Liverpool have been ‘fortunate’, injuries have evaded them and they’re topping the league at its weakest point. Or so they say…
They are the claims of those who sit below the Reds, those who are simply onlookers to the runaway leaders after a start to the campaign which signifies how far Jurgen Klopp’s side have come.
The win over Tottenham saw Liverpool lay claim to the best start to a season of any team in the history of Europe’s top five leagues, amassing 61 points from 21 games.
It has not happened overnight nor has it been without hardships, but the ingrained mentality, evolution of the squad in line with Klopp’s vision and meticulous attention to detail has ensured the Reds juggernaut remained firmly on its track.
No Luck Here
Injuries: they hit every team across every division around the world with various degrees of seriousness.
And Liverpool have had to contend with their fair share this season despite suggestions to the contrary.
Alisson, the world’s best goalkeeper, was sidelined for over 10 weeks after tearing his calf on the opening day, Joel Matip, Fabinho, Naby Keita, Dejan Lovren and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all been forced to spend time on the sidelines.
But despite all of that, the Reds have failed to secure a win on just four occasions in 2019/20 in all competitions across 34 games—one of which included a side with an average age of 19 falling to defeat at the hands of Premier League opposition.
It’s not luck, it’s meticulous planning and the fruition of a culture and mentality which centres around excellence and a collective ethos that every member of the squad has a vital role to play.
The aforementioned players aren’t ones hoping to break into the squad, they are each key in their own right and their respective absence has shifted responsibility and onus onto various players—which they have each taken into their stride, take Adrian or Adam Lallana for example.
Excuse the Rugby Union parallel, but the New Zealand national team has long been a class above the rest with identity, team spirit and a certain level of swagger key to their all-conquering ways—one which instils fear into the opposition long before they cross the white line.
But vitally, if one player is forced out another steps in and there is no drop in output as the system and one’s role is clearly defined, when the chips are down they stand taller.
Rome was not built in a day and neither was the Liverpool we are all watching now, years of troubled waters and setbacks paved the way for success and now the Reds are less likely to shrink under pressure or search for excuses.
“I said to the boys that they looked a little bit too exhausted in this game, but we are humans and humans are weak. But later we are sat in the dressing room and everybody was still alive and still breathing, so there is still more to come and that is what we have to ask of ourselves.”
They were the words of the manager after the win at Spurs, where his side visibly started to feel the effects of the relentless December schedule, where at one point injury left just 13 fit outfield players to pick from.
And yet the Reds remained firm to hold on to all three points, and they will now have to pick themselves up and do it all over again—but they won’t be without a helping hand as it takes an entire village to ensure every player is primed mentally and physically for the next matchday.
No Stone Left Unturned
Klopp has had four years to mould his side into his liking, expertly working the transfer window alongside the likes of Michael Edwards and simultaneously looking within the confines of the club for the next academy star.
But it is not only his recruitment and eye for detail on the field which has seen the Reds hit the heights they have under his tutelage, as the level of attention and planning off it has proved just as significant.
From the early acquisitions of nutritionist Mona Nemmer and fitness and conditioning coach Andreas Kornmayer, the Reds have bolstered their ranks in the aid of recovery which centres around “the mantra of three Rs: rest and recuperation, along with the right refuelling.”
Liverpool’s squad have gone from eating Nando’s after games early in Klopp’s reign to purposefully chosen food which is specifically designed to return energy levels and protect against muscle wastage.
No stone is left unturned in Liverpool’s bid to ensure players are fit and fighting every week.
A specialist team of 10 people, including physios, rehab coaches, medical services and nutritionists are on hand to design and implement a scientific programme aimed to keep the squad at their best physical shape.
Players are weighed and tested over their fluid levels and salt and mineral balance each week which will raise any red flags over fatigue, with Klopp then provided a detailed account of his squad ahead of each game.
With the Reds plying their trade across five competitions this season and often with swift turnarounds, this level of meticulous detail is paramount to any success Liverpool have and hope to have for this campaign and beyond.
And while Liverpool have had a plethora of injuries this season, the likes of Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk remain ever-present, playing the most minutes of their career thanks to a carefully designed programme and fierce mentality.
“Fitness, tiredness, is in here,” Mane said earlier this season, pointing to the side of his head. “For a long time now I’ve never had a break…for seven years I’ve never had a holiday longer than 20 days.”
While not ideal that the demands for club and country continue to pile up—that is an argument for another day—it is also why Klopp’s rotation policy and game management have also become increasingly important.
The boss has never shied away from his disdain at the lack of a break during the festive period and the pileup which ensues in regards to the League Cup and FA Cup, with Liverpool historically suffering in the first two months of the year since his arrival.
Injuries and fatigue leading up to the turn of the new year are key contributing factors, but despite having been without a host of key members of his squad, game management, purposeful rotation and recovery has proven key.
“Bringing in doing treatment and recovery stuff at home during a really intensive period has worked really well.”
With a bright start to 2020 under their belts, with three wins on the spin, and the aforementioned players only just starting to return to the fold, any notion that the Reds are fortunate or lucky is simply unfounded—they are instead a well-oiled, meticulous machine on and off the field of play.
This is something our next opponents cannot lay claim to being.
Out to Sea
While Liverpool are the shining light and the envy of the top flight, with the players, manager and fans reading from the same page, Man United continue to show few signs of digging themselves out of the hole that was left following Alex Ferguson’s departure.
The Reds are everything United are not.
Klopp’s side exudes a feeling of invincibility and strength with a clear identity, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the captain of a ship which has more than a few holes and is clinging onto the idea that ‘pace and power’ define the direction and those aboard.
They are, however, simply lost at sea.
The long list of issues pre-dates Solskjaer’s arrival, with an ageing squad, failure to determine a common direction, misguided transfer dealings and a boardroom clearly detached from the fans all inflicting serious damage.
Close to £950 million has been spent on United’s squad since 2013, but the structure which led to their remarkable success was no more and they now find themselves in a not too dissimilar position to that of Liverpool some years ago.
United are, therefore, the perfect case study. Liverpool’s rise has not been a quick one, but any argument suggesting a 14 point lead at the top of the table, while possessing a game in hand, is a fortuitous lead where injury luck has been on our side is a seriously misinformed one.
This campaign has been built on the foundations of years of meticulous attention to detail and a clear establishment of a team first identity, where in the absence of one player another rises to the fore.
A band of brothers and a club in sync with all its key stakeholders, an aura which is hard for any opposition to match, let alone overcome.