Seven of the players who started against Crystal Palace last weekend were involved in the 3-0 humiliation by Watford at Vicarage Road last term, probably the worst result of Jurgen Klopp’s tenure.
On that horrible afternoon in Hertfordshire, we lined up in a 4-3-3 formation which looked like this: Bogdan, Clyne, Skrtel, Sakho, Moreno; Lucas, Can, Henderson; Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino
Against Palace, a year later, Klopp went with: Karius, Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Moreno; Henderson, Can, Lallana, Mane, Coutinho, Firmino
This Sunday we take on Watford again and bar welcoming James Milner at left-back, the team will likely look the same.
We’ve got a new keeper, a Bosman transfer in at centre-half and a speedster on the wing. In terms of the team’s spine though, Liverpool haven’t changed enormously from Klopp’s early days in charge.
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But results, performances and individuals are all improving in a linear fashion. This season, we’re the top scorers in the Premier League, have kept most possession, created the most chances and taken the most shots. We’re also sat joint top of it. Not bad considering we’ve played Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs away from home.
So how has Klopp managed to transform the hopeless side which got battered by the Hornets last November into one expected to win comfortably this time around?
He ignored the impatience of the media and fans alike and did it HIS way.
Let’s rewind to the beginning of this season, and you’ll see:
We’d just beaten Arsenal 4-3 at the Emirates; witnessing a scintillating Liverpool offence sat on shaky foundations. As a result, our mediocre midfield and dodgy defence merited as much post-match discussion as the brilliance of Sadio Mane and Coutinho.
Naturally, Jurgen Klopp was asked whether he’d launch himself into the final days of the transfer market to save Liverpool’s clearly insufficient squad…
“We will see,” Klopp began, before a switch in consideration.
“Actually I think we will try it with training and analyse things…
“Improvement in my understanding is about training and using the quality you have,” he methodically concluded. (Metro)
But this has been Klopp’s mantra since he arrived. Training over transfers. Progression over replacement. Improvement, learning and practice over the quick-fix.
It’s not a form of football snobbery – wanting to win without the ‘cheat’ of money – it’s because he simply thinks it works better, proving as much with Dortmund.
A year ago, when he was appointed, he said more or less the same thing when badgered about potential marquee transfers.
“I’m here because I believe the potential of the team. I see the team and think everything is good,” Klopp told his first press-conference in England.
“At this moment we’re not the best team in the world, but who cares? We have speed and technical ability. We want to be the best team in the world. We have some problems and we have to solve them.” (Mirror)
It’s no accident that the Liverpool flops which stayed at the club under Klopp have improved so drastically. From his first day, Liverpool’s manager had a vision as to which players would adapt to his style and tactic through constant, ruthless training ground instruction.
After the Watford defeat last term, there were countless calls for the heads of Henderson, Can, Lallana, Firmino and probably even Coutinho – as even he wasn’t immune to criticism from a fickle fanbase fed up with a failing squad.
This term, skipper Henderson leads the league for passes and ground covered from a newly adapted no.6 role. Can’s matured and switched positions too. Lallana is one of those players ‘you pay to see’ and Firmino keeps Daniel Sturridge out of the starting XI. Coutinho? Regarded by many as the best player in the country.
Klopp has turned these same ailing players into outstanding ones via exactly the method he promised to: the training ground.
But here’s what really excites us:
If Klopp can do all this in 12 months, where will Liverpool and our players be by the end of his six-year contract…?