Alex Malone highlights the positives we can take from Jurgen Klopp‘s first game, and what it promises in the short and long-term future for the Reds.
A nil-nil draw away at Spurs is not a result to get the pulse racing, especially after dispatching the same opposition 3-0 and 5-0 on their own patch in the last two seasons. Another game without a goal isn’t the most welcome of stats either. Even so, there were clearly certain aspects of Jurgen Klopp’s first game in charge that offered a sense of both optimism and relief.
The first was the most welcome and refreshing of decisions – playing players in their proper positions! Emre Can had a highly encouraging game as a forceful, energetic midfielder, not a centre half! Jordon Ibe had a pleasing cameo as a tricky, evasive, attacker, not a wing-back. The team shape was majorly improved with a solid 4-3-2-1 set up and gone (hopefully for good) was the “we can’t defend to save our lives, so let’s go with 3 rather than 4 defenders” mentality.
And finally, after 9 games, we earned a clean sheet.
The other pleasing observation (confirmed by Opta stats) was the commitment shown by each and every player. We ran more, we tackled more, we challenged more and we didn’t stop running. Emre Can was clattering in to challenges just as enthusiastically in minute 90 as in minute 9.
Adam Lallana didn’t shirk his responsibilities and go missing like he too often has in the past. Klopp has already hinted post-match that this must be the norm for Lallana if he is to succeed as a Liverpool player. Even Lucas ventured past the half-way line and had a couple of pops at goal (although I decline to use the word ‘shots.’)
It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but that’s only to be expected in these very early days. James Milner continues to look worryingly one-dimensional. Martin Skrtel and Alberto Moreno’s defensive limitations were again too obviously and easily exposed. Divock Origi looked like the seldom-used, inexperience teenager he is in the thankless single-striker role.
But the positives of this display far outweighed the negatives. The first 20 minutes gave us a glimpse of a future where the players – super fit having had their rest days abandoned and double training sessions instilled in to the culture – can do it for 90; a future where a fierce determination to maintain control of a game replaces the half-arsed efforts too often on display over the last 12 months.
This was a Liverpool team with £70 million worth of striking talent on the doctor’s table; one also without its recently acquired – and highly rated by Klopp himself – creative Brazilian, Firmino. And one without the one player who has never needed a manager to tell him to “run more” – Jordan Henderson.
Klopp will no doubt have already noticed where this current Liverpool squad is lacking. It is clear that even the first choice back four isn’t good enough and that the midfield (with maybe 1-2 exceptions) is not creative enough, and doesn’t add enough goals. These will be priority areas for the new manager as he looks to improve the squad.
But this is why Klopp is the perfect choice as Liverpool manager. This is a man who inherited Borussia Dortmund languishing in 13th place in the Bundesliga. In the season prior to his arrival, they had scored 50 goals in 34 games (1.5 goals per game) and conceded 62 (1.8 goals per game.) They had won only 10 of 34 games.
In Klopp’s first season the number of wins increased from 10 to 15. The goals scored from 50 to 60 (1.8 goals per game), and the goals conceded from 62 to 37 (1.0 goals per game.)
By season three, the wins had climbed to 23 from 34 games. The goals scored jumped to 67 (2 goals per game) and the goals conceded was a miserly 22… 0.6 goals per game. Dortmund were champions of Germany for the first time in 21 years and for only the second time in 47 years. That season saw them lose only 3 games.
Season four saw even more incredible improvement. Goals scored in the 2011/12 season increased to 80 (2.4 goals per game) and still conceded only 25 (0.7 goals per game). They were champions again.
The point of these stats is to show that Klopp was able to take a mid-table team unable to both score and prevent goals, to one highly effective in both. It didn’t happen overnight, but the seeds of his talents were sown on day one, and the results were soon spectacular.
We now have three successive home games to become more accustomed to the Klopp way before the next away game at floundering Chelsea. These 3 games offer a wonderful chance to hone the style, shape and team philosophy of the future under the gaze and adrenaline fueled energy of a hugely supportive Anfield crowd.
The season ahead, and indeed the years ahead, promise to be as intriguing as we have seen in decades. We may lie in a disappointing 10th place today, but let’s not forget that we have had to endure the away game schedule from hell to begin this season – Stoke, Arsenal, Man U, Everton and Spurs away so far, with Chelsea and Man City up next.
These are arguably the hardest seven away games of the entire season, and all will have been navigated by November 21st. So far, we have lost just one of them, and with 5 of these games now behind us, we lie only 4 points off 4th place and 6 points off 2nd.
With 29 games of the season to go, and the manager’s methods and principles likely to have a progressively positive effect, there is no reason to have anything other than high hopes for this season. From the aimless disappointment we all felt in September, there is now an addictive wave of optimism that has swept us all along since the announcement of Klopp’s appointment. The buzz, the excitement and the hope in our hearts is back – and it’s back with a vengeance.
See you soon top four.