Tony Evans: Klopp’s Liverpool – From Doubt to Dominance

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Klopp’s Transformation of Liverpool: The Journey From Doubt to Dominance

Early Skepticism

When Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield nine years ago, he had a reputation for being a manager whose teams couldn’t handle finals. His first part-season in charge seemed to confirm that, with Liverpool losing two showpiece games with silverware on the line.  

When the Reds were beaten by Manchester City on penalties in the League Cup and suffered a chastening defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League, there was a lot of smug comment to the effect, “Jurgen can’t get it done in finals.”

Photo by IMAGO

Klopp’s Impact and Liverpool’s Rise

It was wrong, of course. But it was easier to follow the established narrative than recognise that Klopp had taken the inadequate squad he inherited from Brendan Rodgers to places they would never have got to under the Northern Irishman.
Since then, Klopp has constructed some of the most mentally strong Liverpool sides in the club’s history. The team go into the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday on a wave of confidence, despite being in the midst of the worst injury crisis of the Klopp era.

Demonstrating Depth and Determination

The game against Luton Town on Wednesday could have been tricky. The first half was. Then, the relentlessness that’s become a characteristic of Liverpool in the past few years kicked in. The 4-1 victory made a statement: it’s not just the first XI that opponents should fear. It’s the whole squad.
Yes, it was “only” Luton. But if Conor Bradley, Jarell Quansah and Joe Gomez started in the back four against Chelsea at Wembley alongside Virgil van Dijk, I’d be relatively relaxed.
Look, I won’t go through the team but no department of the side was anywhere near full strength against Luton. The side will not be at optimum power against Mauricio Pochettino’s side in the final. But whoever is named on the teamsheet, from Caoimhin Kelleher onwards, they have proved they are capable of playing at a very high level.
Photo: IMAGO
More than that, men who would have been benchwarmers had everyone been healthy have shown the same robust mentality as the likes of Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold. They were not to be denied against Luton.
This is a team greater than the sum of its parts, a squad more powerful than it looks on paper. That’s what really underscores Klopp’s greatness. That mental fortitude bodes well for the future, too.
Caiced-who? The £115 million midfielder might come back to bite us on the arse at Wembley but even if he does, we still had a lucky escape last summer.

Unforeseen Value of Wataru Endo

This brings us to Wataru Endo. When the bedwetters were soaking their mattresses, some of us were saying that the defensive midfielder role should be the cheapest and easiest position to fill. You need mobility, intelligence and, above all, discipline. It’s a functional role rather than a skill position.
Photo: IMAGO
Endo’s proved he can do it. He’s willing to do the dirty work, the stuff that doesn’t win you too many accolades. You don’t want someone who needs to hog the spotlight in a job like that.
The 31-year-old has improved the side and saved the club almost £100 million. He’s still a short-to-medium term answer but he’s the right answer.

Future Prospects and Klopp’s Legacy

One of the big worries about what happens after Klopp departs is the vacuum he will leave. That’s exacerbated by the lack of a sporting director.
However, when discussing this with people around the club, they were less worried than might be expected. This is because of the continuing success of the academy.
The feeling is that the production line is working well and the team – and the bench – against Luton seems to be proof of that. Of course, a lot depends on the next manager. Klopp has been keen on integrating young players into the side. Other managers live in fear of having to use inexperienced youngsters.
Photo: IMAGO
Part of Fenway’s analysis process involves ensuring that Klopp’s replacement is open to promoting youth. Even if the likes of James McConnell, Bobby Clark and Jayden Danns, the trio of late substitutes against Luton, don’t become regulars, they will likely bring in fees if they leave and have good careers elsewhere.
A lot will depend on the new man in charge but insiders are confident that there is a strong platform for the future.
*Can we leave off the Gomez “shoot” shouts, please. After all, we’re not Evertonians. And Gomez is no Tony Hibbert.

Aiming for Less Drama, More Victory

The last League Cup final against Chelsea was brilliant in many ways. It was a cracker considering it was a 0-0 draw. The penalty shoot-out was thrilling with a brilliant ending.

Yet, can we have a little less excitement this time, please, lads. I was thinking something like 3-0 to Liverpool after 10 minutes and then close the game down. Kill it. End any concept that football is entertaining.

Whenever we play Chelsea it’s inevitable that I think about 1986, the match that won us the title on the way to securing the Double. What always resonates with me is Steve Nicol talking about the team’s approach after Kenny Dalglish secured a decisive 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute. “We strangled the game,” Nicol said. “Never gave them a chance. There wasn’t a shred of entertainment for the rest of the match.” Well, we entertained ourselves in the away end. Hugely.

Victory is the only thing that matters at Wembley. In my dreams, the Chelsea fans will be leaving in droves at half time and the television audience can have a Sunday snooze.
Everyone will be fuming at us when we boo the anthem before the match, so providing them with the worst game of football they’ve seen for years and then bringing the cup home would give me serious joy. Come on Reds. Do it for me. Make everyone but us hate football.

The Essence of Liverpool’s Cup History

My first League Cup final was against Nottingham Forest in 1978. We were still calling it the “Mickey Mouse cup” back then, especially after Forest won the replay at Old Trafford.The games against West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester were memorable because, on each occasion, Liverpool fans were outnumbered at Wembley. It’s hard to believe now but true. There was serious fighting in our end during all of these games because of the number of opposition fans among us.
It was the 1980s, after all.The modern fan finds that hard to accept but, to underline how things were back then, just 35,000 turned up for the West Ham replay at Upton Park. The 1984 final against Everton was one of the great days in Merseyside football history. The sense of togetherness as we arrived in London the day before the game still lifts my heart when I think about it.

Reds and Blues were in mixed groups, many sporting “I support Liverpool City Council” stickers because the city’s politicians were facing down the Conservative government.At the height of Thatcherism, we showed the capital that we were together and of one Scouse mind – except for the duration of the match. Two years later the same mindset was in place at the FA Cup.

Heysel had not come between us 12 months after the nightmare of Brussels. I dread to think what a Wembley final against Everton would be like now.What do I remember about Bolton Wanderers in 1995? It was a lovefest. Everyone hated Manchester United. Birmingham City in Cardiff in 2001 was an underwhelming event on the way to an underwhelming treble of cups. Beating United two years later was tremendous. We’d landed too few blows on the bastards since spanking them at Wembley too decades earlier. Funnily enough, getting beat by Chelsea was the one defeat I find memorable and that wasn’t for the football. I recall standing almost pitchside before the match and turning to all sides of the stadium.Chelsea’s banners were all crosses of St George but our end was just red.

The End For The King

The Keep Flags Scouse movement was near its peak. Their end looked mass produced by the English Defence League. Ours was full of inventive – but red – classics. I remember thinking, as I left the ground, “well, they beat us, but at least we’re not them.” Beating Cardiff City on penalties 12 years ago was grim. It had become clear that FSG and Dalglish were going to part ways at the end of the season. Losing the King happened. Luckily, sane voices managed to convince Fenway how important it was for Dalglish to be involved with the club.

So to Chelsea and a potential tenth win. Some deride the cup competitions – except, of course, for the Champions League – but just thinking about these finals brings a plethora of memories back. I could write thousands of words about these games, the events around them and the people who lived through those days alongside me, quite a few of whom are no longer with us.And what’s most important about football? Identity. Memories. Shared experience.Sneer at cup competitions? Dismiss the finals? If you do, you don’t know what you’re missing.

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