Win tonight and Liverpool fans can show Jurgen Klopp the power of the Anfield
Liverpool's new manager has yet to experience a raucous occasion on Merseyside, but a Capital One Cup semi-final would finally allow him to connect with fans
Jurgen Klopp has not yet experienced the power of Anfield.
He must have had certain preconceptions before his first game at the stadium – heard the folk tales and seen the videos of the most intoxicating nights in front of The Kop – but for numerous reasons the emotion hasn’t been there on home soil yet.
That will change if Liverpool win away at Southampton on Wednesday evening. A two-legged semi-final will circle a date in the diary when Klopp can finally feel the connection between his side and the supporters. A League Cup semi-final at Anfield has the potential to be the catalyst for bringing what has thus far been an impressive road show to Merseyside.
Klopp has added the belief, the extra yards and intensity in his players, but he is waiting for the sprucing up of his new home, which must seem quite serene on a match day compared to Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.
The knowledge of what Klopp was used to in Germany and the recognition it would not be the same every week at Liverpool has been a source of embarrassment to those supporters who have been lobbying for years for more proactivity to preserve and enhance the Anfield noise.
The home fixtures Klopp’s overseen thus far have not been the most enticing and he has admitted craving an occasion to match that he experienced at The Etihad Stadium a few weeks ago. It will surely come.
There is an annual debate on Merseyside about the Anfield atmosphere, with merits to a multitude of arguments as to why it is not like the Chelsea Champions League semi-final of 2005 every week.
At the moment, there is a dispute between the club and the fans’ group responsible for the decorative pre-match banners, which is temporarily reducing the amount of colour as much as sound on the world’s most famous stand. Many feel they are being treated like performing chimps, asked to bring their banners and voices but only if they adhere to a more corporate code of conduct, registering and wearing forms of identification to prove they have permission to carry flags.
You can’t choreograph spontaneity, the fans argue, while for the club’s part they don’t believe it is such a Draconian infringement of rights in an increasingly security conscious age. One hopes compromise will resolve those issues for mutual benefit.
The accusation Liverpool’s hierarchy exploits The Kop’s heritage but does nothing to protect or enrich it is nothing new.
In the 15 years or more before Jose Mourinho claimed he lost a European Cup semi-final to Liverpool’s fans rather than players, many supporters were lamenting the loss of Anfield’s soul – the scourge of all-seater stadia being decried by many as the great silencer.
There is a section of Liverpool’s fanbase irked that some only exercise their tonsils on the biggest occasions, frustrated it will need the promise of a cup semi-final to raise the stadium from relative slumber.
Two years after that Chelsea game, which some former players claimed even eclipsed the greatest sound effects of the Bill Shankly era, a group of supporters called ‘Reclaim The Kop’ formed and lobbied the club about creating a singing section for like-minded fans, disillusioned with what they felt was the ‘Skysportsification’ of football fandom. Liverpool, still under the rule of David Moores, obliged and at least one part of The Kop is still granted ‘RTK’ status. Eight years on, that fans group has disbanded but the same arguments are heard.
Despite this, it was only 18 months ago Brendan Rodgers title-chasing side was playing in front of a frenzied support, the streets around Anfield lined with fans accompanying the team bus to the stadium as they believed the title drought was ending.
There is already cause to believe Klopp will be the manager to galvanise those troops again. It is certainly the case nowadays the team’s form conducts The Kop chorus rather than vice-versa – but it must be said Anfield is nowhere near as bad as many of the most disillusioned supporters feel.
As someone with the luxury of attending a variety of stadiums in the Premier League, the conclusion was reached a while ago that Liverpool fans are too critical of themselves on the subject of atmosphere. Clearly a home game against Swansea does not stimulate the same passion as the visit of Manchester United or Chelsea but there are clubs not too far away who barely raise a chant, even playing in near silence for 90 minutes during Champions League games.
On this issue, Liverpool hold themselves to a higher standard fearing they are losing what made Anfield so distinguishable. That is to be applauded and should not stop the well-intentioned petitioning to ensure it gets better (or doesn’t get any worse), but if Liverpool fans really believe those in the away end chanting ‘this is a library’ are playing in cauldrons of their own they can rest assured that is not the case.
Every successful Liverpool manager of the last 30 years has overseen a game that cemented a flourishing relationship and sparked a fresh era of emotional intensity. For Rafael Benitez, it was the Champions League win over Juventus in the last 16 of 2005.
For Gerard Houllier, it was a League Cup win in 2001, victory over Crystal Palace in the semi-final followed by the first of three trophies in a season.
Klopp has the potential to make a meaningful statement early in his tenure, and like Houllier, Mourinho at Chelsea and Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City, he may come to look fondly on the League Cup for offering the first chance to achieve tangible success.
At the very least, a win tonight might finally prompt that Kop chant for Klopp everyone has been waiting for since he arrived.