Friday 30 September 2016

The verdict: Assessing Jurgen Klopp's three-month Liverpool career

Published 18/01/2016 | 14:02

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp’s first 100 days at Liverpool have been a mix of the sublime and the predictable, with the final analysis suggesting the problems he inherited from Brendan Rodgers back in October are a long way from being eradicated.

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Here is your Independent.ie guide to a story that is very much in its infancy, with the timescale for the glory days to return at Anfield being pushed back a little further with each passing week.

THE KLOPP EFFECT

The wave of enthusiasm for Jurgen Klopp in the days after he replaced the unpopular Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager ensured that a miserable 2015 would end with optimism in the hearts of Liverpool supporters.

His engaging personality, that beaming smile and his winning record at Borussia Dortmund even had some disgruntled Manchester United fans on Twitter wishing Klopp could have been lured to replace Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford. That’s how likeable this fella is.

First impressions last and while Klopp’s popularity rating remains high, a record that shows he won just 10 of his opening 22 matches confirms. It confirms his work at Anfield is very much still in the planning phase for the 48-year-old German.

Recent defeats against Watford, West Ham and then against Manchester United on Sunday highlighted so many holes in the Liverpool make-up, but this colourful character has proved he can find a winning formula if he is given a license to do his work at Anfield.

Passionate Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes football has to entertain
Passionate Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes football has to entertain

BIG WINS BODE WELL

The plus points from Klopp’s opening 100 days as Liverpool manager came with his side’s sparkling wins at Chelsea and Manchester City in the Premier League and the 6-1 rout of Southampton in the Capital One Cup, as his tactical mastery was given a showcase in three glorious away day victories.

Fielding teams that lacked a natural striker against Chelsea and City, the speedy passing and quick movement of Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho proving to be too much for champions Chelsea and title favourites City to handle.

However, his plan of using a ‘false No.9’ is only likely to be effective when Liverpool come up against sides willing to attack them and push for a win. As Rodgers discovered in his final days at Liverpool, opponents content to play for a draw against Liverpool can pick them off on the counter-attack and that weak spot has yet to be resolved.

It may be that Klopp needs different type of players in his line-up to execute his plans against rivals with a defensive mindset, with his reluctance to play £32m summer signing Christian Benteke in key games suggesting he is not keen to base his attacking plan around a target man.

Jurgen Klopp celebrates Liverpool’s late equaliser: Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine
Jurgen Klopp celebrates Liverpool’s late equaliser: Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine

OLD FLAWS REMAIN

Brendan Rodgers may have been blamed for Liverpool’s stuttering efforts in 2015, but he was not the only problem holding Liverpool back last year.

Rodgers’ claims in his Sky Sports interview on Sunday that he was not always in control of transfer during his time as Liverpool boss fuelled the suspicion that he may not have selected all the players currently on the Anfield books, with some of them likely to be replaced by Klopp over the course of this calendar year.

The chief area of concern, clearly, is at the back. Keeper Simon Mignolet appears to be set to land a new contract imminently, but his failure to deal with crosses into his box is an enduring issue that Klopp needs to address.

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Jurgen Klopp rejected overtures from Manchester United
Jurgen Klopp rejected overtures from Manchester United

Concentration on set-plays has undermined the Liverpool challenge for some time now, with Dejan Lovren, Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho all guilty of that crime over the last couple of seasons.

Don’t be surprised to see former defender Klopp target at least one high profile centre-back in next summer’s transfer window, with Mats Hummels an obvious target at his former club Borussia Dortmund.

Yet will Klopp be tripped up by the transfer policy that made life so difficult for Rodgers in his final days at Liverpool?

WHAT NEXT FOR KLOPP?

There should be defined targets for the Liverpool manager in the final months of this season and it seems increasingly likely that they will not include a top four finish in the Premier League.

Liverpool may only be eight points behind fourth placed Tottenham with 16 games left to play, but the issues in their team cannot be solved quickly and their struggles to beat the lesser teams in the league will halt their march towards the top four.

What he can do over the next few months is evaluate the players in his squad and make some ruthless decisions on those who are holding the club back.

That should mean off-loading top wage earner Daniel Sturridge, as his enduring presence in the treatment room is hampering Liverpool’s efforts to target players of the ilk of Germany stars Mario Gotze, Hummels and Marco Reus.

There is no point sustaining Sturridge’s wages if he is not playing at least 25 games a season and that seems to be an impossible task for the England forward.

Adam Lallana, Joe Allen and Christian Benteke may also face uncertain futures at Anfield, as Klopp seems less than convinced by the collective talents of the trio.

Klopp also needs to spend the coming months devising a new defensive plan and whether that involves fresh personnel or different instructions for those currently in place, something needs to change.

Yet again, Liverpool conceded from a set-piece against Manchester United on Sunday and so long as that issue continues to trip them up, they cannot achieve their ambitions.

HOW LONG DOES HE NEED?

Klopp is fortunate to be in a position where he can spend this campaign fine tuning his plans for what the club will hope (and expect) to be a sustained push for a top four finish and maybe even the Premier League title next season, yet optimism for these next few months will be measured.

Klopp should focus on succeeding in the Capital One Cup, with the second leg of their semi-final against Stoke coming up next week at Anfield as Liverpool look to push home their advantage after winning the first leg 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium.

He may well push to make progress in the Europa League as well, with overseas coaches appreciating the merits of a competition that is generally belittled by English football fans. The prize of a Champions League place for the winners is well worth chasing.

As for next season, well that depends on the player recruitment Klopp and Liverpool oversee in the coming months.

If recent history is anything to go by, the club’s ‘buy them young, train them up and sell them for a profit’ policy is not a recipe for success. In fact, it is a worrying small club mentality that seems to be ingrained in the ethos of the current Liverpool owners and Klopp needs to navigate around that if he is to succeed.

His predecessor Rodgers was undermined by a transfer structure that remains in place at Anfield and while Klopp will have the final say over who arrives, that does not necessarily mean he will get the first choice players on his wish list.

We will only discover whether Klopp can be King of the Kop a year from now, when his Liverpool side should be challenging for a top three finish in the Premier League and maybe even the title itself.

That is what this compellingly competitive manager will demand and we wait to see whether Liverpool and their owners are willing to give Klopp the license he will demand to complete the task.

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