It could be very easy to get caught up in the orgasmic euphoria that comes from eliminating Man U from the Europa League, winning our first head-to-head European matchup versus them and them losing their first ever English head-to-head European matchup.
What makes it even sweeter is the apparent opposite directions the two clubs are heading, with Liverpool looking to be in the ascendency, and Man U hopefully stagnating their way to reliving our 20 years of Premier League near-misses and struggles.
So often in the first few months of this season we’ve heard how Klopp’s record hasn’t been any better than Brendan Rodgers. And that it’s been a model of inconsistency with the highs of trouncing Chelsea, Man City and Southampton countered with losses to the likes of Watford. But cynics and critics haven’t been entirely fair in their appraisals by overlooking the simple facts that this team wasn’t assembled by Klopp, he’s taken over mid-season with no preseason to work with the players, and he did so with a club layered with injuries.
But our run of late would show us unbeaten in something like 8 games if you overlook or remove us losing on penalties in the Cup final. And in that run we’ve assembled a more fit squad that Klopp hadn’t had the luxury of from before. And he’s also had more time to work his methods with the squad.
Is this a false dawn? Is our exuberance set for a reality check with our next stumble following a good performance?
I would tend to think not. We are not the finished product and I’m not saying we go on a miracle run for the rest of the season. But there are definitely signs that the “Klopp Effect” is taking hold. His infectious personality is visibly taking hold within the players. Their work rate and effort has jumped noticeably from the lacklustre displays they had continually put forth in their defeatist demeanour of the end of the Rodger’s era. The team loses possession now and they ‘hunt in packs’ all over the field. And it isn’t generally running for the sake of running, but is producing results with us often getting the ball back in midfield and attacking. Even more exciting is that attack has become fluid with the return of Sturridge slotting in seamlessly with the likes of Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana. Many a time it almost looks like they are running the Harlem Globetrotters ‘weave’ as they overlap each other to the confusion and dismay of the opponents. And those four aren’t the only ones. Stick in Origi or Milner and there isn’t a discernible difference.
Besides the players adapting to Klopp’s system, there is other cause for optimism. Recall at first when we had that string of injuries people in the media were looking to blame it on Klopp’s system saying the ‘gegenpressing’ might be too much to ask of players in the English game, especially when implemented midseason? And that although it maybe had worked in a few games, the players weren’t good enough for it or Klopp? That too many of the players just couldn’t play this way?
Fast forward to today and look at some of the players and the performances they’ve been turning in. Let’s look at Emre Can. He was a player consistently played out of position by Rodgers, yet Klopp has found him a home in deep midfield as a defensive-minded midfielder. And he has excelled there, often being our best or one of our best performers over the last couple months. His physicality has been a revelation. His pace has been better than expected as he’s often used his long stride to run down players with the ball and break up their attack. He is becoming that box-to-box midfielder most of us thought he could be. And he still has that nice range of passing and an occasional eye for the goal when he inspires the team to push forward when they need it (remember him scoring the first goal in the Klopp era?). He still loses possession carelessly more than we’d all like to see, but even that is getting less and less. A lump of coal that Klopp is polishing into a diamond.
Another player who was like Can, who showed glimpses of being a player but regularly had lapses but now is solid is Mamadou Sahko. He most likely will never be considered graceful, but one doesn’t have to be beautiful to excel in the beautiful game. He was always strong in the air, but now his reading of the game now is outstanding. He is making timely interceptions all over the defensive half, for both his centerhalf pairing and covering left back, which is often needed with Moreno. So as frustrated as we are with Moreno’s defense, Sahko has glazed over his inadequacies and allowed him to continue to ramble forward. He has become a real rock, and it has flowed over into another player who has excelled under Klopp, Dejan Lovren.
Lovren is a player that most supporters had written off as money thrown away to Southampton with the dire performances he had put in upon his arrival. And those had clearly weighed heavily on him as he spiralled downward. Since Klopp’s arrival he has found a new life with his form being outstanding alongside the Sahko partnership. So much so has that partnership blossomed that the arrival of Matip in the summer doesn’t guarantee he’ll be an automatic starter. And it all but guarantees that one of Toure or Skrtel will not be with us next season. While it isn’t the most glamourous of positions, the triangle of Sahko-Lovren-Can is becoming that spine of the team upon which Klopp can build a contender going forward.
There are quite a few other players who have grown under Klopp’s tutelage as well. Origi has shown glimpses of promise and a willingness to take in what Klopp is offering. Firmino has been the league’s top goal producer (goals + assists) in 2016 ahead of Aguero and others. And as mentioned before he is finding a great partnership in the front creative four, along with Lallana also improving greatly into his ability to use his skill set to influence a game.
Has Klopp’s effect improved everyone in the club? Of course not. Ibe hasn’t developed and in fact has most likely declined. Although one could argue that comes down as much to the confidence he lost under Rodgers. And no one would scoff at the claim that Moreno hasn’t improved defensively by any means. And Mignolet has been frustrating as ever with his howlers and lack of improvement commanding the box. He had at times shown a bit of improvement with some of his punches, but it hasn’t been enough to warrant accolades.
So what does it all mean? Next year in the PL will be tougher than ever. But the future is promising. A few key additions where a rising tide raises all ships (like a Suarez did) and we can dream of Champions League. It may even be possible this year yet through two avenues, although still realistically improbable. But that doesn’t mean that strong finishes in each won’t still be beneficial. Last English team standing in the Europa League. Get past the next round would be something to point to. Make it up to fifth and it would be a run of momentum that Klopp could also point to for transfer targets. And players talk, and the feel-good vibe is definitely around Anfield and Melwood now that the players can broadcast to targets.
The presence is fun. And the future is bright. Isn’t this fun?