Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp: how have the team progressed since the German's arrival?
When Jurgen Klopp took over at Anfield in October, Telegraph Sport detailed five areas he needed to address in order to begin the process of matching his success at Borussia Dortmund at Liverpool .
As Klopp prepares to show his former club why he swapped Germany for Anfield, it’s time to assess progress.
Is the squad as good as the owners believe?
If owners Fenway Sports Group hoped Klopp’s arrival would remove the necessity to indulge in another major spending spree in the summer, the first six months of a new era has been a reality check.
Brendan Rodgers had spoken about being given the tools to do the job. Many at Anfield believed the players were there and he wasn’t getting enough from them. With Liverpool still in mid-table, the evidence is compelling that regardless of who is responsible the club’s post-Luis Suarez recruitment policy - in the short-term at least - has been broadly unsuccessful.
It’s highly likely Klopp will indeed require at least seven new faces in order to sustain a challenge for Champions League qualification next season.
He’s already signed two for next year – Joel Matip and Marko Grujic – while Mario Gotze, Piotr Zielinski and Ben Chilwell are known targets.
Add a goalkeeper and striker to replace the out-of-favour Christian Benteke and it’s obvious there will be more than mere ‘tweaking’ of the squad. That said, there are plenty of previously underperforming players who’ve proven themselves better than considered under previous management.
Roberto Firmino looked lost in English football before Klopp arrived but has been transformed, while Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren have been two of the outstanding performers since October.
What formation will Liverpool play?
As expected, Klopp immediately imposed his 4-3-3 on the Liverpool line-up, the tactical tinkering that typified the confusing final three months of Rodgers’ tenure consigned to history.
No longer are Liverpool experimenting with three centre-backs or diamond formations twice in the space of 45 minutes. The onus is on the three forward players to press, create and generally scurry across every blade of grass in opposition territory.
Christian Benteke has been unable to adapt when asked. Daniel Sturridge hasn’t entirely convinced in the role, either. One of the most overlooked setbacks was the injury to Danny Ings in Klopp’s first training session. It was stated in October he looked the perfect fit for Klopp’s style and it was such misfortune for all concerned he was unable to show it. Divock Origi has also conformed well to Klopp’s system.
The issue has been one of consistency. When Klopp’s vision has been implemented Liverpool have offered a glimpse of the future with several eye-catching displays against strong opponents, but these have often been followed by lacklustre displays where fatigue was visibly a factor in the latter stages – the recent capitulation at Southampton a case in point. Klopp has regularly referenced the importance of his first pre-season training. His players will be expected to be the fittest in England next season.
Where does Emre Can play?
No longer a ball-playing centre-back or right-back (except when looking uncomfortable in the role for his national team), Emre Can is the reason Liverpool did not consider it necessary to pursue their interest in Dele Alli 18 months ago. The decision to pull out of negotiations for Alli has been widely questioned as the Spurs midfielder has made himself a certainty for young player of the year, but Liverpool will argue they’ve always been playing the long-game when it comes to Can.
He’s been improving every week under Klopp and is sure to be fundamental at the start of next season, the question being who will be his midfield partner. Complete vindication has not been achieved yet, but come the start of next season it’s likely Can will be appearing in many ‘players to watch’ lists. At his best he is elegant on the ball, can spot a pass and also has a mentality to drive the side forward from midfield.
Liverpool signed Can early because they were certain he’d become one of the most sought after central midfielders in Europe by his mid-20s. He is 23 next season. The learning process is nearing an end and he’ll be expected to step up. Early indications are Klopp will nurture him towards renowned status.
How do you handle Daniel Sturridge’s Diva impressions?
As pertinent a question now as it was six months ago. The sight of Sturridge ambling off the pitch against Spurs last weekend – when Liverpool were fighting the clock in pursuit of the winner – was an example of the England striker behaving at his most precious.
In 1998, Gerard Houllier took over at Liverpool and for six months heard about the world-class striker who was returning from injury and would transform his team. Houllier felt underwhelmed as Robbie Fowler was never quite the same after his cruciate operation.
The new manager never felt he saw him at his best and a saga developed until Houllier eventually sanctioned his sale. History may be repeating itself with Sturridge, Klopp hearing about the reputation and seeing glimpses of a brilliant finisher but surely asking himself if the individual talent can be accommodated into his dynamic, high-energy style of play.
Sturridge still needs to get 100 per cent fit so there is some sympathy for his recent toils, but when Klopp signs his own striker the team selection for the first game of next season will be most revealing. No-one will ever question Sturridge’s ability - and it’s encouraging he’s been injury free for a couple of months now – but he is yet to make himself as indispensible under Klopp as he was when Luis Suarez was his strike partner.
Who will form the backroom team?
Klopp brought his Dortmund assistants Zeljko Buvac and Peter Krawietz to Anfield and retained many of those employed under Brendan Rodgers. Last week, it was announced fitness and conditioning coach Ryland Morgans – a Rodgers appointment four years ago - was leaving the club immediately.
Morgans and Klopp emphasised this was the fitness coach’s decision as he is also preparing for the European Championships with the Welsh national team. Morgans had been with the Welsh side during the international break, but the timing was somewhat curious given there are only two months left this season. Nevertheless, Morgans’ exit means there will be at least one significant addition to Klopp’s staff in the summer.
The high intensity style of football means fitness and conditioning will be a key role at Anfield, whoever takes on the job assuming responsibility to ensure the squad can cope with playing three games in a week – presuming Liverpool quality for Europe.
Beyond this, it remains to be seen if a place can be found for former captain Steven Gerrard once his career in Los Angeles is over. Klopp’s immediate priority is first team affairs, but he will unquestionably broaden his focus and assess Academy and Under 21 matters in the future and seems happy with the current set-up.