Fans who thought that Klopp would immediately transform Liverpool have been left disappointed by his opening three games in charge. All have been drawn – while there are positives to take from all of them, the performances have not, in truth, been particularly different from those under Rodgers. The latest in this run of occasionally promising but ultimately disappointing games was a 1-1 draw with Southampton: Benteke’s bullet header was cancelled out by a scrappy late equaliser for the visitors.
Let’s start with the positives. While the team certainly haven’t developed a new, distinct identity just yet, there are signs of gradual movement away from the side we have become used to under Rodgers. These changes are most noticeable at the back – there is a clear focus on a tighter back line, and the constant presence of Sakho has helped to partially achieve this. He still makes the occasional dangerous sloppy pass, and is still partnered by the largely incompetent Skrtel, but even though we are only three games into the Klopp era the defence has definitely already improved a little. The Frenchman was probably man of the match against Southampton – his commanding presence at the back meant that the visitors had limited chances, and his game intelligence and technical ability meant that the transition from defence into midfield was usually fairly rapid. This quick movement of the ball was apparent throughout the team. Passes had a purpose to them, each ball stretched the opposition and opened up a little bit of space for the players to work in. This rapid pass and move style could well have directly resulted in a goal or two – Milner, Lallana and Coutinho all mis-controlled a pass to feet when a good first touch would have seen them through on goal. Finally, the good old gegenpressing must be mentioned: despite what the tactical analysis essays may tell you this has in reality basically turned out to be a simple high press, but it has certainly been effective. Although most of the players simply do not yet have the stamina to sustain it, the first twenty minutes of games have been very positive indeed. Southampton was no different – when not on the ball Liverpool put pressure on the visitors, pushing up to them to try and regain possession and return to the front foot.
Sadly, however, there are also multiple negatives. Despite the newfound defensive strength, the silly errors and poor marking from set pieces are yet to be dealt with sufficiently. Misjudged risky passes out from the back nearly put Southampton through on a couple of occasions, and their goal came from a lofted free kick that simply wasn’t dealt with competently. Nobody came close to beating Van Dijk (who, to be fair, had an excellent game) to the first ball, and despite Mignolet and Milner’s best efforts Mane was still able to launch himself at the ball at the far post and turn it home. This simply has to be rectified if Klopp is intent on returning Liverpool to the top from the defence forwards – currently the back line cannot be trusted to keep a clean sheet in any match, and unlike in 2013/14 our attack doesn’t have the strength to repeatedly bail them out. Of course the diminished attacking potency can largely be attributed to the departure of arguably the best striker in world football, but that is no excuse for not fully utilising the players that we do have. Coutinho is getting visibly frustrated at the lack of movement in front of him, frequently resorting to long shots when he doesn’t really have the space for them. Meanwhile Firmino, a forward renowned for his movement, is sitting on the bench and only making cameos when Lallana gets tired from all of the Cruyff turns. To be fair, Firmino is returning from injury – hopefully he will soon be promoted to the starting line-up. Another problem is that Coutinho is arguably playing too far forward – he works best when running from deep, and there is a strong argument to be made that he may benefit the team more from a slightly deeper position. Sturridge’s absence is obviously not helping things either – hopefully his return will get Liverpool scoring freely once more.
It is ludicrous to definitively judge Klopp either way after just three matches, but I think it is fair to say that the start could have been a lot worse. His emphasis on the defence has led to a slightly less shaky looking back line already, and Moreno is looking very dangerous under the German’s guidance. The quick passing and high pressing is also refreshing, and with practice the team could be very well suited to this approach. Personally I believe he is under-utilising some of our attacking players, but that may change after he has had time to properly assess the squad once everyone is back fully fit. In short, while Klopp’s tenure could absolutely still go either way, I for one am happy in the direction we appear to be slowly heading in.