Klopp at Liverpool, Season 1: ‘Doubters to believers’, two cup finals and broken glasses

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This is the first part in our series charting Jurgen Klopp’s nine seasons at Liverpool from his 2015 arrival to his upcoming departure from Anfield.

I am the Normal One,” was what a beaming Jurgen Klopp told reporters at Anfield on 8 October 2015. He’d turn out to be anything but.

The start to that season had been a chastening one for Liverpool, who sat 10th in the Premier League when they sacked Brendan Rodgers four days previously, having limped to a sixth-place finish in the previous campaign. There was little to suggest that things would improve before they got even worse.

The affable German vowed to turn ‘doubters into believers‘ at his famous introductory press conference, but even a man with his exceptional track record with Borussia Dortmund would have to do something special to turn the tide of any understandable pessimism among the fan base.

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Klopp’s impact wasn’t immediate. His first three matches were all draws, while he won just one of his first four league games (although it was a statement win away to champions Chelsea), but a resounding 4-1 annihilation of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium six weeks into his tenure was a hint that, just maybe, something special was being brewed by the new man in charge.

Alas, a familiar sense of inconsistency reigned. For every triumphant away day such as the two mentioned above, or a 6-1 EFL Cup mauling of Southampton, there was a 3-0 pummeling at Watford or an almighty scare in needing to salvage an FA Cup replay against fourth-tier Exeter.

Klopp famously branded his style of play as ‘heavy metal football’, and that was very much in evidence on a Saturday lunchtime in East Anglia in January 2016. A routine away win seemed to be in the offing when Bobby Firmino broke the deadlock after 18 minutes at Carrow Road, but the Reds found themselves 3-1 down to Norwich by the 54th minute.

It now looked set to be another dismal defeat away to a promoted side, but by 75 minutes the visitors were 4-3 ahead. Just as they were on the verge of clinching victory, though, Sebastien Bassong struck from outside the area to seemingly rescue a point for the Canaries…yet there was still time for Adam Lallana to fire home a winning goal which sparked such wild celebrations that the manager’s glasses were knocked off his head!

 Adam Lallana celebrates scoring Liverpool’s fifth goal with Jurgen Klopp and teammates Lucas Leiva, Roberto Firmino and Emre Can during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Liverpool at Carrow Road on January 23, 2016. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

It was a result which showed Liverpool at their best and their worst, and that Jekyll and Hyde nature continued into February. The German was raging when, after a mass 77th-minute walkout at Anfield in protest at a planned ticket price increase, the Reds turned a 2-0 lead at that juncture into a 2-2 draw against Sunderland. A week later, LFC regrouped and thumped an admittely dreadful Aston Villa 6-0 in their own backyard.

Klopp had the chance to win his first trophy for the club after just four months as his side took on Man City in the EFL Cup final, only to lose on penalties at Wembley, although revenge was exacted in the league just three days later.

After a few dismal years in Europe, Liverpool were also beginning to revive their fortunes on the continent as Manchester United were seen off in the Europa League, but that scalp was eclipsed by what happened in the subsequent round.

A 1-1 draw away to Klopp’s alma mater Dortmund in the quarter-final first leg was respectable, but when the Reds conceded twice in the first 10 minutes at Anfield, they were at risk of humiliation. At 3-1 down on 57 minutes, it seemed that the full-time whistle couldn’t come soon enough.

However, once Mamadou Sakho levelled in the 78th minute to make it 3-3, the home fans had genuine hope, and that turned into an explosion of euphoria in stoppage time when the Frenchman’s centre-back partner Dejan Lovren headed the winning goal. It was the best European night on Merseyside for many a year.

Domestic results remained inconsistent, and an eighth-place finish didn’t represent much of an improvement on the position that Liverpool occupied when Klopp took over seven months previously, but the final month of the season was all about the Europa League charge.

Villarreal were overcome in the last four to set up a final against Sevilla, who were seeking to win the trophy for a third successive year. St Jakob Park in Basel was the bafflingly small-scale choice for the decider, which seemed to be going LFC’s way when Daniel Sturridge broke the deadlock on 35 minutes.

A promising first half preceded a dismal second, with Unai Emery’s side level within a minute of the restart and going on to win comfortably by 3-1. Liverpool fans and players were naturally dejected, with the team having not given anywhere near the best possible account of themselves when just one game from silverware.

In a sign that he was anything but the self-proclaimed ‘Normal One’, Klopp instructed his squad in the hotel afterwards to convene for what turned into a party, with the manager jubilantly leading the celebrations. Self-pity gave way to an appreciation that the first few steps on a potentially momentous journey had been taken.

Despite the German’s first season at Anfield being dogged with inconsistency, progress to two cup finals added weight to his promise of turning doubters into believers. That process had been set in motion by the end of his debut campaign at the club.

READ MORE: The evolution of Liverpool’s starting XI under Jurgen Klopp

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