IS KLOPP ON VERGE OF SOMETHING SPECIAL?
Victory in tonight’s Europa League final could be the start of something very special at Liverpool
Just five months ago Jurgen Klopp grabbed the hands of Divock Origi and Jordan Ibe as he led the Liverpool players towards the Kop to thank fans for their support.
On the surface it seemed a strange move given the Reds had required a last-minute Origi goal to secure a 2-2 draw with West Brom.
Klopp was ridiculed in some quarters for ‘celebrating’ a draw, but defended the move by saying it was “for the relationship of the team with the fans”.
That relationship has blossomed, thanks in large part to some memorable European nights.
The atmosphere at Anfield was electric as Liverpool overcame bitter rivals Manchester United, but even that paled in comparison to the euphoric scenes as Klopp’s old club Borussia Dortmund were sent packing thanks to an injury time winner from the muchmaligned Dejan Lovren.
It was one of the most dramatic comebacks Anfield had ever witnessed as Liverpool were twice left needing three goals to advance. But on a night packed with drama and emotion, Lovren sent the fans wild with ecstasy.
That victory encapsulated what makes Klopp and his teams so special. The enigmatic German roared on from the sidelines, his players responded and so did the crowd.
He was chief cheerleader, celebrating every tackle as if it was the winning goal in a Champions League final.
There were similar scenes as Liverpool brushed Villarreal aside at Anfield and now the supporters are dreaming of another major European title. It has been 11 years since the Reds last triumphed in Europe, overcoming AC Milan in one of the most dramatic finals ever played.
Two years later the Italians got their revenge, denying Liverpool a sixth European crown. In the nine years since that final in Athens, the only silverware added to the Anfield trophy cabinet is the League Cup in 2012. It has been a tough decade for the red half of Merseyside but there is a feeling the good times could return under Klopp. On the domestic scene there were glimpses of brilliance, the big away wins at Manchester City, Chelsea and Southampton showing what Liverpool are capable of. But there’s also maddening inconsistency with defeats coming against Newcastle and Watford. But since the turn of the year the Reds have found more consistency and despite losing in the League Cup final, there is a growing sense that Klopp is building something special. “The manager has given us belief again, he has changed the mentality of the players,” declared goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
“When you see him on the pitch, he’s really expressive but he is very calm, very intelligent, and at half-time he always analyses the game unbelievably,” added the experienced defender Kolo Toure.
Certainly Klopp has managed to squeeze every last ounce out of a squad that seemed destined for the scrap heap when he first took charge.
Engaging, quirky and passionate, Klopp has inspired his charges and has everyone at the club believing that success is just around the corner.
“In the team meeting before [the League Cup final] he said: ‘This will be the first of many finals we will have together.’ The way he said it, the words he used, you just believed there would be more finals,” recalled Adam Lallana. “We were on the losing side that day but I certainly learned from it and I’m
sure the other players did too. We will be better for it and more prepared for this final.”
Lallana is one of the players who has excelled under Klopp. The talented midfielder had been in and out of the side under Brendan Rodgers and there was little end product.
Under the former Dortmund boss Lallana has thrived. He works tirelessly, harassing the opposition and his quality on the ball has been there for all to witness.
The players now believe, the supporters have faith, but now it is time to deliver.
Liverpool must defeat Sevilla in the final of the Europa League in order to qualify for Europe’s elite competition next season. It will be far from easy against a Spanish side who have won the competition the last two years.
But as Michael Owen suggested after the win against Villarreal: “There's something special brewing at Liverpool under Klopp.”
This time the Liverpool boss will hope to lead his players towards the fans while hoisting the Europa League trophy in the air. It could be the start of something special.