KLOPP AT THE KOP: THE BEGINNING
In early October, German wunderkind Jürgen Klopp took over as manager of Liverpool FC following Brendan Rodgers’ sacking. Much has been made of his potential and what he could do for the club – I take a look at his matches so far, and look to the future.
Klopp at the Kop. It has a certain ring to it. With his mop of unruly sandy hair, glasses, stubbly beard, a sufficiently wacky set of facial expressions and a naturally straight-talking disposition, it would appear that he is a breath of fresh air for Liverpool after the undemonstrative and sometimes curt Brendan Rodgers.
Perhaps straight-talking is best illustrated by him reportedly scrawling the word ‘TERRIBLE’ in front of his squad during a team meeting, apparently in order to show how the opposing team would feel after 90 minutes against his squad. Certainly the infamous ‘sealed envelopes’ of Brendan Rodgers’ reign, where the manager claimed to have written down the names of three players he knew would ‘let them down’ during the upcoming season, and put them in sealed envelopes, seem long gone. A new era of openness could be in the offing at the club – and this might be just what is required to bring an often tentative, fearful side out of their shell.
And also with Liverpool, a team arguably at times powered by a belief in fate and destiny, the appointment of Klopp, an eccentric man who has been known to utter aphorisms like ‘If that’s not a bull**** story I’ll eat my broomstick’ might even come to be totemic. Might. A sense of caution and of not overplaying things is also key. Yet a charismatic figurehead has always been a welcome fixture in the dressing room of the Merseyside club (ahem the likes of Steven Gerrard). But the German’s start, which many were prematurely lauding as a great decision, was hardly a fairytale one, with his side drawing his first three games in charge.
Klopp even said this himself in the post-match interview following their draw with Southampton – ‘Football is not a fairytale’, though it is easy to see his desire to ‘prepare the fairytale’ at some point soon. But to do that, there are some things they have to shake off first, which is something I thing everyone involved in the club acknowledges.
Problems of course persist which he will need to sort out. The issue of defence is paramount. Players’ confidence too. And – though this has been the case for years now with Liverpool – chances need to become goals. Too often the side has been praised with the vague term of ‘creating chances’. In and of itself, this is a good thing. But they are not being converted nearly often enough. And in addition, their defence has been shaky for a good while, and this needs to be strengthened if they are to become a better all-round time and have a better chance of seeing out matches positively and winning titles. Ex-Liverpool keeper Bruce Grobbelaar, who won six League titles with the club, highlighted this in a recent BBC interview, but was excited about the prospect of ‘Klopp at the Kop’.
The will of Klopp can hardly be underestimated, however, as it is obvious he wishes to turn the club’s fortunes around. His main tactic of ‘gegenpressing’, or of counter-attacking so strongly that the opposing side cannot get through Liverpool’s defence, has proven to be effective thus far. However, this does little to win games if the strikers do not then have the confidence or capability to get sufficiently up the park and score. This is the main issue, above all the others, which Liverpool currently faces: a crisis of confidence. Their new manager has been quick to notice the fact that his team frequently got spooked when in a winning position in his first few games in charge. Once the opposing side started to challenge again, they got frightened and gave in to pressure. The need to overcome this, Klopp knows, is paramount. His side have shown a renewed energy under his coaching thus far, but still lack that crucial self-belief.
But on Wednesday night things changed. Liverpool won. Thanks to youngster Nathaniel Clyne’s first half goal, they won their fourth round Capital One Cup match versus Bournemouth 1-0 to progress to the quarter-finals. They now have their first victory under Klopp, four games into his tenure. At least, as yet, they have not lost a game either. And you might well say, it was only Bournemouth, but regardless of that, it was a step forward, and could be the crucial spur they need.
Nobody is saying that Liverpool will become contenders or even challengers for titles overnight, and if anything Klopp’s matches so far are proof of that. But he needs both time from the management team and players, and faith from the supporters if his style is to pay off for the club. But, with his honesty and his determination, he has already won fans, and could hopefully set us on the way to winning much more than that. And hope is what Liverpool needs right now.
And with, as Klopp says, a ‘wounded’ Chelsea side to face up to on Saturday, this could well be his team’s big chance to make their mark. Only time will tell whether the man in charge of them will hit or miss.