TWO-YEAR MILESTONE A TIME OF REFLECTION FOR KLOPP
The Liverpool manager needs his side to find their best against Manchester United after a poor September, writes Richard Jolly
One anniversary falls this Sunday. The other fell last Sunday. In two days’ time, it will be seven years since Fenway Sports Group, then known as New England Sports Ventures, bought Liverpool.
Last weekend, it marked two years since Jurgen Klopp’s appointment.
Landmark dates tend to prompt reflection, about what has been achieved and what should be accomplished, about the direction being taken and if it is the right one.
For the American owners and the German manager alike, the anniversaries are falling at an inopportune time. The inquests might not have felt as urgent a month ago. Then Liverpool were basking in the glow of a 4-0 evisceration of Arsenal, playing the most exciting football in England and savouring a return to the Uefa Champions League.
Now they face a Manchester United side who have accelerated ahead of them after they won just one of seven subsequent games.
“A hard moment,” Klopp reflected after they drew 1-1 at Newcastle United 12 days ago. But it is more than a moment, and the element that appears hard to accept is the familiarity of Liverpool’s flaws.
Defensive errors abound, they usually gift at least one clear-cut chance a game and only two teams have conceded more league goals.
Attacking profligacy is a theme and Liverpool have had the most shots in the division while scoring eight fewer goals than United.
They may excel between the penalty boxes, but football matches are often determined within them.
Liverpool started to feel a Klopp team within weeks of his appointment. Now they have pursued an idiosyncratic approach towards its logical extremes, with inverted wingers, a false nine and no regular striker, full-backs who serve as one-men flanks, a high defensive line and a team of players who are virtually all, in skill-sets and experience, midfielders.
So, after two years, is it fair to judge Klopp? The usually ebullient manager’s increasing tetchiness suggests he objects when growing numbers do. Yet, in Klopp’s defence, he eschews the short-termism that many in his profession display.
He has a six-year contract. He does not spend all the funds at his disposal and believes in coaching and developing players. He is blooding youngsters such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, something that makes him a rarity in the risk-averse world of Premier League management.
Klopp’s Liverpool have the feel of an entertaining journey but, as time goes by, more wonder where the destination is and if and when they will get there.
“If we sit here in four years,” Klopp said at his unveiling. “I think we win one title.”
Title meant trophy, rather than the league championship that has eluded Liverpool since 1990. After two years, he has reached two finals, but not yet won a trophy. After seven, FSG have only won one.
The pessimists have raised the precedents. Brendan Rodgers had a better win percentage than Klopp in his first two years but his reign unravelled after that.
Yet that was connected with the sale of Luis Suarez and Liverpool’s inability to replace him. In contrast, Klopp kept Philippe Coutinho.
The Brazilian, scorer of three sublime goals in as many games, assumes an importance tomorrow.
Liverpool are at their best when they are fast and fluid. Yet they have less chemistry
without Adam Lallana, the leader of Klopp’s trademark gegenpressing and less incision without the speedy winger Sadio Mane, and both are injured.
Perhaps Alex OxladeChamberlain, whose mediocre first month has brought criticism of the manager, will be granted a maiden league start.
Perhaps Liverpool, who boast a superb big-game record under Klopp, will provide a reminder of what is best about them.
It would be a fitting way to mark the anniversaries and to convince the doubters that better days lie ahead.
The struggles of Alex OxladeChamberlain, left, are emblematic of the frustrations Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, below, is dealing with so far this season