After finally ending Liverpool’s 30-year wait for a Premier League title, Jurgen Klopp is really not keen on a statue. To be fair to the German, they are currently coming down faster than they are going up. In any case, you can feel and touch what the 53-year-old has achieved without having to carve it out in stone.
One thing is for sure, though – his team has a heartbeat that is built on red-brick foundations; Liverpool’s wall is not coming down any time soon.
Klopp has achieved something that came tantalisingly close to Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14 and within a matador’s cape of Rafa Benitez in 2008/09. Close but no fat waiter’s cigar. 2014 was a pure visceral hit of merriment as Liverpool exploded into a lethal attack dog, albeit one that was hampered by a lame paw at the back while 2009 was built on the chemistry of Gerrard and Torres and a fail-safe defence that lost just twice. Rafa’s Revolution lacked a fifth gear.
Last season, Klopp achieved 30 wins, seven draws and one loss in a 97-point campaign that still didn’t top the charts. Such a disappointment could have caused a caustic reaction boiled in frustration. If that wasn’t good enough, what could be?
The difference this time was that the house, its inhabitants and the landlord were strong enough to know they could become the best on the street. It turns out they were the best by a street.
Klopp is not a man who sees the darkness for long. As he once said after losing to Manchester City in the 2016 Capital One Cup final: “Only silly idiots stay on the floor and wait for the next defeat.” Handily, they secured the Champions League just weeks later – the best kind of consolation prize in club football. Since then, not only have the shackles of nervy final landings been shaken off, but Liverpool have flown into a different stratosphere to the rest.
Where to now for this particular band of brothers? The development of players at Melwood now feels like something that transcends mere ability. This is an exclusive club, but one that is open, outward-looking and not the least bit selfish. The aura is that they cannot lose even if they know that the law of averages suggests otherwise. These players have crossed a wobbling bridge with King Kong shaking it and never looked back. Two defeats in 70 league games is testament to that.
When asked if they can improve, Klopp merely said: “As long we stay humble. As long as teams look at the fixture list and they say “oh, we play Liverpool”.” Keeping the fear factor – now something for others to worry about – and staying “greedy” are key.
Graeme Souness was never one easily satisfied. Doing his best Roy Keane impression of looking grumpy even in victory, he told Sky Sports: “They won the Champions League last year and now they have won the Premier League title, but I still think Jurgen Klopp will look back at this period and feel they should have won more than two major trophies.” The Scot actually had a point. While the European and global tournaments have enjoyed an uptick in the year gone by, it is about time Liverpool’s last FA Cup final victory wasn’t Gerrard’s final. This is the moment to kick on and to win something major every year after so many fallow seasons since 2006.
It looks from the inside (and the outside) like Klopp’s army will not lack motivation. Even if they have run roughshod with battle tanks over enemy lines and established a near-impenetrable fortress at home there have been stark reminders that other teams are developing strategies to repel. The Atletico result(s) will hurt and be a reminder that global domination will not be total this season. Manchester City still have two trophies to win while the Reds finish their (glorious) lap of honour.
Moreover, Liverpool will also not be fooled by the league table’s wide margin. Before the brilliant performance against Palace, Klopp said: “I watched Man City last night and thought how is it possible that someone is 20 points clear of this team? We must have done something right.” They have earned that huge gap. That is not in question. They also know that many of those points have been a titanic struggle.
What Liverpool have done brilliantly in the last two years is score late. Atletico aside, this team simply do not ship late crucial goals either. Those one-goal victories have been precious. They know how to see out games. This must continue.
It may not be the visceral thrill of heavy metal football anymore. Liverpool have matured and will continue to find ways to rewire where necessary. Fans may cry out for more personnel too and that will eventually come. The personality of this team will ensure that no lasting damage is done even on the dark days. As Jordan Henderson testified, Klopp is even better after a loss than he is in victory. His new tune in 2020/21 will be as the Pied Piper in front of Pep and the rest.
This time the Reds will be the hunted; the pursuers will have to move fast to catch the monster Klopp has created. City will be the first test.
Tim Ellis – follow him on Twitter