anything put into practice to achieve it. Players would press, but there wasn’t a lot of logic to it, and it was all just in hope that the closing down would pressurise the opposition into a mistake. Which occasionally it would, but better footballers thrive on casually passing it around players who are haphazardly running all over the place leaving gaps on the pitch.
Against Tottenham, we saw the energy and determination, but also a pressing in twos, threes, and fours, tactically cutting off options, knowing when to get tight and when to back off, and players intelligently working as one for the good of the team. We will see how that develops over the coming games, but it seems that Klopp has already instilled one of the vital components of his tactics. That’s not to say that it’s already perfected, and the general worry is how much it will physically drain our players, but it’s a solid start and it’s encouraging to see how quickly we’ve caught on.
With both us and Tottenham trying to play the same way though, the game was all about two teams being constantly in each other’s faces. As such, we saw little of how we plan to operate on the ball, as both side’s best chances came from defensive mistakes. Our cause wasn’t helped by being down to our fourth choice striker though, as well as lacking the likes of Roberto Firmino and Jordan Henderson to offer us something in attack. Goals were always going to be hard for us to come by. That made not conceding even more important, and in Klopp’s first match in charge he managed to claim our first clean sheet in nine games. Like he said in his first press conference, having that security of knowing that we aren’t going to concede every time we’re on the back foot is an important thing to develop, as it will stand us in good stead mentally. We knew we couldn’t afford to concede, and so we tightened things up and looked pretty solid in doing so.
Hopefully the next few games warrant a stronger description than ‘satisfying’, but for now we’ve made a positive start under Jürgen Klopp, and the signs are there that the team has responded well to his methods. He’s given us a taste of what he can bring to LFC, now it’s our turn to welcome him to Anfield and show him what the supporters provide.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)