Comment - Liverpool are thrilling everyone thanks to teamwork built on solid foundations laid by Jurgen Klopp
When Liverpool were last capable of challenging for the Premier League, there were two regular criticisms.
The first suggested Brendan Rodgers’ side of 2013/14 was a one-man team. Remove Luis Suárez from the club that finished second, and you end up with that which was 6th in 2014/15.
The second claimed it was a title bid built on sand. Liverpool scored 101 goals when finishing runners-up to Manchester City three years ago, but they conceded an equally astonishing 50 – just three less than 16th placed Hull City.
For all the appreciation of Liverpool’s efforts, there was a feeling it was a one-off – a side rising from mid-table to make an unlikely charge. It was a pre-dated Leicester City without the win.
At the time, such observations seemed churlish – especially the idea it was all down to Suárez.
It was conveniently forgotten the Uruguayan was there in 2011-12 and 2012-13 when they came 8th and 7th, but his improving statistics were compelling. He scored 31 goals in what would his final season on Merseyside.
Assisted by Daniel Sturridge’s 21 goals that year it accounted for over half the side’s productivity in that campaign. Suárez was not the only reason Liverpool went so close, but they certainly would not have done so without him. Rodgers tweaked the formation to ensure Liverpool’s game was focused wholly on getting the most from the south American, with both Sturridge and the emerging Raheem Sterling complementing him to create what was the most fluent strikeforce Anfield had seen in years. That compensated for the obvious flaws in defence.
If the one-man team tag felt unfair at the time, within a few months of Suárez's departure it had never looked more justified. Such was Liverpool’s deterioration after his move to Barcelona, Anfield descended into depression and Rodgers lost his job after a torrid 14 months.
The Northern Irishman had suggested the title near miss was just the start, but it proved to be the beginning of the end.
Now, just over two years since Suárez's sale, Liverpool finally has a side worthy of comparison to the one he left behind. League games at Anfield are once more a joy rather than a chore.
We cannot say Liverpool will launch a title bid yet – six league games into a new season is far too soon for that conclusion – but we can say if they do challenge it will be both thrillingly similar yet also reassuringly different to three years ago.
As with Rodgers’ best side, Liverpool are a joy to watch. Jürgen Klopp's team has already struck 24 goals since August, treating the referee’s whistle as Olympic sprinters would a starting pistol. Games are being won in attacking blitzes. It’s well worth reading Hull centre-half Curtis Davies’ enlightening appraisal of the difficulties facing defenders against Klopp’s ‘ruthless’ team.
Yet Klopp’s side has no world-class striker of Suárez's ilk, and Sturridge is part of an entourage trying to force his way into the starting 11 each week. Going to Anfield is not about seeing a soloist deliver another world-class performance, but revelling in a joyous ensemble.
The goals have been shared between 10 players so far, Philippe Coutinho heading the chart with just four. Liverpool have not looked such a well drilled unit for over 20 years.
While Rodgers arrived at Anfield devoted to 4-3-3, he proved to be far more willing to compromise his ideals and regularly altered the team’s shape to make the system fit players rather than demand players fit his preferred system.
There is no evidence Klopp will ever be so pragmatic. He arrived with his Borussia Dortmund blueprint and never wavered, even on those occasions when it did not seem he had the personnel to enforce it.
Jordan Henderson as the deepest midfielder? Those of us who queried that idea after the first few games of the season are starting to look very stupid indeed.
Klopp has rarely spoken in detail about his ‘philosophy’ – he thinks the suggestion it is all about 'pressing' far too simplistic – but from the first game against Spurs last October it has been visible. There is nothing more reassuring for a football supporter than watching your team and witnessing the work on the training pitch so visibly put into action.
Should Liverpool sustain their form for the next nine months, those who made the grudging remarks of three years ago will need to write a new script.
Liverpool are far from a one-man team, and the foundations are in place to ensure whatever happens this year this truly is just the start.
Liverpool thrilled the nation three years ago with a team built around one of the finest players the club has ever had. So far this season, they have thrilled the nation by building a team.