“After the goal on 82 minutes, with 12 minutes to go, I saw many people leaving the stadium. I felt pretty alone in this moment.”
Jurgen Klopp’s words after Liverpool lost to Crystal Palace just before the international break.
We are now just over six weeks into his reign as Liverpool manager and how we have all enthused over the marked improvements since his welcome arrival. The league results have been excellent so far, apart from an annoying blip against the aforementioned perennial party poopers, Crystal Palace. Respectable draws against Tottenham and Southampton were followed by the Reds solitary loss sandwiched by outstanding, definitive wins against Chelsea and Manchester City away. The physical improvement on the pitch is clear to see. You just have to look at the, now affectionately named, Gaganpressing stats to know that Klopp has stamped his authority on the park with a vengeance. But, by Klopp’s own admission, he faces a far greater challenge than getting his team to play good football. Comparatively, that is the easy part. We have some great players but Klopp’s paramount concern is to fix the mental fragility that has filtered through from the previous regime.
His “doubters to believers” quote in his first interview as Liverpool boss had every fan waxing lyrical about what he could achieve. But he certainly picked out the main issue with that line. Yes, there are many departments on the pitch where Liverpool need to be upgraded; that’s not even up for discussion but there certain cogs in the machine that just need a kick start. Before Klopp’s arrival, the team was deflated in general. Players were being played out of position, formations were changing quicker than the players would have liked, some had no idea what had to be done to warrant a start, others were probably as baffled as us as to why they even got one. These are issues we had known about for months on end and they were frustrating beyond belief. It was these difficulties that led to the fans and, more importantly, the players lacking the belief that they could win games.
This was made all the more evident when Liverpool conceded a late equaliser to Southampton after having played well to take the lead. Klopp commented after the match that he felt the players heads dropped because they didn’t believe they could regain the lead and win the game. Admittedly, it was the 86th minute but four minutes plus injury time is ample time to score a winning goal if you put your mind to it. If you believe it. And if the belief is in short supply to begin with, even ninety minutes is not enough. A tale we had become all too accustomed to witnessing for most of last season.
Moving forward to the Crystal Palace match after which Klopp spoke about the fans early exit which, if I’m honest, broke my heart just a little. For a manager that we had yearned for (and a club motto of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”) to feel like that only five games in showed what the state of affairs were with the fans psychology. Being the responsible character he is, Klopp still took full accountability for the fans reaction by saying that it was his job to get them believing that they can salvage something from a game no matter how little time remains. He again mentioned that the players failed to believe that they could turn the game around and that he needed to work on their confidence. Maintaining a lead is a completely different prospect to overturning one and it takes a great deal of mental toughness to be able to claim victory from the jaws of defeat.
In the immediate reaction to Liverpool’s 4-1 win over Manchester City, Klopp highlighted how the players were almost “surprised” to be up 3-1 at half-time. He laughed (almost in surprise himself) in post match interviews at how a team that had played so well could react like that. Klopp is fully aware of the lack of belief that has a hold over the players and his rhetoric, time and again, reinforces that there is much work to be done. And now with two huge wins under their belt, the players should be able to feed off those results and carry that confidence forward into future fixtures. Lord knows, they have the perfect manager for it!
Individually, there are a few players who could benefit from a massive Klopp confidence boost. We have already seen what a friendly father figure has done for the likes of Jordon Ibe with the youngster showing signs of flourishing under the German’s tutelage. Lucas Leiva is enjoying a resurgence putting in some execellent displays recently. Another that could profit from Klopp’s expertise and man management is the much maligned Dejan Lovren. A lack of confidence is a major part of the Croatian’s problems whilst the rest of his game can hopefully be rectified on the training ground. My very, very unpopular opinion is that I honestly believe there’s hope for Dejan yet. And Klopp’s appointment further strengthens my hope; not just for him but for all our players.
As I said above, there are players to be bought in and areas to be fortified, but the current squad is by no means a bad one. Used correctly this team can definitely do well. With a bit more self-belief, Champions League places are certainly not out of the question yet. Neither is a cup. Along with his obvious managerial expertise and world class résumé, the one thing I feel that Jurgen Klopp will add is the vital missing ingredient which is faith. Faith that the players and the team can compete at the highest level, against the best teams, win games that seem like a lost cause and instil some Istanbul style belief back into a team that’s still struggling to cope in that respect. If the boss can manage to do that he will rarely see fans leaving early and never feel lonely in a stadium of thousands again. Slowly but surely, it’s all coming together nicely for Jurgen’s Reds.