In football you are only ever a few negative results away from a crisis. According to some, Liverpool’s winless run of four games is a warning sign that things are not quite right. Panic buttons have been well and truly pressed as Liverpool failed to be at their creative, menacing best against Manchester City on Sunday afternoon.
While some of the comments are not inaccurate, the disregard for the progress seen so far this season has been nothing short of blinkered. Context and longer memories are dying elements in the modern game, but they are important right now, and not just because we sit neck-and-neck at the top of the league.
It is three years to the day that Jurgen Klopp was unveiled as Liverpool’s new manager. In one of the most important and positive steps taken in nearly thirty years, Klopp took over at a club mired in mediocrity. Yes, it was wonderful to have appointed a proper manager for first time since 2004, but we all knew there would be no miracles overnight. He had a massive job on his hands.
A Look Back
Exactly three years ago, Liverpool were in a real mess. There was individual talent in the ranks for sure, but a collective mental fragility and a woeful defence had left Brendan Rodger’s Reds adrift and going backwards.
The club felt numb and insignificant with Gerrard gone and Sterling pinched by City. Klopp was exactly right when he said there was a lack of belief from the supporters. In all honesty – could you blame them?
Forty-eight goals had been shipped in during Rodger’s final full season. In fact his ‘goals conceded’ was at a ratio of 1.25 per game, a damning stat and a shackle for the club’s ambition. There was also a painful shortage of required quality in pretty much every department of the squad.
Sat tenth in the table and looking up at our rivals, assessing the damage; things felt more than a little flat at the club. Klopp inherited a side that was sinking to mid-table obscurity at a frightening pace. Make no mistake, the individual talent of the players at the club was simply not good enough on its own. They needed a motivator, an arse-kicker, someone who knew how to instill a fierce will to win. Enter Klopp, stage right.
Progress and Then Some
Reaching two finals within his first few months in charge was a precursor to just how good Klopp could make us. However, the real progress was in the bread and butter of the Premier League.
A horrible losing mentality had crept in since 2010 and had failed to improve under Brendan Rodgers. The Ulsterman lost almost a quarter of his Premier League fixtures, fifteen of which occurred in his final forty-six league games in charge.
A dark cloud of defeatism had settled over Anfield. You would often despair at going a goal behind in any game, such was the fragility of the team’s fighting spirit. The defence and goalkeeper were left to make a scrapbook of errors without any real threat to their cushy starting berths. Some fans shrugged and began to accept the mediocrity unfolding before them.
In stark contrast, in Klopp’s two full seasons in charge, he has lost only eleven league games. However, even at this stage last season, some bizarrely pointed to his similar points per game ratio to Rodgers. Apparently this was irrefutable evidence that the progress wasn’t all that impressive. Unfortunately for these naysayers though, 2018 happened.
A Year to Remember
Starting with Klavan’s boss winner in the final few seconds against Burnley, things got better and better this year for Klopp’s men. Van Dijk’s arrival finally added that extra layer of steal needed to help sure up the back four. Robertson’s promotion to first choice left back also coincided with the club’s march through the Champions League knockout stages.
Despite a thin squad, Klopp kept us on course for a top-four finish whilst talking scalps in Europe. The 5-1 aggregate win over City and the 5-2 semi final first leg victory over Roma should go down as some of the most pulsating, thrilling and outrageous football ever played by a Liverpool side. The final might have ended in a horrible defeat, but for us even to be there in May was a dazzling experience we will never forget.
As the new season dawned, another badly needed upgrade was acquired. Alisson’s £65million arrival was a booming statement of intent by the club. Half-measures would no longer be good enough. The owners seemed to have finally gotten a man they can back and boy have they seen their investments rewarded this year.
Some have lamented the misfiring front three and pointed out a noticeable drop off in the tempo and creativity. Yes it’s true, the front three look tired. They are all look short of their best. The performances are not right up there, but again the context is crucial. Before any moaning is done, it is important to remember that we have had our best ever start to a Premier League campaign. We haven’t conceded a goal in the League at Anfield since February, thanks to the wholesale upgrade and winning mentality brought in by Klopp.
Despite playing Chelsea, Spurs and City, we are unbeaten in the league and have conceded just three times. We have more points the Premier League and Champions League, and despite the obvious fatigue in the front three, we actually have two more goals in the league than at this stage last season. Twelve months ago, we looked incapable of seeing out a game and keep a clean sheet. This is now second nature as Gomez, Virgil and Alisson have all massively impressed.
The fact that some are saying we are not at our best could perhaps be taken as a positive. Imagine what this side could do once fully firing? Surely Klopp deserves more praise for getting a misfiring XI to be sat joint top of the table after eight games?
Three years under Klopp have flown by, but the progress has been staggering. The team now looks more than capable of challenging for the top honours. On October 4, 2015, a mistake from Emre Can gave Romelu Lukaku an easy tap in during a 1-1 draw at Goodison. Three years later and under Klopp we are the joint top of the league, and the only side to make Pep park the bus.