Brendan Rodgers remains a fine coach but Jurgen Klopp has proven the talent was there at Liverpool all along
Manchester City will probably win the Premier League in spite of Manuel Pellegrini. Liverpool might win it because of Klopp
Jurgen Klopp said in his inaugural Anfield address he wanted to turn doubters into believers. He may have to recite the speech to himself when assessing the possibility of a Liverpool title bid in his first season.
Should Liverpool continue the form that embarrassed Chelsea, humiliated Manchester City and dismantled Southampton, Klopp will find himself fending off the suggestion he can end a 26-year wait before he's redecorated the manager's office.
Liverpool’s coach is dismissive of questions regarding an instant Premier League challenge, understandably so given he accepted the job on the grounds he would need time – as he did in Borussia Dortmund – to impose his own identity on the squad and the players.
It seems the German coach biggest current concern is his supporters (and the rest of English football) is starting believe too much, too soon. Klopp’s caution is logical. His first team is strong, but he knows the demands on his players in four competitions make it vulnerable to injury and over-exertion. The back-up options are not as reliable as they will be in a year’s time.
There is still a need to transform Anfield, too. The home stadium has been strangely flat despite Klopp’s arrival, as if the fatigue of seeing 18 months of grinding football has sapped enthusiasm and too many can’t stir from their slumber. Klopp has not yet seen The Kop at its most emotional, a source of discomfort to die-hard fans desperate to rev up the decibel levels.
Yet the case for Liverpool exceeding expectations is supported not only by how splendid they have been in Klopp’s 11 games, but the mediocrity of everyone else.
Chelsea are beset with internal strife and primarily focused on getting back into the conversation for fourth. Manchester United’s turgid style means they must win every match to appease supporters who will only tolerate ugly football if it yields victories. Arsenal continue on as English football’s ultimate flirt - beautiful to look at but still untrustworthy.
Manchester City are best equipped to win the title, but three years into the Manuel Pellegrini era it’s still hard to work out what the Chilean actually does beyond picking a team of supremely talented individuals and studiously avoiding any collision with charisma. The difference between Liverpool and Manchester City is this: City will probably win the league despite their manager. Liverpool might win it because of theirs.
Club owner’s Fenway Sports Group’s only regret must now be they did move for Klopp three months earlier, although his immediate success has brought vindication of a different kind. When Divock Origi headed Liverpool’s sixth against Southampton on Wednesday, the fattest of cigars must have been lit in Anfield’s mythical ‘committee’ room.
Remember them? The lambasted recruiting sergeants who seemed to have squandered over £200 million of transfer funds on a series of data calls. One of Klopp’s immediate triumphs was to ensure Liverpool abandoned all talk of committees – the ‘first and last word policy’ as it has come to be known – but his genius since is to validate everything owners FSG said when the flak was flying about the quality of their purchases.
As Brendan Rodgers’ reign deteriorated and the pen pictures were published of background figures such as FSG President Michael Gordon, analyst Michael Edwards and scouts Dave Fallows and Barry Hunter, there was quiet consternation in Boston. “We believe in them,” was the message, hard and firm.
“A change in manager will not mean a change in the recruitment staff. Now is not the time to panic and change everything. We have a good squad and just need someone to bring it all together.”
Rodgers remains a fine coach who will rebuild his reputation elsewhere, but there is one phrase he repeated in his final days of his reign which will come to haunt him. “If you give me the tools I will do the work,” he said.
The clear inference – as it had been since Luis Suarez’s sale and Daniel Sturridge’s injury in the summer of 2014 – is there was too much focus on development players and not enough ready-made class. Most agreed with the argument and expected his replacement would have to bide his time before using transfer funds more appropriately.
With the victories over such formidable opposition in successive away games, albeit the latter helped by Sturridge’s return, Klopp has demonstrated the tools were already there to achieve seismic performances. It was just a case of stopping trying to saw wood with a screwdriver.
Origi, like Roberto Firmino at The Etihad Stadium, has ensured rumours the scouting dossiers were doctored were greatly exaggerated. Nobody cares who the scouts are anymore. Credit must be applied where there was criticism. Now the debate on Merseyside is how far Klopp can take the existing group of players by May.
Liverpool are being perceived as a genuine force in English football again and Klopp may protest as much as he wishes it is far too premature Thrillingly for everyone at Anfield, he has only himself to blame.