When Jürgen Klopp arrived at Anfield in October 2015, there was an immediate sense of excitement. Klopp’s record at Borussia Dortmund commanded respect, and his modest yet positive approach in the media, not to mention his all-action touchline displays, endeared him to the Liverpool faithful right from the start. However, while his arrival has certainly energised both the team and the supporters, that wasn’t the main purpose of his appointment.
In terms of silverware, there’s no hiding the fact that Klopp’s Liverpool have not yet delivered. Despite a steady improvement in the Premier League and two major finals, Klopp has not yet been able to bring a trophy back to Anfield. This will be as frustrating for him as it is for Liverpool fans, but while previous managers have paid the price for not delivering trophies in the short term, in the case of Klopp, there is a very strong case for patience.
For a start, the team is clearly better than it was when he took over. You only have to look at the betting markets to see that Liverpool are perceived as serious contenders for major honours. According to the live odds, Liverpool are short odds-on candidates to finish in the top four in the Premier League this season, and prominent in the betting to lift the Premier League trophy in 2018-19.
The improvement is also evident in results. At the end of Klopp’s first, partial season in charge, the Reds finished eighth. Last year, they were up to fourth and ensured qualification for the Champions League. This season, they were third in the table in the middle of February and in with a great chance of reaching the Champions League quarter-finals. Klopp’s side are also scoring more goals now than when he started. Last season, they averaged 2.05 goals per game, but by the time they beat Southampton 2-0 at the beginning of February, their average had risen to 2.23, and only Manchester City had found the net more often.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, Klopp has patiently introduced his style of play to a team that was not used to it. Much has been made of the fact that he likes his players to press with energy throughout the game. To achieve this level of all-round, high-energy performances takes time, both to embed the tactical aspects and to build up the conditioning and stamina in the playing squad that can make it possible, but those efforts are paying off.
This season, Liverpool have played some of the most exhilarating football that the Premier League has seen for a long time. Their relentless approach, built on direct play, intense pressing and an attacking mentality, is not only perfectly in tune with Liverpool’s traditions but also means that the Reds are capable of outscoring any opponents, as they did in January when they became the first team in the Premier League to beat Manchester City.
To create this style of play does not necessarily depend on bringing in big signings. This has rarely been Klopp’s approach. Instead, he prefers to work with younger players or players who will fit into his system, but this process takes time.
Liverpool fans impatient for success should look at Klopp’s record in Germany. He first spent seven years at Mainz, turning them into a Bundesliga side and steering them to a place in the Europa League. This was followed by a seven-year spell at Dortmund. In his first two seasons, Dortmund finished fifth and sixth, but in his third and fourth seasons, they won and retained the Bundesliga and went on to become one of Europe’s best teams.
This, undoubtedly, is his long-term plan for Liverpool, and it suggests that they could be on course for a serious Premier League challenge next season. In the short term, however, they face plenty of challenges to secure a top-four spot. Crucial games against Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea will go a long way to determining their final position.
Klopp will also be working on fine-tuning the defensive side of Liverpool’s game. His tactics call for the players to always be on the front foot and to keep a very high defensive line, and this can cause them to be a little exposed at the back, particularly against teams that sit deep and look to hit on the counter. If they can add a little more defensive solidity and perhaps a touch more patience in breaking down stubborn opponents, then the Klopp revolution may start to bear fruit in the near future.