Jamie Carragher The biggest difference between Liverpool and United? It’s Klopp
The most important figure at a club is the manager – get that right and everyone looks better
It was early in Jurgen Klopp’s first full season at Liverpool and he was preparing to face Manchester United. Klopp was hoping to celebrate his first anniversary by going level with Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.
Instead, Jose Mourinho secured a 0-0 draw by nullifying what he sarcastically described as “the last wonder of the world” – Liverpool’s attack.
A forgettable game did not disguise the fact Liverpool were becoming a force again, heading in the right direction under their relatively new coach as he faced up to the first objective of Champions League qualification.
Three years on, Klopp is celebrating another anniversary in vastly different circumstances, this time taking on United to consolidate league leadership.
Now it is the United manager seeking to re-establish his club’s status at the start of his first full season. So much of the build-up to tomorrow’s encounter has focused on comparing the Liverpool and Manchester United of 2019. This is actually wrong and unfair on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His work should be compared to that of Klopp in 2015-16.
The stats might say that Solskjaer’s record in his first 29 matches is equal to Klopp’s, but the reality is far grimmer. Whatever happens tomorrow, he is nowhere near replicating Klopp’s early impact. There is no excuse for being so far behind, regardless of the circumstances in which Solskjaer took over. The United starting XI against Newcastle is the worst I can remember in the Premier League era, and yet the problems cannot all be attributed to a poor legacy.
The side Klopp inherited in October 2015 were no better, arguably a lot worse, yet his impact was immediate. From Klopp’s line-up against Tottenham on that first day, only Divock Origi, James Milner, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne remain at the club. The back four included Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno, while Jerome Sinclair and Connor Randall were substitutes.
Before Klopp’s appointment, Liverpool’s owners and recruitment team took as much flak as Ed Woodward today. Under Klopp, those same executives and scouts are hailed as among the smartest in the world, with the structure implemented by FSG presented as a template for others to envy, study and copy – the ultimate example of patience being rewarded. In the story of the modern Liverpool, we will talk about the club before and after Klopp’s arrival. The club’s transformation quickened after he was unveiled.
It may have taken him three full seasons to win his first trophy at Liverpool – and he may win the Premier League in his fourth – but any rival chief executive (or pundit) studying his work and claiming it took a while to yield positive results is rewriting history.
Klopp led Liverpool to their current position by meeting a series of demanding but realistic targets one step at a time.
After a few months, he had already led the club to two finals and notched up notable victories against Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. It was a work in progress, but the work was already promising, bordering on the exceptional, as Liverpool reached the Europa League final.
He achieved Champions League qualification in his first full season after adding only three signings – Sadio Mane from Southampton, Schalke’s Joel Matip and Georginio Wijnaldum. None was regarded among the most coveted when they joined. Wijnaldum was part of a Newcastle midfield who had just been relegated. Liverpool have been justifiably praised for making an increasing number of astute signings under Klopp.
Managers should never just be judged on who they sign or how much they spend. It is what they get from those players that tells you about their coaching ability.
Liverpool did not make a senior signing last summer, yet they look even better now than a year ago. That is what truly separates Liverpool today from when they finished runners-up in the Premier League in 2002, 2009 and 2014, got busy in the transfer market and went so far back they did not even qualify for the Champions League a year later. It is also what differentiates them from Manchester United. United have tried to re-establish themselves by signing players who were considered game-changers. They can hardly be accused of failing to back their managers. For an assortment of reasons, talented players have not improved. Most have gone backwards.
I wrote two years ago that if United had appointed Pep Guardiola, they would not be waiting long for the title. The same logic applies with Klopp. If he was United’s manager, the table would look very different. It sums up why the most important figure at any club is the manager. Get that right and everyone else looks better. So, what does this mean when Liverpool travel to United tomorrow? Absolutely nothing. Liverpool will finish well above United after 38 games, but a meeting at Old Trafford is a different beast.
There is much talk about Liverpool matching an 18-game winning streak in the Premier League, but there is another 18-game sequence worth emphasising. Liverpool have lost 13 of their past 18 at Old Trafford in all competitions, which is staggering given United’s deterioration since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
I am reminded of a meeting at Anfield in 2009. We had suffered the worst sequence of results for more than 20 years and all the pre-match talk was of a United hammering. We won 2-0.
We enjoyed our short-term triumph, only to realise that while we could always give United a bloody nose once a season, we were unable to inflict any lasting damage by keeping up with them. Now the clubs are heading in different directions and the investigation into how and why will continue.
But if you want to sum up what Liverpool possess that United lack, it really comes down to this; a world-class manager.
In Klopp we trust: Liverpool fans show support for their manager, his place in the club’s history already secure