Less than 50 days separated Liverpool’s turgid performance in a 3-1 defeat at Old Trafford and Saturday’s comprehensive 3-1 victory at Stamford Bridge.
These two performances perfectly evidence why Liverpool were right to sack Brendan Rodgers, and the changes Jurgen Klopp has made at Liverpool in less than a month in charge.
Seven players started both matches, but the difference in performance, mentality and attitude was night and day.
The role and display of Roberto Firmino perhaps outlines the difference most appropriately. Under Rodgers, at Old Trafford, the Brazilian was used in a right-midfield role that looked more like a right wing-back for long periods of the game.
Fellow striker Danny Ings was tasked with the same role on the left side as Rodgers refused to attack a poor Man United defence and set up his side for one of the most negative displays a Liverpool side has produced in years.
Rodgers, perhaps buoyed by having taken a point at the Emirates by playing in a containing manner, lost many supporters with the attempts at surviving rather than attacking the Reds’ rivals.
Saturday saw Firmino start in the number 9 role – a role he played at times last season and for Brazil at the Copa America in the summer (ignore the buffoon Trevor Francis on BT’s commentary). It was his second start in four days after returning from injury. Again Klopp used him in the centre, where he’s at his best.
It’s no surprise that Firmino looks an entirely different player under a manager who understands his game and has belief in the player, rather than a manager who had been sidetracked by the politics of committee signings vs. players he wanted.
Firmino was a player identified by the committee, much like Mamadou Sakho. The Frenchman has been Liverpool’s best performer across Klopp’s three league games in charge and again outlined how Rodgers was to shun him with his performance against Chelsea.
That raking ball to Christian Benteke’s head for the knockdown to assist Coutinho’s second goal was fantastic.
Alberto Moreno was another who was marginalised under Rodgers, starting games as a full-back for the first time this season only once Klopp arrived.
The Spaniard received criticism for failing to track Ramires’ run for the opening goal, but the rest of his performance is then overlooked. Blaming Moreno there also fails to recognise just how bad James Milner was in the buildup with yet another terrible lunging challenge that got nowhere near the ball and then failing to track the full-back.
Of course, Moreno is partially culpable, but he cannot be solely to blame and his performance for the 85 minutes thereafter should be commended.
While Moreno receives criticism from lazy pundits, it’s worth noting he has a higher pass completion than Nathaniel Clyne (78% vs 82%), has created more chances (17 vs. 6) and the same amount of defensive errors in the league this season (one each).
That’s no criticism of Clyne, it’s just pointing out the skewed opinion of Moreno.
Dejan Lovren, who Rodgers signed to replace Sakho, started the defeat Old Trafford. His role at Stamford Bridge was as a substitute in injury time as Klopp trolled Chelsea – Lovren’s first appearance under Klopp in the Premier League. The boss knows.
Under Klopp, even Lucas is tasked with playing higher up the pitch – popping up to win a header inside the box in the second half at Chelsea. The whole midfield press higher up the pitch and as a result the opposition aren’t so easily attacking Liverpool’s defence, which made the back four look so vulnerable under Rodgers.
Klopp made attacking adjustments, bringing on Benteke for the disappointing Milner, and later Jordon Ibe in a straight swap for Firmino – also putting his faith in Lucas and not subbing him after he walked the tightrope of a second yellow card.
Such bravery and positivity was gone under Rodgers.
This is a new Liverpool, one where the manager says after 3-1 at the current league champions (yes, hard to remember that about Chelsea), that his side “can do much better, much much better. We must do better.”
The negative tactics and mindset of the early weeks of this season are long behind us and Klopp has got the fans and players believing in him.
More than anything, Klopp has changed the mentality and approach. As he has insisted since he took over, these aren’t bad players, they just need to be deployed correctly and given the belief again.
A week after telling the players they must respond better to conceding a goal, his side conceded first then went on to win the game for the first time since December 2014 (away to Leicester City).
Negative tactics, ridiculous post-match claims of outstanding performances and political team selections seem a long time ago now.
And Klopp’s only been in charge 24 days.