Can you feel it?
Around Liverpool FC, there is a deep swelling of anticipation and emotion.
A brand new Main Stand, bringing Anfield definitively into the 21st century.
A fresh, vibrant, exciting young team; with a wealth of unique attacking options.
You speak to a passing football fan, and mention you support Liverpool.
“Oh, I really love what Klopp’s doing there” is the standard response.
Right now, Liverpool is the club to be.
This sense of pride and joy when watching Liverpool is a stark contrast to where Liverpool were last season – once again, a team rebuilding, and looking towards the next campaign to kick on definitively. There weren’t many huge signings that usually garner such anticipation and attention. But yet still, there it is, tangible, and in the air – an electricity – and all of this seems due to the arrival of one man, Jürgen Klopp.
His uniquely joyous but serious, and intense but relaxed, approach has the entire Liverpool FC fanbase, worldwide excited; eager to watch the next game, anticipating what they will see next, and how he can work his magic on a group of players, many of whom were previously deemed by the fanbase unfit to wear the Liverpool shirt on a weekly basis, but have developed into impressive, reliable and mentally strong players – we need only take Lovren as an example, a man formerly derided as one of the worst centre-backs Liverpool have ever had, and one who made a mistake that directly led to a goal against Crystal Palace – but instead of the team, and him shrinking into their shell – both he and the team stood up, proud – and he redeemed himself with a powerful effort, resulting in a goal.
But perhaps, to really understand why Liverpool have come so far under Klopp, and why the fanbase is totally besotted by him, it might be best to look at Liverpool’s advances in recent games, such as the West Brom or Crystal Palace fixture, in comparison to previous seasons. In fact, it’s rather quaint, but also apt that it is these two teams that have faced off against Liverpool in the league most recently, as despite them not being thought of traditionally as Liverpool’s rivals, they have proved more than irksome in recent times.
The West Brom fixture at Anfield this season felt a totally different affair to the corresponding fixture the season before. Yes, the managers on either side of the touchline were the same, yes, the teams were also fairly familiar, and yes, the Liverpool fans left the stadium on both occasions rather content after a period of immense nervousness. But I believe the West Brom fixture last season marked a very important point in Jürgen Klopp’s tenure at Anfield. It was the day the old and famous Anfield woke from its eight-year slumber.
Upon arriving at Anfield, Klopp spoke of how he was looking forward to hearing the famous Anfield crowd in full voice – yet after his first few games, he voiced his disappointment, in a rather polite way – and asked the Liverpool fans if they could help push the team on. Now, it’s very hard for a fanbase to muster up a genuinely powerful, and intimidating atmosphere for opponents when the team was playing as it was, but, the fans duly listened, and gave their contribution. And nowhere was that pent-up angst, tension, and jubilation that was suppressed for years, more obvious to see than in the Liverpool versus West Brom fixture last season. Liverpool may have deserved the lead, but trailed going into the last 10 minutes of the game, due to the clinical smash and grab gameplan of Pulis’ Albion side. Klopp felt the anger and disappointment amongst the fans that day, and instead tried to convert it into something much more encouraging for the team – as he gesticulated along the touchline, to the fans, they responded – producing a raucous barrage of noise, forcing the team onwards into high-pressure, intense attack, through sheer willpower. And with Anfield about to burst, a deflected effort by Divock Origi led to scenes of wild jubilation – that far exceeded the occasion of equalising with West Brom at home, in a league match. This was something more though, this was the start of a new era for Klopp, Anfield and Liverpool – and the performance this season against West Brom illustrated that – with Liverpool the dominant team, unfortunate not to have scored more, but buoyed by an Anfield crowd that is willing to go that extra mile to push the team on once again, as it used to on European night, in years gone by.
The Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villareal Europa League fixtures were a total manifestation of the entire Klopp persona and “brand”, if you will. The team played with intensity, aggression, discipline and belief – all on the back of an Anfield crowd that was more than willing to carry them all the way to the final – when considering Liverpool’s outlook just before Brendan Rodgers’ departure, and the attitude and lacklustre belief amongst the supporters, it seems the resurrection that Klopp has performed on Liverpool and its fanbase is of Lazarus-like proportions.
Now, onto Crystal Palace, and exorcising those demons that still flicker in the back of Liverpool supporters’ minds. Back in 2013/14, the Crystal Palace fixture, at Selhurst Park, was one in which Liverpool’s title ambitions hung by a thread: Liverpool needed to win, and win by an unprecedented margin in order for their goal difference to equal, or surpass Manchester City’s. There is no need to recount the details of that match, but it was crushing, and since then, Crystal Palace, for long a side with dreams of playing in the Premier League, had a strange voodoo-like effect on Liverpool, with that memory from 2013/14 not seeming to go away.
Last season, that appeared to have changed. Christian Benteke emerged the unlikely hero, after winning a penalty, and slotting it away cooly in the last-minute of injury time at Selhurst Park. But even still, in the build-up to this season’s fixture, the 2013/14 campaign and match against Crystal Palace was raised again. So this provided a definitive chance for Liverpool to finally shake off the proverbial monkey from its back.
Thankfully, Liverpool took it. With Klopp at the helm, he urged the Liverpool team to continue its fine form, and play with aggression and confidence. The way that Philippe Coutinho played was breathtaking, a genuine masterclass in football. And the team played delightfully in attack, slicing Crystal Palace open at will, and yet also squandering numerous clear chances, leading to a score-line that actually rather flatters Palace’s defence – a strange phrase considering they conceded four goals. It’s one thing to beat a team that has caused problems in recent years, but to do so with such a dominant offensive display, and to also show resilience having surrendered the lead twice, in the face of an extremely vocal and intensive crowd is immensely impressive.
Now, Klopp and his team have dispatched Arsenal and Chelsea away from home, have earned a point at Spurs, who remain undefeated, and await a mouth-watering fixture against Manchester City before the end of the year; but Klopp’s team have also strung together an impressive unbeaten run, and have shaken off old “bogey” teams, with Liverpool currently sharing the top spots out solely on goal difference. Liverpool fans could only have dreamed of this start to the season, and most likely did not envisage it after the transfer window closed – but once again, Klopp and his team defy expectations, and now there is a genuine comfort amongst the Liverpool supporters, that the club, under Klopp, is in good hands, for the first time in far too long.
The current vibe around Anfield is incredibly exciting, and whilst I’m reluctant to put Liverpool’s name forward in terms of contending for the title come the end of the season, I am extremely pleased to see the direction that Klopp is taking Liverpool right now, and long may it continue. It feels right to express appreciation for a man who has for now appeared to halt and reverse what looked like a slide into mediocrity for Liverpool.
Keep doing what you’re doing Jürgen, and we the fans won’t ever be giving up on you or the team.