Earlier in the week, Jamie Carragher described Klopp as “the type of fella you look at and you would like to play for him.”
A managerial force of nature, Klopp has captured the imaginations of not only the watching world, but also his new Liverpool squad, most perfectly highlighted in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea.
Securing a result of this magnitude at Stamford Bridge was unthinkable prior to Klopp’s arrival, and this shows the squad’s belief in the 48-year-old.
Lined Up For Victory
With Ramires powering a header beyond Simon Mignolet and into the corner of the Belgian’s net, BT Sport commentator Trevor Francis was compelled to impart some wisdom on Klopp’s team selection.
The 61-year-old, formerly manager of Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham City and Crystal Palace, concluded that this Liverpool side had not worked on their shape.
After just four minutes of action, Francis was calling for Benteke’s introduction.
Fortunately, Liverpool are blessed with a manager with at least a measure more tactical nous than English football’s first £1 million player.
Fielding a 4-3-3 formation, with a three-man engine room of James Milner, Lucas Leiva and Emre Can supporting Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and auxiliary No. 9, Roberto Firmino, Klopp set his side up to secure victory at Stamford Bridge.
The decision to deploy Firmino as his starting centre-forward was particularly astute, with Klopp putting his faith in the Brazilian, who had performed so well in Liverpool’s midweek win at home to Bournemouth, in place of Divock Origi.
Origi remained on Merseyside this weekend, with Klopp deciding that his development was better served training at Melwood—rather than watching on as a glum, unused substitute.
Firmino’s work rate, intelligent movement and technical quality allowed Coutinho and Lallana to drift between the lines, dancing around the hapless John Obi Mikel and troubling out-of-sorts centre-backs Gary Cahill and John Terry.
There was no surprise that it was the 24-year-old who set up Coutinho’s equaliser, dragging Cesar Azpilicueta out of action before laying the ball off for his compatriot to convert.
However, while Francis’ premature criticism was incredibly shortsighted, Klopp was required to change his tactics throughout Saturday’s clash.
Milner, vice-captain and the club’s highest earner, is enduring something of an crisis of confidence in his focal role under Klopp at present, with the burden of the armband seemingly prompting a confused outlook, charging after the ball and flying into challenges with abandon.
This is not the seasoned professional that Brendan Rodgers made his priority signing in light of Steven Gerrard’s departure this summer; and Klopp, stood fuming on the touchline, recognised this.
Milner was withdrawn just after the hour mark, with Benteke taking his place.
The momentum swiftly shifted in Liverpool’s favour.
Offering the Reds a plan B, and a physical attacking outlet, Benteke saw Firmino and Coutinho in particular grow in confidence, with the Brazilian duo swarming around Liverpool’s No. 9, latching onto knock-ons and finding oceans of space on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area.
Ten minutes after Benteke’s introduction, Coutinho had put Liverpool in front.
With Mamadou Sakho lofting a long ball up to Benteke 25 yards from goal, the £32.5 million man headed the ball down, and with Lallana employing a smart dummy to play in Coutinho, Liverpool had carved upon the Cahill-Terry axis once again.
Benteke provided the killing blow nine minutes later, sauntering into the Chelsea box to drive home beyond Asmir Begovic.
It was an inspired piece of in-game management from Klopp, and the decision to bring Jordon Ibe on in place of a flagging Firmino on 75 minutes served as further evidence of the German’s class.
Ibe’s pace and direct running in the channels stretched Chelsea on the break, helping to secure the victory.
Jose Mourinho’s side were running scared, and this is a testament to the Klopp factor.
In the final months under Rodgers, Ramires’ early strike would have likely represented the beginning of Chelsea dominance, but as soon as the net rippled Klopp was encouraging his side to keep their heads up.
Milner recently attested that Klopp’s manic touchline behaviour was “like a 12th man,” saying “if he can inject some energy into the boys over these last 10 minutes, when we are tired, then good.”
This is exactly what Klopp achieved at Stamford Bridge, with his barks of encouragement echoing around the cavernous south-London atmosphere vacuum.
Coutinho’s equaliser may have come from nowhere, with the first half dying out before the Brazilian’s exquisitely curled finish, but it sparked a remarkable comeback for the Reds.
Failing to come from behind to secure a result was one of the negatives of Rodgers’ reign, but this victory shows Klopp’s quality.
More importantly, it shows his side’s unwavering belief.
Coutinho, Lucas, Can and Alberto Moreno all improved significantly after the interval, with confidence growing by the minute as Liverpool out-ran and out-passed their troubled opponents.
Klopp has made an immense impression in his first three weeks as Liverpool manager, with supporters hanging on his every word—and it seems that his squad are doing the same, too.
Charging onto the pitch to congratulate his fledgling squad at the final whistle, Klopp acknowledged the significance of this victory.
There is still a long way to go before Liverpool can dream of genuine success, but this result was a true statement of intent from Klopp and his blossoming side.
CHELSEA 1-3 LIVERPOOL
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