Hope springs for Liverpool as Klopp Effect takes hold
Even the most optimistic Liverpool supporter could scarcely have anticipated the turnaround in fortunes that Jurgen Klopp has engineered in the eight weeks since his appointment as manager.
A team who had won only three of their first 11 games have now won seven of the last eight, including superb away victories over Premier League champions Chelsea and current leaders Manchester City.
Wednesday’s 6-1 demolition of Southampton yielded a League Cup semi-final spot and having risen to within four points of the top four, the chase for Champions League qualification — if not the title itself — is back on.
Perhaps equally importantly, as former captain Steven Gerrard observed recently, “the smiles are back”, six months on from the nadir of Brendan Rodgers’s reign, a 6-1 drubbing at Stoke City on last season’s final day.
“He has lifted all of the fans, he has lifted all of the staff and you can see that he has lifted all of the players as well,” said Gerrard, who has been training with his old club.
Liverpool’s fans grew weary of false dawns under Rodgers, who took the club to within touching distance of the league title in 2014, but the evidence produced by recent displays is incontrovertible.
Where Liverpool were ponderous and fragile in the season’s early weeks, their play now crackles with energy and invention.
According to The Guardian, Klopp has restored “all the vim and verve that, only two seasons ago, almost propelled Liverpool to the Premier League title”.
Klopp promised “full throttle” football and he has been true to his word, with Liverpool’s aggressive high press central to their recent transformation.
Opponents have been quick to catch on and it was noticeable that Southampton looked to hit frontman Graziano Pelle at the earliest opportunity at St Mary’s in a bid to negate the effects of the Liverpool press.
Lucas Leiva, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Adam Lallana are among the players who are thriving under Klopp, whose tactile man-management style is characterised by effusive bearhugs.
– ‘Fighting for the team’ –
After a slow start following his £29 million ($43.3 million, 41.1 million euros) move from Hoffenheim, Roberto Firmino is flourishing, while the previously maligned Divock Origi opened his account for the club with a hat-trick at Southampton.
“You can see what a difference he (Klopp) has made,” centre-back Martin Skrtel told the Liverpool Echo.
“He’s very good tactically and he gives players belief. You see his emotion on the touchline. He’s a winner. He shows that every day in training and when it comes to the games.
“We wants us all to be the same, to be fighting for the team and fighting for the club, and that’s what we’re all doing.”
Klopp hailed Anfield’s “incredible atmosphere” when he took up the job, but results away from home have been better so far, with the statement victories over Chelsea, City and Southampton all coming on the road.
Liverpool have spluttered at home — losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace, drawing with Rubin Kazan and Southampton, and narrowly beating Bournemouth, Bordeaux and Swansea City — and Klopp must find a way to replicate his side’s blitzkrieg’s tactics when teams are not willing to come out and engage them.
Another challenge concerns how to incorporate the fit-again pair of captain Jordan Henderson and striker Daniel Sturridge, who marked his first start under Klopp with a brace at Southampton.
Christian Benteke, the £32.5 million recruit from Aston Villa, is also a candidate for a striking berth, while Firmino led the line to devastating effect at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium, dovetailing elusively with Brazilian countryman Philippe Coutinho.
Liverpool fans will be mindful that their team were unable to sustain surges of form under Rodgers, whose tenure was a blend of feast and famine.
It is much too early to judge Klopp a success, but with each dazzling win, each press conference wisecrack and each open-mouthed cackle, Liverpool’s fans fall deeper under his spell.