Jürgen Klopp Faces His Biggest Challenge As Liverpool Boss
Jürgen Klopp has earned our trust, having transformed this side from its underperforming state at the end of Rodgers’ reign, but fans have every right to question his attitude over the January window, with the club’s old guard suffering two more casualties.
Joining Liverpool in January 2013, Sturridge and Coutinho both departed the club having contributed a combined 117 goals in 334 appearances. Delivering moments of true magic, the duo became known for their exceptional, almost telepathic relationship at the spearhead of the attack.
Now, having departed the club with no replacement coming in the other direction, Klopp’s January decision, or lack thereof, could have huge ramifications at the end of the campaign.
Coutinho’s head was clearly turned and there was an overwhelming sense of inevitability that was off to Spain but having worked so hard to keep him last summer, a mid-season capitulation from Klopp and FSG at a time where the Champions League, FA Cup and top-four were all still to play for represents a monumental risk.
Then there’s the decision to loan Daniel Sturridge to West Brom for the remainder of the season. While not contributing much thus far due to continued injury woes, the Englishman remains a world-class finisher that could’ve played an important role in the forthcoming games.
Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke are waiting in the wings, but with the former still bereft of game time after a long lay-off and the latter having never scored a senior goal in the Premier League, there’s a stark drop-off in quality should Roberto Firmino suffer an injury.
Starting just 20 of the 92 league games since Klopp took charge, Sturridge has been on the periphery for a long time now. Yes, he’s a shadow of his former self, but his return to action in Liverpool’s 4-0 win against West Ham last season represents a far greater prospect off the bench than the worrying lack of depth he leaves behind.
Had Liverpool identified a replacement for Coutinho before letting Sturridge depart, the move would make a lot more sense. As it stands though, Klopp’s decision to stick with what he’s got sees him embark on arguably his biggest challenge as manager of Liverpool.
Back to back defeats against Swansea and West Brom, both 19th and 20th in the league respectively, provided firm evidence of questions surrounding a post-Coutinho Liverpool. Emre Can, Gini Wijnaldum and Oxlade-Chamberlain were bereft of any attacking creativity through the middle, unable to make inroads against two well organised defensive structures.
These were the type of instances when Coutinho came up trumps for The Reds; able to wriggle his way through opponents and playing intricate passes between the lines to pull defenders out of position. Thus, the decision to not replace him could have huge consequences on a season where Liverpool were primed for 2nd place.
Having done brilliantly to address their defensive weaknesses by signing Virgil Van Dijk, weakening what was a ferocious attack leaves a sour taste in the mouth, especially with Liverpool’s rivals doing such strong business.
Manchester United have added an extra dimension to their attacking in Alexis Sanchez while Arsenal did arguably the best business of the month in securing Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Chelsea and Spurs also added to their ranks with Olivier Giroud and Lucas Moura respectively.
Missing out on the Champions League at this stage would be a monumental blow with Liverpool in desperate need to re-affirm their position in the tournament on a consistent basis, while an early FA Cup exit condemned fans to another season without silverware.
The 3-0 win against Huddersfield shone some light on the frustrating mood surrounding Anfield at the moment, but it’s the upcoming games against Tottenham and a Champions League clash with Porto in the round of 16 that will serve as the true test for this Liverpool side.
Rest assured, this is a huge, and unnecessary, gamble from Jürgen Klopp in a pivotal period of the season – one that may very well prove to be the biggest challenge of his Anfield tenure. Should he pull it off, this will go down as one of the German’s most impressive achievements with a paper thin squad.