Have Liverpool gone backwards under Jurgen Klopp?
It is two years ago this month that Jurgen Klopp began his Merseyside adventure with Liverpool football club. The charismatic German ended his sabbatical and traded his homeland for the northwest in what many saw as a likely match made in heaven. Indeed over the last two years Klopp’s popularity has rarely waned, but for many the initial ‘feel good factor’ surrounding the club has gradually faded. For all his charms and quirks, has Jurgen Klopp really improved Liverpool?
Statistically, the answer would convincingly be a no. Klopp’s return of 1.82 points per league game is lower than the 1.91 points his predecessor Brendan Rodgers returned across the first two years of his tenure. It is also marginally worse than Rafa Benitez who managed 1.84 points across his first couple of seasons. In addition to this, Klopp’s Liverpool have scored fewer goals than Rodgers infamous ‘SAS ‘ led attack and have remained just as porous defensively (1.96 goals per goals scored per game vs 2.26 under Rodgers. 1.21 goals conceded vs 1.22). The only real progression has been against the so-called ‘big six’ a collection of sides that Klopp heads in a two-year mini-league of encounters. Liverpool are at the very least becoming a side for the big occasion.
It is a fair assessment to say the better sides do view Liverpool with a degree of trepidation, but is also the lesser sides that are aware that the Reds are inherently beatable. Perhaps this is part of the charm of a watchable and wholly unpredictable Liverpool side, one that has captivated the football neutral over the past few years. Yet from a Liverpool point of view this is exactly the sort of assessment that they should be looking to avoid.
Liverpool’s last ‘major’ trophy was won over a decade ago, staggering for a club viewed as one of the biggest in the world, and a statistic that is unlikely to change unless Klopp can arrest their footballing naivety. Naysayers may point to their Europa League final in Basel as a sign of resurgence, but this appears more as an anomaly against a backdrop of recent mediocrity in major trophies. Liverpool’s return to the Champions League largely papers over the lack of progress made by the club since their last great European side of 2005.
The main concern has been a continual inability to defend, especially under late pressure. Liverpool’s dead-ball zonal system has been identified as a problem area. The system itself isn’t the concern, there have many successful sides in the past that have defended zonally, more the fact that the current personnel look ill-equipped to operate within it. A summer spent chasing after Virgil Van Dijk highlights the desperation in this area, and one that remains unresolved.
So why is Klopp still so widely backed?
A large part of this is the character of the man, he is genuinely difficult to dislike. Mark Lawrenson summed this up perfectly when asked to give his views on the German, the anecdotes and charms are clearly infectious. Yet we collectively, fans/ pundits/ press are being naïve to the situation. The latter are dining out on his regular sound bites and generosity in the face of a swathe of reporters. Increasingly rare with the modern football manager, this is perhaps why most that write about Klopp are on balance largely positive.
There are two ways to look at the future for Liverpool. If this is still part of a genuine Klopp honeymoon then he should be given the time and financial power to rebuild Liverpool and resolve their continued defensive issues. Liverpool are far from the finished article and a short term-ist approach was hardly likely to ever prove fruitful.
If FSG are gradually losing their patience and want to achieve results faster, then they should look no further than the recently unemployed Carlo Ancelotti. Roundly criticised for a traditional approach during his tenure at Bayern, he could prove to be the perfect pragmatist to avert the continued slide that Liverpool are facing.
Popular but largely unsuccessful over the last few seasons, is it time to stick or twist for Liverpool?