After the loss against Leicester Didi Hamann made the following statement in an interview:
“At this moment in time, Liverpool under Klopp are one-dimensional, that’s why they find it hard to win when things aren’t going their way. You need to be winning against clubs like Leicester on a regular basis. Jamie Carragher’s opinion that some players should ‘hang their heads in shame’ after their performance on Monday might be a bit harsh for one game in isolation. However, clearly what has happened in the last seven or eight weeks – with only a single victory for the Reds in both January and February – has been pretty disastrous. Something’s got to change, because if they carry on like this things will get a lot worse.
The physicality and intensity is much higher in England than anywhere Jurgen Klopp has been before. You cannot outrun teams in the Premier League, full stop. That’s something the players and the manager have to learn, because they can only play one way. You need to be flexible, variable and overall you must have two or three answers to the questions teams in this league will ask of you.
I still can’t understand why the left back position wasn’t sorted in the summer because it was quite clear Klopp didn’t fancy Alberto Moreno. James Milner’s been forced to play a full season there – he’s done a good job – but he’s limited in that position and it’s not natural to him. Things really aren’t looking too bright at the moment for Liverpool.
Ultimately that comes down to the manager to change, but he must be getting to the end of his tether with some of these players. Klopp’s backed them at every opportunity but after his post-game interview Jurgen now sees that some of them are simply not good enough. As for rumours about players being upset with some of Klopp’s training regime, I’m not big into these modern methods. Personally, I wouldn’t have liked training in the evening either.”
Hamann’s opinion is worth particular attention at the moment because he is one of only a few pundits with experience of transitioning from German to English football, a process Jurgen Klopp is undergoing. The section of the quote which I’ve highlighted is, for me, the real crux of the problem Liverpool is currently facing. It helps explain the somewhat schizophrenic nature of our performances. Klopp’s mindset has always been to steamroller teams high up the pitch, starving them of time, space and possession. This seemed to work in the first half of this season when his players were full of energy and oppositions hadn’t worked out how to organise themselves. However, things have changed.
It’s difficult to start arguing whether individual players are good enough or not when the system within which they are playing is displaying limitations. It is not easy to differentiate between the failing of the system and the failings of the players, or whether one is leading to the other and vice versa. We are, however, seeing a clear trend – that we are succeeding against upper-table teams but struggling against lower-table teams. Does player motivation alone explain this? If Hamann is correct then no, the root cause is more systemic and I tend to agree. Upper-table teams usually play a more forceful ‘open’ style of game whereas lower-table teams usually play a more counterattacking ‘closed’ style of game. Klopp’s style of play is currently working against the former but not the latter.
Hamann has put his finger on a point we’ve known for a long time in this country – there’s a difference between being a top quality manager and being a top quality Premier League manager. It is not unusual to see a highly regarded manager struggle or fail to make the transition into Premier League football, you just have to look at Pep Guardiola’s less than lightening start to his Manchester City career. It’s hard enough when you’ve got arguably the best squad in the country let alone the more restricted squad Klopp currently has. He must be given time to make that transition and that’s why calls for his head are premature. The risk is, however, if Klopp continues to stick vehemently to his current style of play, without adding greater variety, an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ situation could occur where increasing numbers of the fanbase start disbelieving the hype that accompanied his arrival. Once fans start to question the abilities of a manager it’s amazing how quickly such sentiments can spread, especially in this age of social media.
Hamann isn’t alone in expressing these views and, if I’m honest, I’ve been surprised by how inflexible Klopp has been. His predecessor had to struggle with exactly the same conundrum – how far must you deviate from your central philosophy – and when he worked it out (with a little help from Suarez, admittedly) he came within a hair’s breadth of the title. I do think Klopp is the right man for the job but even his American bosses won’t tolerate the team’s current form until the end of the season. Something has to change and as Klopp can only use the players in the current squad those changes will have to be tactical. I hope for his sake he realises this sooner rather than later.