Saturday 17 February 2018

New boss staying calm as he tries to lift players

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp will be seeking to keep hopes realistic at the club
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp will be seeking to keep hopes realistic at the club

Sam Wallace

"The cream of the Klopp" suggested Nivea, Liverpool's official grooming partner, in their match-day programme advert, attempting to unify the disparate themes of excitement felt at the club's new manager and, presumably, the imperative to moisturise thoroughly while watching football in the forthcoming winter months.

The dream of Klopp, of an era of Kloppism, of the march of the Kloppites, is everywhere at Anfield, from the banners on the Kop to the commercial partners. They are ready to follow whatever it is he is offering, to serve loyally - perhaps even to wear en masse baseball caps, designer spectacles and large comedy teeth - but first they need the team to signal lift-off.

It is three games and three draws for the new manager of Liverpool, and you can tell that he is just that little bit embarrassed about all the expectation and goodwill. He is desperate for that first victory, but the problem is, as he rationally pointed out, this is the Premier League and the rest of the pack are not prepared to wait for Liverpool to hit their stride.

His celebrations when Christian Benteke's header flew past the fingertips of Maarten Stekelenburg were pure untrammelled Kloppishness, a rush down the touchline, the air well and truly punched, his assistant, Peter Krawietz, on the pitch, too.

But as Krawietz's near-namesake, Lenny, has reminded us time and again, it ain't over 'til it's over, and so it proved with Sadio Mane's equaliser for Southampton.

"I learnt in my life, you should celebrate a party when you have one," Klopp said later reflecting on that brief moment of joy. "You don't know when the next one is coming." Then he sensed that he might be casting a gloomy note and checked himself. "Now I know not to celebrate too early!"

That is the fine line that Klopp is walking, the imperative that he keeps hopes realistic, while lifting the club out of the torpor that surrounded them in the last months of the Brendan Rodgers' regime.

The new Liverpool manager knows that a successful club needs confidence and momentum to move forward. Most of all, though, he needs that first victory and the home tie in the League Cup fourth round against beleaguered Bournemouth should be that moment, if not then there will be more serious questions to answer.

On Saturday, he encounters a wounded Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, where the modern enmity between those clubs will have a context it has never had before - the survival or otherwise of Jose Mourinho. But that is the grand theatre of the Premier League - of feuds and grudges, of ghost goals and unfortunate slips - a narrative that must feel bewildering to the new manager.

What Klopp is preaching now is small incremental steps. He is trying to keep everyone calm while he figures out what is wrong with this his players' confidence and how he can fix it. "I don't understand this pressure," Klopp said, "but the guys feel it." He was clear about what he sees as a "negative mentality" among some players. It is up to him not to panic about it. "I hope I'm not the only person in the stadium who thinks this is not the end of the world," he reflected. "We can work with this performance."

All eminently sensible, but at some point, Klopp's Liverpool are going to have to start winning the kind of matches they would not previously have been expected to win.

No one knows that better than Klopp, a man who brooked no excuses when he lost that habit at Borussia Dortmund last season. "I have to be patient.

"I'm sorry, but (I know) I'm not the first to say this."

The latest banner reads simply "Believerpool". All that is required now, is a performance they can believe in.

Independent News Service

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport