The Jürgen Klopp Effect

How the German Coach Retrieved Liverpool’s Winning Identity

When Jürgen Klopp took over Liverpool in October 2015; the team was a stark contrast to the one that has just won the Champions League. The Liverpool that Klopp inherited was struggling in all competitions and was already 10th in the Premier League just two months into the season. His first three games with the team all ended in draws and it was at that moment that everyone knew that he had his work cut out for him. Three and a half years on from his appointment, Liverpool is now a strikingly different team, one that is hungry for and capable of winning games and trophies. This evolution did not happen overnight as Klopp took it upon himself to change everything in the club from the tactics, the scouting process and the philosophy of the team.

 TACTICAL CONSISTENCY AND ADAPTABILITY

During his last season at the club, Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool’s previous manager, was known to be inconsistent with his tactics. Rodgers often changed the team’s formation from game to game and frequently played some players out of position. Such negative unpredictability created confusion and chaos in the field; moreover, Rodgers could not attract quality players to replace Luis Suarez who had joined Barcelona the season prior and Steven Gerard who went to play for LA Galaxy.  As a result, the team that ended the 2013-14 season second in the league was struggling to get into top four at the start of the 2015-16 season. Unlike Rodgers, Klopp stuck to consistent formations throughout his tenure, namely the 4-3-3. Most of the games are played with 4-3-3, as this plays well into Klopp’s counter-pressing approach, which dictates that the team must immediately regain possession of the ball once it lands with the opposition. The logic behind counter-pressing is that when the opposing team gains possession it goes from defensive to attacking, thus rendering it vulnerable to attack if they quickly lose the ball. To employ this tactic, Klopp lets his fullbacks take part in the team’s pressing; as such Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson have been instrumental in many of the team’s goals this season. Furthermore, Klopp uses three compact and robust central midfielders to cover for the attacking fullbacks, these midfielders are capable to getting the ball from the opposition and quickly pass it to the front three and players such as Henderson, Fabinho, Keita, and Milner are skilled at doing just that. It should be noted that these midfielders are not static, as the two wider ones are adventurous and participate in the team’s attack, while the midfielder in the number six position (mainly Henderson) occupies the more defensive role. Such tactics help get the ball quickly to Liverpool’s front 3, which consists mainly of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino who have shown to be ruthless in front of goal. The front three’s effectiveness is evident as Salah scored 27 goals this season for Liverpool, while Mane scored 26 and Firmino, despite his injuries this season, still managed to score 16 goals for the Reds.

 PASSION AND INCLUSIVENESS

You don’t need a magnifying glass to identify the passion Klopp has for the game and for the club. During every Liverpool game, the camera pans at the German who is seen shouting instructions at the players, yelling at them when they aren’t playing to plan and of course emphatically celebrating when his team scores a goal. He also openly shows love for the players as he is often seen hugging them, in spite of this he is not afraid of showing his stern side when the players disappoint him. For instance, in September 2018 after his side was knocked out of the League Cup by Chelsea, Klopp was seen shouting at Shaqiri reportedly because he allowed Jordan Henderson to take the last minute free-kick.

 As with previous teams he’s managed, Klopp has employed a philosophy of gesamtkunstwerk, which essentially aims to make every part of the club feel included in its accomplishments. As such, the players, members of staff, stadium employees and most of all the fans feel that they are an integral part of the club’s success; this is one of the reasons why the fans will collectively cheer their hearts out during games. The best display of gesamtkunstwerk in action can be seen during the end of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona, when Klopp, the coaching staff and the players sang ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ with the fans at Anfield, something that would be repeated after the team went on to win the final three weeks later at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid. More notably, Klopp has also been filmed singing with fans after Liverpool’s Champions League defeat in 2018 and again after the team’s European victory in 2019, such embrace of the fans is something that is rarely, if ever, seen.

 Klopp is also keen on accommodating his players; in an interview with Goal he recalled an incident when he was a player for Mainz 05 and his coach would not allow him to miss training to be with his son during his first day of school. He noted that he regrets the decision and has since tried accommodating his players’ needs; during the interview, he mentioned the fact that he allowed Fabian Gerber, one of his players during his managerial stint at Mainz 05, a day off to celebrate his mother’s birthday. This notion of accommodation remains with Klopp at Liverpool and an example of this was seen during one of the press conferences in the run-up to the Champions League final when he was asked about the prospect of Salah and Mane fasting during the game which clashed with Ramadan. He eloquently answered that he had “no problem with the fast of my players. I respect their religion, they were always wonderful and they offered the best whether they were fasting or not." This contrasts with other notable coaches, namely Jose Mourinho who, during his time as Manchester United coach, famously criticized Anthony Martial for staying with his girlfriend after she gave birth to their first baby.



Liverpool supporters celebrate Liverpool win against Tottenham Hotspur during the UEFA Champions League final football match at Plaza Mayor in Madrid on June 2, 2019. (Getty)

SMART SPENDING AND FILLING NECESSARY GAPS

In the modern game, the biggest clubs in Europe have tended to scout players who have been on the radar or big name “galactico” players. Klopp, by contrast, incorporated a scouting process that aimed to fill necessary gaps in the team rather than focusing on big-name players. When he needed a third forward to effectively use his 4-3-3 tactics, he signed Mo Salah for 37 million pounds. Although this was a club record at the time, it was a bargain in terms of modern club spending, just to put it into context during that same transfer window Manchester United spent 75 million pounds on Romelo Lukaku while Paris Saint-Germain paid Barcelona 222 million Euros for Neymar. Salah proved to be an excellent signing for the team as he scored 71 goals and made 24 assists during his first two seasons at the club, meaning that he was directly involved in 95 goals during these past couple of seasons. Moreover, he also cleverly bought in Virgil van Dijk, who despite his hefty signing fee of 75 million pounds, has had a massive impact in improving the team’s defense, something Liverpool was struggling with for the past few years. Van Dijk has also proven to be a massive leader who is also tactically skillful; this was shown during Liverpool’s game against Newcastle at St. James’ Park when he told Shaqiri to take a last minute free-kick instead of Trent Alexander Arnold. This was a smart command as Shaqiri masterfully delivered the ball to Divock Origi who headed in a goal to give Liverpool the final winning score of 3-2. After Loris Karius’s goalkeeping errors in the 2018 Champions League final, Klopp was quick to buy Alisson Becker from Roma and his impeccable performance in this year’s Champions League final speaks for itself, as he helped keep a clean sheet in Liverpool’s 2-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur. All in all, Klopp has built the team as a unit rather than a set of talented individuals who do not complement each other.



 Liverpool's Brazilian goalkeeper Allison Becker (R) and Liverpool's Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk react after Napoli's goal during the UEFA Champions League football match SSC Napoli vs Liverpool FC at the San Paolo Stadium. (Getty)

NEVER GIVE UP ATTITUDE

Throughout the season, Liverpool has been relentless and has displayed inspiring performances that exhibit how perseverance pays off. Last December’s Merseyside Derby seemed destined to end in a draw, but then Origi’s 96th-minute goal sent thunder waves across Anfield and caused Klopp to euphorically run into the field and hug Alisson.  A similar incident would happen in March when Liverpool was tied one all against Tottenham Hotspur, but Liverpool’s constant pressing caused Spurs to score a last minute own goal, which saw the Reds collect a crucial three points in the Premier League race. Despite the fact that they ended up runners up in the league, the team’s “never give up” spirit caused the competition to go into the last day of the tournament, which ultimately saw Manchester City crowned champions of England by just one point. Nevertheless, Liverpool’s point tally of 97 and a goal difference of 67 are impressive to say the least and would have made them champions in any other season. This attitude was also displayed during the Champions League, particularly after the team lost 3-0 against Barcelona in the first leg of the semi-final. This did not stop the team from believing as they made an incredible comeback in the second leg, which they won 4-0 and saw them through to their second European final in a row. What’s even more incredible about that game was the fact that Liverpool went in without Salah and Firmino, two key first team players who were injured at the time, and to make matters worse Barcelona’s first team had taken a week off. But none of that mattered as Liverpool kept playing with their relentless tactics and attitude, while Barcelona could not keep up with the Reds at home.



Mohamed Salah after Liverpool’s comeback against Barcelona. “Never Give Up” is one of the philosophies that Klopp instilled into his players. (Getty)

A LOOK INTO THE FUTURE

On June 1, 2019, Klopp and Liverpool’s efforts finally paid off as they won their sixth overall Champions League. On that night, Liverpool was able to put last year’s nightmare in Kiev behind them as they confidently regained their thrones as the kings of Europe. This victory marked Liverpool’s first major trophy since 2005, but this will hopefully be only the beginning of Klopp’s tournament success with the Reds. Having found victory in Europe, Klopp now has the goal of winning the Premier League with Liverpool something they haven’t done since 1990. Since they missed the mark by only one point, Klopp’s army will be keen to bring future domestic joy for their loyal supporters.

 


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