“We have to change from doubters to believers, now” – Jurgen Klopp on supporter’s frustration.
Whenever a new manager is appointed swathes of fans expect instantaneous improvement. That’s not to say instant change is unreasonable or infrequent, rather that those highlighting development often expect a sea change rather than a steady crawl towards capability. Indeed, with Klopp’s task ahead appearing to be akin to the resuscitation of a lifeless footballing corpse, frustration intertwined with improvement is inevitable.
Yet, for Klopp something had to give, after a draw, another draw, and yet another draw Liverpool finally racked up a victory against Bournemouth in the far from glamorous Capital One Cup, despite naming a team half of which had barely featured previously for the club. Although seemingly innocuous this victory represents that gradual but significant change that many will be delighted to see, with a Liverpool side possessing a revitalised confidence and that invaluable ability to hang on to a lead.
And, for long spells it wasn’t just hanging on. That Teixeira backheel, a Lucas shot on target, that Ibe nutmeg, that Firmino nutmeg were all delightful indicators of positive change, proving we are perhaps more alive than ever. So forget Milner’s recent ineptitude, the chance Benteke won’t be fit for Saturday or that Joe Allen is still Joe Allen; these fleeting, but important moments represent the broader, yet immediate improvements culminating from Klopp’s short spell in charge.
Positivity and intent in a new era
Excitement, do you remember what that is reds? Although handed a squad hamstrung by major injuries and a refusal to score more than a single goal Klopp has instilled good football and positivity from the outset, so much so that the average fan is excited to watch the game, rather than dread the shrill sound of the opening whistle. Certainly, I’ve become out of breath just watching Klopp implementing his frantic gegenpressing, and this noticeable sign of effort and intent has gone a long way to stimulate fans.
As Liverpool coach Pepijn Lijnders has noted this change is already unequivocally working:
“It’s difficult to see in the stadium but our balance is getting better and better in terms of when we are attacking. So we are thinking defensively when we are attacking and the other way around as well of course because of the counter-press. The moment we lose it we apply aggressive pressure, you see that, everybody wants that. That’s a good thing because it makes sure we stay high up the pitch and that’s where we want to play. [Fans want to see] Liverpool dominating the game in the opponent’s half, not defending the goal but defending our mid-line.”
Klopp’s “heavy metal football” has not only encouraged a new sense of purpose when pressing but also an impetus on the ball. Indeed, players no longer appear to continually search only for the ‘perfect’ pass or the simply ball for fear of losing possession. Instead, chances are taken and players attempt step-overs and flick-ons rather than wait for the impossible opportunity for a striker to become unmarked. With this faster build-up facilitated by one touch football and working the channels while utilising individual flair, the team has gone someway to find a clinical edge.
“It’s been like the first day at school at Melwood, everyone wants to impress the new boss.”
Adam Lallana has been a perpetually frustrating figure. His aimless dribbles often fail to produce any result but a trip and a turnover of possession. Yet, it’s clear his technical ability, and the joy I still get with one of his successful Cruyff turns indicate that Lallana is far from done at the club. For a brief spell two seasons ago Lallana looked the real deal.
Two goals against Swansea City and the series of remarkable performances that followed gave fans a renewed optimism after his big money move. Despite drastically falling from many fans good graces, under a new manager Lallana has looked to impress commendably. In this sense a goal or an assist or two might be round the corner, and this could inspire another purple patch for a player that many have all but lost hope with.
Although Sadio Mané got his own back in the end, Moreno’s lunging tackle on the Southampton forward was a thing of beauty. It was the athleticism of modern football combined with the gut punching brutality of 80s. It virtually denied an in form striker a goal and thankfully it was a marker of Moreno’s rejuvenated competence at left-back.
Klopp’s pressing system coupled with the removal of Moreno’s vague responsibility at left wing-back appears to have generated more confident in the Spaniard’s own ability and his positional play. And, while some would argue this improvement begun under Rodgers, there is no doubt it will be cultivated and improved on under Klopp.
While Moreno still has some issues in his game, with his delivery having left little to be desired in spots, his general performance has seen a marked improvement, with those previous comparisons to Jordi Alba perhaps seeming not so foolish after all.
It is surprising that when you play a midfielder in midfield he thrives. Although Rodgers’ certainly utilized Can’s versatility for good at times, a lack of stability and becoming part of a shaky three-man defense was just too much to ask for the 21-year old. The new manager effect has certainly worked for Can, appearing as bustling and industrious as ever. And, with a typically German mantra contained in the match day programme for Bournemouth he may even have a future in management.
“Concede less, score more” – Emre Can on Liverpool’s ambitions.
Formation dynamics and tactical changes
Evidently, Klopp has some task ahead to change Liverpool from being proactive to reactive off the ball. Against Southampton Klopp and his coaching staff were intent on shifting and manipulating Liverpool’s initial 4-3-2-1 shape. With the formation often reverting to a 4-4-2 or even the more accustomed 4-2-3-1 Liverpool appeared to be more dynamic and able to change form based on the tasks set by the manager. Whether to push for a goal or to take a better grasp of possession, Klopp was intent on preventing players resting on their laurels.
Klopp was also far quicker to implement substitution changes, replacing Origi with Benteke at the break when Rodgers would have perhaps waited till past the hour mark. This enabled Benteke to better ease himself into the game, and after a few wayward attempts, he found the vital, and only goal for the side. Against Bournemouth the introduction of Lucas also ensured Bournemouth’s counter attacks were stifled quickly before resulting in a potentially dangerous situation for the reds.
(For a more in-depth account of Liverpool’s formational changes be sure to check out the excellent @spielvercom on the shifting tactical set-up against Southampton)
Optimism and managing expectations
Liverpool are currently placed just 6 points from third place. Yet, for most the cold hard truth is that a Champions League challenge is unlikely. That’s not to say it’s impossible, far from it. Liverpool clearly have a talented group of players and one of the best managerial minds at their helm. But, expecting a turnaround with our club’s injury crisis and resultant striker shortage, while considering the numerous deficiencies across the board is asking a lot from a first season in charge. Overnight success is hardly Klopp’s specialty, spending an incredible 7 years at both his previous clubs he has rightfully plead for everyone to be, “patient enough [for him] to be successful”.
When appreciating the noticeable improvements evident after just a handful of games it is apparent that fans and players alike are quickly being turned into believers by placing trust and patience with Klopp, regardless of the timeframe for success. Reinstating Sakho as a starter, gifting Teixeira a chance to shine, proving why Firmino is more than just a prospect, and ably managing the difficulties of a congested fixture list at the the first time of asking have gone some way in this respect. And, although Klopp has stated that, “football is not a fairy-tale” the mere possibility of beating Chelsea on Saturday, and seeing that touchline celebration again while potentially contributing to the sacking of one José Mourinho sounds like the beginning of a great story to me.
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