Tuesday 6 December 2016

Ronnie Whelan: Why I finally feel Liverpool Football Club is back on track

Read Ronnie's exclusive column every week in the Herald

Published 19/09/2016 | 18:54

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, left, guided the Reds to a win at Chelsea on Friday night
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, left, guided the Reds to a win at Chelsea on Friday night

FOR the first time in many, many years, I feel like Liverpool football club is back on track. There were islands of success during the last few decades but at no stage did I think “right, this is the start of something big”.

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At no stage could I see a future in which the club could even hope to keep pace with the money washing around Manchester, London, Paris, Barcelona or Madrid.

But I’m feeling that now, and it’s all down to Jurgen Klopp.

I’m not just saying this because of that fantastic win over Chelsea or the fact that Liverpool have now played all of the Top Four from last season and done well.

They’ve beaten Arsenal and Chelsea in London, hammered Leicester at Anfield and drew with Spurs at White Hart Lane.

I’m saying it because I feel that Liverpool has a manager with control of the club in every aspect.

Sadio Mane of Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celbrate victory in the Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge
Sadio Mane of Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool celbrate victory in the Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge

Klopp is all over Anfield like a rash.

I talk to the young lads and they are telling me that all the Academy teams are now on message and every Liverpool team is now a Klopp team.

His transfer dealings in the summer brought Saido Mane, Joel Matip and money to the club.

How much more reassurance can a manager bring to his employers that he can be trusted with a budget than to get the players he wants and make a profit? More importantly, it was very clearly his scouting network at work in the summer and that was a big change from the last number of transfer windows, which were a disaster.

On the pitch, I didn’t quite have the full picture of what he is about with the players he is working with until the second half at Stamford Bridge when I saw a Liverpool team deal comfortably with pressure when I expected exactly the opposite.

We’ve been schooled to expect the worst over many, many years and usually bad has followed good. Defeat by Burnley is the case in point this season.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates after the game Reuters / Dylan Martinez
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates after the game Reuters / Dylan Martinez

But this was different. After Liverpool, quite literally, blew Chelsea away in the first half, and when Costa scored, I was bracing myself for the inevitable collapse.

But Chelsea, with their tails up and searching for an equaliser and maybe a winner, hardly troubled Simon Mignolet after they scored. Matip and Dejan Lovren took hold of Diego Costa and never gave him an inch.

At one point, I found myself sitting back in my seat and thinking that Liverpool were coping nicely and the hard core of anxiety which usually accompanies the final moments of a game poised like this one, melted away.

I felt even better when I saw Klopp in the same kind of humour in the dug-out.

Before in situations like this, he was up prowling his area, shouting and roaring.

This time he was sitting back and very obviously delighted with the work his players were doing.

They were defending from the front and kept the ball well when they had it.

When Chelsea did break into the Liverpool half, there were bodies in front of them and a defence ready to mop up. It was very comforting football.

When Liverpool kicked off the season, I had worries about the left-full slot and the centre-half partnership.

It struck me that Klopp would need a very good defensive midfielder, but I now realise that the way he wants to play, he can get by with what he has.

I’m still concerned about left-full, but I’ll take James Milner until Klopp fills the gap properly and I have to say, I think Lovern and Matip will grow together and become a solid pairing.

Once that happens it becomes less important to have a specialist holding midfielder and someone like Jordan Henderson can cover the position but still get forward the way Klopp clearly wants him to.

Klopp wants to batter teams into submission and with stability at the back, I suspect Liverpool will do that often in the next seven months.

My tip for the title is still Manchester City – if anything, that prediction has hardened.

But I now think that Liverpool will be a challenger and I must admit, I didn’t believe that four weeks ago.

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