How Jurgen Klopp’s “reinvent ourselves” plea led to 12-month Liverpool evolution

Liverpool suffered a resounding 4-1 away to Napoli 12 months ago, but was that performance the spark for the changes that have followed?

There were a number of moments throughout last season that we felt, and hoped, were rock bottom. The league defeats away to Brighton and Wolves, the humbling at home to Real Madrid, to name just a few.

As far as performances go, Liverpool’s showing in Naples sits among them as one of the worst – and coming so early in the season marked a huge warning of what was to follow.

With the benefit of hindsight and in the fullness of time, the opposition were proven to have more quality than they were perhaps given credit for at the time.

The hosts went on to cruise to their first Serie A title since 1990 (sounds familiar) and became the envy of Europe in the process with their fierce attacking talent.

As fans, though, that is seldom reason to let our own players off the hook for their shortcomings, with Jurgen Klopp himself admitting after the game: “It looks like we need to reinvent ourselves. There’s a lot of things lacking.”

NAPLES, ITALY - Wednesday, September 7, 2022: Liverpool's substitute Arthur Melo is embraced by manager Jürgen Klopp before making his debut during the UEFA Champions League Group A matchday 1 game between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Napoli won 4-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It was also the only time we got to see Arthur in a Liverpool shirt, with his 13-minute cameo followed up by an injury-plagued eight months.

A year has passed and while there have been moments of darkness, it is fair to say that the team are in a significantly better place since the manager’s comments that night.

What changed in the aftermath? And how did Klopp go about ‘reinventing’ his side?

Liverpool XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Milner, Elliott; Salah, Diaz, Firmino


A night to forget

NAPLES, ITALY - Wednesday, September 7, 2022: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk after the UEFA Champions League Group A matchday 1 game between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In what felt like an annual occurrence, the Reds were once again drawn against Napoli in the Champions League group stage.

We were already acutely aware of the challenges the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium presented having fallen to defeats in our last two visits.

The night got off to the worst possible start as Piotr Zielinksi converted an early penalty and Liverpool were fortunate not to see the deficit double inside 20 minutes as Victor Osimhen passed up his own opportunity from the spot.

The Reds failed to react to the wake-up calls and were punished twice more before the break, with Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Giovanni Simeone firing the hosts into a 3-0 half-time lead.

Whatever Klopp said to his players at the interval went out of the window as Zielinksi almost immediately netted his second of the game, before Luis Diaz restored a modicum of pride shortly after.

Andy Robertson insisted the team “deserved” the humiliation after the game, with Klopp adding to his damning assessment by saying: “We have to try to find a set-up to be much better in pretty much everything.”

Klopp also complained that his side were not “compact” enough during the encounter and hinted at a reliance on Thiago.

“We were never compact. I cannot remember a situation where we were compact,” he continued.

“Until Thiago entered the pitch I can’t remember one counter-pressing situation. The answer for this is we were just too wide.”

The stats that night back that up, with Thiago‘s introduction just after the hour mark giving the Reds a foothold to stop the bleeding.

The Spaniard made six tackles – more than the starting midfield three and both full-backs put together – and won seven of his nine duels, more than Fabinho and Milner combined.

Thiago‘s injury record means he cannot always be relied upon, and when the manager referenced the need to “reinvent” the squad, part of that is likely to have meant the phasing in of a new generation.


Passing of the torch

NAPLES, ITALY - Wednesday, September 7, 2022: Liverpool's James Milner looks dejected during the UEFA Champions League Group A matchday 1 game between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The average age of the team that took to the pitch in Italy was 28.2 years, whereas today when Liverpool made it three wins in a row to kickstart 2023/24 that number was down to 26.9 years.

Five of Klopp’s midfielders who had all played a role in the most successful period of the club’s recent history departed for pastures new and four shiny toys came through the door in their place.

From fielding questions about an ageing engine, the boss was all of a sudden forced to play down a lack of experience in the middle of the park during pre-season.

Klopp insisted he doesn’t “care” about age when asked about the sudden youthfulness of his midfield, something which the later arrival of Wataru Endo was able to offset.

NAPLES, ITALY - Wednesday, September 7, 2022: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp after the UEFA Champions League Group A matchday 1 game between SSC Napoli and Liverpool FC at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Losing your captain and vice-captain, along with their dressing room influence, was always likely to present risks but the culture at the club has facilitated faith in those picking up the baton.

Where, exactly, where those ‘leaders’ that night in Naples? And look how Liverpool’s new-look squad showed their own resilience at St James’ Park 12 months later.

Nothing lasts forever and changes to the leadership group were inevitable this summer, but the embarrassment in Naples showed that action needed to be taken.

The manager faced questions over his use of a high line, to which he responded: “The high line is only a risk if we don’t have pressure on the ball.”

Those questions resurfaced over the summer when Liverpool showed themselves to be susceptible to balls over the top, but the intensity shown across the pitch in the recent 3-0 win over Aston Villa demonstrated that Klopp is now seeing what he wants to see.


Stumbling on solutions

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 2, 2023: Liverpool's captain Trent Alexander-Arnold leads his side out before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Aston Villa FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 3-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Another response to Liverpool’s struggles in 2022/23 was to experiment with different shapes, as alluded to in Klopp’s hints about “set-up” last September.

The summer signing of Darwin Nunez brought excitement and intrigue in equal measure as the manager wrestled with the concept of operating with an out-and-out forward.

A 4-2-4 system was tried with varying results before something clicked in April.

Without the luxury of a pre-season to test things out, Klopp made another tweak which saw Trent Alexander-Arnold given the licence to roam into midfield as part of a 3-4-3 ‘box’ formation.

It yielded instant results and the right-back, who had received plenty of scrutiny earlier in the season, looked like a man possessed as he allowed his creative juices to flow from the centre of the pitch.

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Sunday, August 27, 2023: Liverpool's Dominik Szoboszlai during the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Liverpool FC at St James' Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp’s calls for his players to be more “compact” following the Napoli defeat also appear to have been answered.

He praised his players after they headed into the September international break with three points against Aston Villa by saying: “We were really together, really compact, the commitment was top-class and that’s why we played the way we played.”

A midfield reshuffle was long overdue and was even more extensive than most were anticipating.

Whether it is enough to return Liverpool to the lofty heights they hit as recently as last year remains to be seen, but the ‘reinvention’ process has undeniably taken place.

Klopp described his new-look team as “Liverpool FC reloaded” over the summer and that was prior to the incomings of Endo and Ryan Gravenberch.

The Reds must now return to aiming high after responding adequately to the emphatic warning signs Napoli hit them with 12 months ago.