Friday 19 January 2018

A year on from his appointment, Liverpool players and coaches explain how Jurgen Klopp has transformed the club

Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates victory at the end of the English Premier League football match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium. AFP PHOTO / GEOFF CADDICK /
Liverpool's German manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates victory at the end of the English Premier League football match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium. AFP PHOTO / GEOFF CADDICK /

Tom Rooney

Almost a year has passed since Jurgen Klopp gleefully declared himself the ‘The Normal One’, yet the German’s impact at Anfield has been anything but, as expectations continue to soar on the red half of Merseyside.

Such was his reputation for engineering breakneck speed football, as well as a penchant for memorable soundbites, even the most jaded of fans had their interest somewhat piqued when Liverpool appointed Jurgen Klopp as Brendan Rodgers’ successor almost a year ago today.

Despite a considerable outlay on new recruits from the fee the club received from the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, Rodgers was never able to recreate the same buccaneering dynamic that saw Liverpool come agonisingly close to their first ever Premier League title in 2013-14.

In truth, it always seemed that the now Celtic boss never fully recovered from the side’s belated capitulation or, indeed, how to rebuild it without the Uruguayan striker.

The indifferent manner in which Steven Gerrard departed the club hardly helped Rodgers’ cause, nor did a needlessly public spat with Raheem Sterling and his agent, before the winger left for Manchester City.

The following season, a sixth place finish in the league, as well as a failure to progress from the Champions League group stages, served to utterly halt the momentum gained the previous year.

Furthermore, Rodgers’ decision to recruit Mario Balotelli for the fee he did, remains one of the most boggling buys in recent memory.

By the time the board deemed it was time for a new manager, following a 1-1 draw in the 225th Merseyside derby, Liverpool had just one win in their previous nine games in all competitions and were languishing in 10th place in the league.

Jurgen Klopp has really missed Sadio Mane over the past month

Though still in the midst of a self-imposed career hiatus, following a largely gilded spell with Borussia Dortmund, during which time they temporarily toppled the Bayern Munich hegemony, Liverpool managed to lure Jurgen Klopp to Merseyside.

Klopp quickly went about embedding his exacting methods within a squad that had no discernible tactical identity by the time Rodgers was dismissed.

Klopp managed a scoreless draw with Tottenham on his English debut, which was followed by another sharing of the spoils with Southampton.

Then, in the space of a month, Liverpool amply demonstrated exactly the type of side Klopp was attempting to unearth when demolishing Manchester City and Chelsea.

In December, they became one of just two teams to take three points from eventual champions Leicester.

Ultimately much of the remainder of the season was pockmarked by injuries and inconsistent results, most notably in the league.

Being beaten in the finals of the League Cup and Europa League, in tandem with an eighth place finish in the league, was far from awe-inspiring but, as we’ve since found out, Klopp used the time afforded to him in the offseason to great affect.

All told, 14 players were sold on during the summer window, while seven new arrivals, pertinently all of Klopp’s choosing, came the other way.

Pre-season training began markedly early as Klopp and his staff endeavoured to maximise player fitness in the most gruelling of fashions, while honing and refining his intense counter-pressing blueprint.

Jurgen Klopp with Dejan Lovren

Moreover, The Reds undertook an unusually large nine-game preseason in preparation for the campaign to come.

As the current evidence suggests, it paid immediate dividends. Five wins, a draw and a loss in their opening seven league games relayed a newfound consistency, particularly when considering they have won their last four.

The victories away from home over Arsenal and Chelsea were hugely impressive, while last time out, against Swansea, Liverpool came from behind to eke out a hard-fought win that leaves them behind second place Spurs by a solitary point.

Dejan Lovren, who forms one half of a burgeoning but formidable centre-half pairing with recent arrival Joel Matip, told the Daily Express that Klopp’s adherence to the never-ending quest for flawlessness is hugely inspiring.

“He is a perfectionist and so everyone wants to be like him. You want to give perfection during training and give 100 per cent on the pitch. It is great to see how intense he is on the touchline.

“He is really emotional and shows that in every part of the game. There are a lot of things that I have learnt from him but he is not just a good manager, he is a good man.”

The Croatian defender also provided a touching example of the 49-year-old’s human side.

“I will never forget he gave me a couple of days off when I had a problem with my daughter and she was ill and in hospital. She needed an operation.

“It was at the time of the Augsburg game away in February and he said to me, ‘Go to Croatia. Be with your daughter’. These things are big for a player. He showed his personality then,” Lovren said.

Jurgen Klopp on the sideline during Liverpool’s win over Swansea City.

Pepijn Lijnders was hired as first team development coach in 2014, and the Dutchman revealed that, upon his appointment, Klopp wasted little time going about his business.

“I was not nervous when he arrived because he stands for modern, total football. I just looked forward to working with him,” he also told the Daily Express.

“That first week was full of emotion, a hard week. There is a famous saying: ‘Be quick but don’t hurry. That’s exactly how he is constructing our ‘specific way of play’”.

He also alluded to one of the most prominent aspects of Klopp’s ethos, ensuring that players are equipped to inter-change position on demand or as a matter of improvisation.

“We want to become a team in which everyone is a front player and everyone is a defender. Basically, everyone is responsible for everything. With a club like Liverpool you need to delegate and create trust,” Lijnders said.

Prudently, Klopp has sought to temper expectations throughout the nascent season but, without question, he has his club fully united and firing on all cylinders.

A week from Monday, Liverpool entertain Manchester United, and few could argue that the hosts are deservedly red-hot favourites.

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