A newly promoted Watford side lining up against a Liverpool outfit buoyed by the appointment of Klopp in October should, on paper, not have ended in a 3-0 defeat for the Reds.
But with a goal from Nathan Ake followed up by a brace from the impressive Odion Ighalo, the Hornets overran their lofty opposition and extended the gap between them at the top end of the Premier League table.
Watford have been one of the surprise packages of the 2015/16 season so far, but the way in which Liverpool crumbled at Vicarage Road will not have come as a shock to their travelling support.
Klopp will have been as dismayed as the away fans as Liverpool’s lack of a winning mentality once again undermined their progress.
Bullied by the Hornets
Speaking to talkSPORT’s Stan Collymore after helping his side to another victory, Watford striker Troy Deeney gave a damning verdict on Liverpool’s performance.
“The most impressive thing about our performance today is that we bullied them. They just didn’t fancy the fight,” he explained.
“We scored after a few minutes which settled the nerves and then we dominated. Skrtel went off, he didn’t fancy it, and it was a great victory.”
As Deeney suggests, Watford were helped by Ake’s goal in the third minute, with the Hornets able to sit back and break rather than open themselves up in search of an opener, but his assertion that Liverpool buckled under their pressure was more salient.
Deeney and Ighalo are two of the Premier League‘s most physically adept strikers, and their partnership has terrorised a number of defences so far this season.
This has built up a mentality that Liverpool were unable to deal with, and Ighalo’s opener was perhaps the best example of this.
Firstly, Lucas Leiva‘s weak attempt at a challenge was shrugged off by Deeney, as the Watford No. 9 turned and played a ball over the top for the onrushing Ighalo, with the Nigerian using his strength to wrestle the ball from Martin Skrtel on the break and then fire low beyond Adam Bogdan.
Two key defenders for Klopp, both Lucas and Skrtel shrank under pressure from Watford‘s bullish attacking duo, and with Liverpool behind by two goals the efforts of their attacking counterparts were similarly abject.
They were unable to drive Liverpool on, instead fading into the periphery as Watford continued to impose themselves—this is a worrying habit of both Lallana and Firmino.
These are players who shine when Liverpool are dominating, but seemingly lack the passion to produce performances in clashes such as these.
Lack of Passion
Appointing Klopp saw owners John W. Henry and Tom Werner inject Liverpool with passion; and the German has the aura of a truly successful manager that he shares with few others.
But his primary objective of changing the club from “doubters to believers” served as an ambitious mission statement for the former Borussia Dortmund man, with Liverpool crippled from years of high expectations and countless disappointments.
This extends from the supporters to the players.
Klopp took another step towards restoring the belief within the stands as he ushered his charges over to the Kop after Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion, and the travelling support roared their side on throughout on Sunday—but the same can’t be said of Klopp’s squad.
Going behind to an early goal required an immediate response, but instead Liverpool dissolved.
“I would say hopefully it’s the most disappointing moment in my whole Liverpool FC life,” Klopp told reporters after the game, and if this is to be the case he must look to foster passion, and a winning mentality, within his squad.
Fostering a Winning Mentality
Klopp’s own passion extends to his love for the club, as Gerard Houllier explained earlier this month.
“I know Jurgen from UEFA meetings and he has always liked Liverpool,” he said.
“He had a passion for the club. He was always talking about Liverpool; what we did, how we lived. I can tell you he was a true fan of Liverpool and he was following the results before going there.”
But the Liverpool that Klopp will have been familiar with during Houllier’s reign is a stark contrast to the squad that he inherited from Brendan Rodgers.
This is a group of players with scattered quality, but lacking in the overriding confidence that comes with a winning mentality; the likes of Skrtel and Lucas, though elevated to the status of senior players at the club due to their playing experience, have little experience of success.
Houllier’s Liverpool squad was packed with passionate footballers desperate to win, with Robbie Fowler, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Dietmar Hamann, Markus Babbel, Patrik Berger, Gary McAllister all contributing to the Reds’ treble-winning campaign under the Frenchman in 2000/01.
Even in the likes of Jari Litmanen and Vladimir Smicer he possessed players with experience of tangible success.
Houllier continued to attest that Klopp would “will bring something different” to Liverpool, and in the German’s passion, drive and managerial wealth he is a marked upgrade on the largely untested Rodgers.
This must now spread to his squad, with the lack of a winning mentality undermining their progress in clashes such as Sunday’s Vicarage Road defeat.
Whether that must be in signing players with top-level experience, or continuing to build the belief in his squad from within, Liverpool will not reach their potential under Klopp until this is a reality.