Six points short of the Premier League leaders, three points away from the Champions League places, and progress in the Capital One Cup and Europa League, all despite injuries to key personnel. Liverpool didn’t exactly look in crisis mode when sacking Brendan Rodgers in early October.
Now nearly two months into Jurgen Klopp’s tenure, six points still separates Liverpool from leaders Manchester City, while it’s now a four-point gap to the top four. Progress in the cup competitions has been secured, and all this has been achieved with first team players missing through injury. Has all that much improved at Anfield? Well, yes.
“They changed the manager here. It wasn’t because of the weather and it wasn’t a problem with Brendan Rodgers because he is a brilliant manager. But they had to change something.”
And change something they did. Klopp was characteristically straightforward in his assessment of Liverpool’s decision to part with his predecessor in early October, with the Reds having won just one of their previous nine fixtures. The German has benefited from a similar simplicity to oversee a drastic change at Anfield.
A 1-0 victory over Swansea on Sunday rounded off an opening 10 games for Klopp in which the manager has showcased a Liverpool side capable of blitzing the opposition or grinding out a result, depending on the necessity. Just a week after stunning the Premier League leaders with a 4-1 away victory, Liverpool battled their way to a 1-0 win over an out-of-form Swansea side at home. It is now three consecutive successes under Klopp for the second time in his short tenure; the last time Rodgers recorded the same sequence was in February earlier this year.
Yet, on the face of it, Liverpool are the same difference from the summit and even further away from the Champions League places as before Rodgers was sacked. But there’s something inherently different about Klopp’s Liverpool to Rodgers’ iteration.
The Manchester City win encapsulated two managers from different realms. Having beaten a struggling Chelsea in his first game against one of the Premier League’s traditional top four three weeks prior, Klopp secured another huge victory against City at the Etihad. Where Rodgers had taken nine attempts to beat any of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or City, and a further four to win a second, Klopp had achieved it in his first two. Not only that, but Liverpool’s last victory by a two-goal margin under Rodgers came in April, while the last time Liverpool had scored more than three goals in one game was last December.
Consider too Rodgers’ reaction to beating Manchester City 3-2 in the 2013/14 season to Klopp’s after an ever more impressive 4-1 win over Manuel Pellegrini’s side earlier this month. Winners and Losers briefly touched upon the contrasting nature of the two bosses, but just examine the following:
“I thought we were incredible today. We showed so much quality. To come back showed the character in this group – it’s three very valuable points for us. It was a wonderful atmosphere, pitch-side it was incredible, so between us all – players, supporters and staff – it was a great victory for us.” – Rodgers, April 13, 2014.
“The game was not perfect but it was very good. The good news is that we can do better. It was very satisfying, but whether it was the best [performance] I am not sure. I rarely compare games. Tonight was very good, but it was not perfect because we can defend better and stay in the game better when we have a 3-0 lead.” – Klopp, November 21, 2015.
“Incredible” and predictably full of “character” after a 3-2 win on the one hand, “not perfect” and “we can do better” after a 4-1 win on the other. Where Rodgers was happy to bask in the glory of victory all too often, Klopp is busy looking to the next game. It’s a stark contrast.
The main difference between Klopp and Rodgers has been the uncomplicated but demanding approach of the former. The definition of ‘gegenpressing’ has long since been diluted into a readily-usable soundbite by the British press, but the German’s simple approach can also be found in his team selection. Central midfielder Emre Can has looked surprisingly comfortable in central midfield, Alberto Moreno has flourished after struggling at wing-back, and Roberto Firmino has resembled a £22million footballer as a forward.
As a result, Liverpool have earned 11 points in six games under Klopp, where 12 came in the first eight league fixtures of the season under Rodgers. It isn’t a considerable difference, but it’s enough to fully justify the decision to instigate managerial change. In a mini-league since Klopp’s appointment, only Leicester, Tottenham and Man United have won more points, only five sides have scored more goals and only three have conceded fewer. Under Rodgers, 13 sides, including Bournemouth and Norwich, had scored more, with eight conceding fewer.
Klopp has now won three of his first six Premier League matches. Rodgers’ last five league victories dated back to mid-April and came against Aston Villa (20th), Bournemouth (18th), Stoke (12th), QPR (currently in the Championship, finished 20th) and Newcastle (currently 19th, finished 17th). Klopp has already beaten more top-half sides than Rodgers had managed since February.
In effect, Klopp has been the equivalent of bringing in Sam Allardyce, albeit on a far more sophisticated, tactically-advanced level. Sunderland called on Big Sam to increase their chances of Premier League survival, with the former West Ham manager reverting back to basics. Klopp has done the same at Liverpool after a similarly sensical appointment. Both have their own trademark style and methods, and they often produce the necessary results. The tactics are simple and uncomplicated but effective, igniting self-belief throughout the respective squads.
Such self-belief has been readily evident at Liverpool, even in Klopp’s first ten games in charge. The Reds have tasted defeat just once under the new manager, a 2-1 reverse to Crystal Palace in October. They have won all three of their subsequent fixtures. Under Rodgers, Liverpool failed to win in their next four after losing 3-0 to West Ham this season, while they followed up a 3-1 defeat to Palace with a 6-1 reverse at Stoke last campaign. Before that, a 2-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Aston Villa precipitated a run of three games without a win. A club’s response to defeat says a lot about their manager, and in this instance it summarises the gulf between Klopp and Rodgers. It’s a sentiment the players share:
“The manager has made a big impact and he’s been fantastic for Liverpool and for the Premier League. Hopefully we can keep learning from him and improving.” – Jordan Henderson.
“You can see what a difference he has made. He’s very good tactically and he gives players belief. You see his emotion on the touchline.” – Martin Skrtel.
“The arrival of Klopp has given me a new energy. He shows he has enough confidence in me. He has managed to give the team a different face.” – Lucas Leiva.
“I think he will help us. We are already getting what he wants from us. He brings good vibes, we are on a positive path and we are always aiming high.” – Roberto Firmino.
“I think it is much easier to defend now because we are working much harder than before. We are, I would say, playing like a team now with everyone feeling comfortable. It feels like two different teams. It is always easier when a manager has belief in your team and in yourself. Every one of the players has changed their opinion of football.” – Dejan Lovren.
The club captain, the longest-serving player, and a trio of those who have been rejuvenated under Klopp, all glowing in their appraisals. Even Steven Gerrard is impressed:
“He makes you feel good. He’s got that enthusiasm, very infectious and he makes players feel special. He’s got that infectious personality and I’m excited to go and spend some time with him.”
That isn’t to say Rodgers is a managerial failure. The Northern Irishman has become something of a parody, in no small part thanks to his memorable quotes and harebrained tactics. It’s an unfair assessment, and he has every chance of becoming a success in the future, provided he can learn from his numerous mistakes. But Klopp is in an altogether different league, and is tellingly motivating a squad built by his predecessor, while comfortably out-performing him.
As for Klopp, who knows how far he can take this Liverpool side? Talk of a Premier League title challenge is surely premature, and the German will know a push for Champions League qualification is the target. With Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson and, more importantly, Jon Flanagan all returning from injury, the signs are positive at Anfield. Leicester are the only side in the current top five they are yet to face, having won one, drawn two and lost one against City, United, Arsenal and Spurs. Crucially, they have played all those sides away from home. Newcastle, West Brom, Watford, Leicester and Sunderland provide an eminently winnable set of fixtures heading into the New Year.
But amid all the talk, one thing is for certain: the 48-year-old has laid the foundations for potential future success, and the club are privileged to boast the expertise and leadership of one of the best coaches in Europe.