Wednesday 19 December 2018

There is a subtle change in Jurgen Klopp and it reflects his unwavering belief in this exciting Liverpool team

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA

Simon Hughes

Michael Robinson spent only one season charging about as a Liverpool centre-forward but it was the team he supported from a distance as a boy and so, his memories of relatively insignificant moments are sharper than many of those who stayed longer, especially through the club’s most successful decade. He is able to paint vivid pictures of scenes in the dressing room, like the night Brentford came to Merseyside in October 1983 when Liverpool’s players, knowing they were already leading 4-1 from the first leg, were told they were going to war by Graeme Souness.

"The attitude throughout was that if we didn’t do well, anybody could beat us," Robinson reminisced. "If we did do well, nobody could beat us. Brentford might as well have been Manchester United. There was no complacency – ever."

Here we go again, Jürgen Klopp might think, rolling his eyes, if he ever read what is written about him (he claims he doesn’t) – another mention of what has gone before at Liverpool, a club which he knows is both inspired by and saddled with its past in equal measure.

Klopp had been quick to lay down his rules at his introductory press conference following his appointment, declaring: “History is only the base for us, (we shouldn’t) keep the history in our backpack all day,” and ever since he has maintained an impressive commitment towards balance when asked to discuss where his team sits in the grand scheme of things, just as he did last night after Liverpool reached the quarter finals of the Champions League for the first time in nine seasons, reflecting on the achievement by saying, “I don’t want to make it smaller than it is but I don’t want to make it bigger than it is. It should be [received] as a big surprise.”

At their devastating best under Klopp, the suggestions follow about it being Liverpool’s most exciting XI since 1990. Lose once and it is suddenly missing something, either that or the players don’t really have the mental fortitude to meet the unique demands of the club.

It is not just at Liverpool, though, where managers have won trophies and with him, Klopp brings the sort of experience any challenger will probably need to overhaul Manchester City – just as he did in Germany to Bayern Munich with Borussia Dortmund.

We are now at the stage of the season where trophies are won and lost, the stage where Klopp has been before with Liverpool two years ago when on every step of the way to the Europa League final he eased burden on his players and placed them on opponents instead. Beneath the words seemed to be a recognition that this was not yet his Liverpool and so, he was not really comfortable challenging the players at his disposal because he was not absolutely convinced they were collectively able to deliver on his requests.

There has been a clear change in approach over the last few weeks, unseen in his reign – especially since the Liverpool squad returned from a mid-season break in Marbella. Whereas before he made every effort to relieve his team of pressure, now he seems determined to increase it: to maintain momentum and establish standards.

After beating West Ham convincingly 10 days ago, he asked for more – revealing that although some time off in Spain was necessary, the trip was planned in order to allow Liverpool to re-focus minds and remind that while progress has clearly been made, there remains achievable possibilities of silverware this season that could totally reform how everyone thinks about the club.

Then, having eased past Newcastle last weekend, he warned that he would only make a two or three of changes to his side against Porto even with a 5-0 advantage from the first leg – even though Manchester United are next up on Saturday morning and all of the connotations with that fixture regardless of whether it will contribute towards which club finishes second in the league table, a relative feat that would leave either Klopp or José Mourinho in the position of being able to speak about improvements being made under their respective guidance over the summer months rather than, perhaps, have to reason why regressions in terms of final placings do not necessarily represent an unwanted turn in direction.

Liverpool would not beat Porto as Liverpool would beat Brentford all of those years ago (4-0 as it happens, with Robinson scoring once), and just as it is accurate to say Porto are considerably better now than Brentford were then, it is also accurate to say that although Klopp has not created the culture he absolutely wants, there are signs he is getting closer to it. His words can only reflect well on this version of Liverpool because, as he said when he was chasing dreams at Dortmund: “If I didn’t believe, I would never ask.”

Independent News Service

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