You might not have heard, but Jurgen Klopp celebrates his one-year anniversary of becoming Liverpool manager on Saturday. The German rode into Anfield, hugged everyone, swore a lot, said some funny things, had a shave once and looked really, really weird, and quickly established himself as both a fine manager and a lovely gentleman.
It was not always this way. Klopp was appointed on October 8, but for four long days, Liverpool were without a leader. Brendan Rodgers had been sacked after a draw in the Merseyside derby. It not only made international week vaguely interesting, but it sent the Reds into the unknown.
Here at Football365, we published a list of five players who would benefit from Rodgers’ departure. A year on, the results are, should we say, a little hit and miss. There was Jose Enrique. There was Joao Carlos Teixeira. There was Mamadou Sakho. Hey, we never claim to be able to see into the future. And we did say Emre Can and Roberto Firmino would prosper, so there.
But which five players have benefited from Klopp’s guidance the most? Not Jose Enrique, that’s for sure.
One (or two) out of five ain’t bad. Right? Guys?
Looking back, it is hard to envisage a time when Roberto Firmino was seen as anything other than a success in the Premier League. But the forward Rodgers signed for £29m in summer 2015 endured a difficult start to life at Liverpool. The Brazilian had to wait until his tenth appearance in the top flight to score his first goal, and the Daily Telegraph ranked him as the 11th worst signing of the summer. ‘A huge transfer fee has appeared to intimidate Firmino, with nobody quite sure exactly what role he should play in Klopp’s Liverpool team,’ they wrote.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the doubts that existed over the 25-year-old’s suitability have been completely forgotten. He is a crucial cog in Klopp’s machine, leading the line as the nominal striker in a number of memorable victories. There are few more important players at Anfield currently, if any.
Most goals scored under Klopp…
— Ladbrokes (@Ladbrokes) October 1, 2016
The versatile winger signed as a robust central midfielder who became a goalscoring left-back. Milner has undergone a number of transformations throughout his storied career, and a number of them have come at Liverpool. The 30-year-old suffered more criticism than most – particularly on these pages – during the first half of last season as he struggled to establish himself as the experienced leader he was billed as under Rodgers. No-one could have predicted how well he has taken to life under his successor.
Klopp described the former England international as “the complete football player, the perfect professional” within a month of his appointment, but it felt like empty words at the time. Through that same consummate professionalism and hard work, Milner has carved out his very own role as the team’s Swiss Army knife, filling in wherever needed. His latest assignment has been to learn the trade of a left-back in his 30s, a test he has passed with ease. Apologies may well be in order. Sorry, Jim.
There is a reason Adam Lallana’s £25m price tag is rarely mentioned anydmore. The fee Liverpool paid for the then-Southampton player in 2014 was often used to criticise both the club and Rodgers, and six goals in 41 games in his first season did little to appease the doubters. His struggles continued into a second season, and his manager would soon find himself out of a job.
Under Klopp, the improvement was not immediate. The enduring memory of Lallana’s early months under the new boss was of the Englishman being substituted after an hour, hauled off in the clutches of his manager, having emptied his lungs of every last breath. He started 32 Premier League games in 2015/16, finishing just 14, and leaving the field before 70 minutes on 13 occasions. Gegenpressing had claimed its first victim on these shores.
Yet Lallana’s improvement has been stark and quite wonderful to witness. A midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and the 28-year-old dominating games defies all realms of what we all once thought we knew, but the current Premier League table does not lie. Only one player has scored more goals for the Reds, and no-one has provided more assists. That fans are panicking over his fitness for the upcoming game with Manchester United says it all.
“I saw his first game for Liverpool – it was against Dortmund when we lost by four. He was brilliant on that day. I’d heard not the best things about him since.”
Klopp was typically forthright and accurate in his comments. In November of last year, the German was asked to discuss Dejan Lovren. He did not pretend the Croat’s nightmare first season at Anfield had not happened, nor the mistakes that marred the start to his 2015/16. Klopp was all too aware of Lovren’s difficulties in settling since signing from Southampton.
As with Firmino and Lallana, those days seem such a long way away now. It was after two dreadful performances in consecutive Premier League defeats to West Ham and Manchester United that Lovren lost his place in Rodgers’ starting line-up. He would not start for another seven league games, but was a different player upon his return. A more comfortable, assured, strong centre-half, Lovren finally showed what made him a £20m signing in 2014. It is strange to think that he was once third-choice centre-half behind Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel.
Oh, and he scored the winning goal in that bloody brilliant win over Dortmund in the Europa League.
Of the starting line-up in Liverpool’s last game – the 2-1 win over Swansea – six were signed by Rodgers, and four joined under the tutelage of Klopp. The sole representative of the forgotten Kenny Dalglish era, by quirk of fate, was the long-suffering club captain.
Most passes completed in the Premier League 2016/17:
Leading by example. pic.twitter.com/bqzOORKb1W
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 5, 2016
Everyone has an opinion on Jordan Henderson. Some say he is not good enough; some once saw him as Steven Gerrard’s successor; one individual rather weirdly criticised his gait. And yet, for all the criticism, for all the questioning over his place in this Liverpool side, the 26-year-old has adapted his game to suit Klopp’s system. He was once held as the example of mediocrity under Anfield’s previous leader; he is now the Reds’ role model.