Jurgen Klopp signed for Liverpool just a little over two years ago. Since then, the German has overseen a revolutionary change in the football being played on the red half of Merseyside.
The summer of 2014 saw the then Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, having to sell arguably the most potent striker in world football at the time in Luis Suarez to Barcelona, and with it, the core of the S-S-S trio that ripped up Premier League defences at will the whole of the previous season, falling tantalisingly close to a first league title in over 2 decades. The following summer saw a similar scenario. It was characterised by the sale of rising star Raheem Sterling to Manchester City, in a deal estimated to be close to £49m after performance-related bonuses.
Unsurprisingly, with 2 of the 3 main attacking threats of Liverpool sold to European and English rivals, it was essential for the Reds to flex their muscle in the transfer market and attract some of the best talents that money could buy in a bid to replace the outgoing stars and add a new sense of dynamism to the squad. Unfortunately, this is where Rodgers failed.
The departures of Suarez and Sterling coincided with several lacklustre arrivals, some of them being Mario Balotelli, who failed to get off the ground at Liverpool; Lazar Markovic, who was unable to adapt to the Premier League; Divock Origi, categorised in the same bracket as Markovic; Adam Lallana, who, granted, has been quite an important cog in Liverpool’s engine when fit; Ricky Lambert, who was almost a buy 1 get 1 free signing from Southampton, and Christian Benteke, who just didn’t fit into the system, neither Rodgers’s, not Klopp’s.
Add to that list Dejan Lovren, and you couldn’t be faulted for questioning Liverpool’s transfer policy. There were 2 signings during that period who have really shone, and are absolutely pivotal to the Jurgen Klopp playing style even today – Roberto Firmino, a huge bargain at the price, and Emre Can, a personal favourite of mine.
When Klopp signed for Liverpool in Oct ’15, he asked the fans to bear with him for 4 years, at the end of which he promised a league title. It seemed quite a significant amount of time to ask for such a well reputed manager, but the magnitude of the change he was trying to bring about mandated something in that bracket. Liverpool’s style en route to the close of the 13/14 season was unprecedented. The pressing on display was so very quick, and so unrelenting, that teams found it a very difficult task to string 10 passes together.
And once the ball was won back, the front 3 of the 4-3-3 were given a free roam about the pitch. The chemistry and understanding between Sturridge, Suarez and Sterling reflected a brilliant mix of ‘total football’ and deliberate position swapping. Sadly, it was brought to a premature halt, and the attack Liverpool offered for the remainder of the time under Rodgers was underwhelming at best, with little to no dynamism and creative spark. Add to that Liverpool’s constantly leaky defence, and you had a recipe for disaster.
Klopp’s signings have been, by any comparison, crucial ones. He inherited an incomplete team, and mind you, it still is, but the players he has brought in, he has trained in his trademark ‘Klopp’ way – High pressing, high tempo and emphasis on attack way. Having disposed of several stars who were simply adding to the wage bill, he then purchased Sadio Mane, a true replacement for Raheem Sterling; Joel Matip, someone who has showed the occasional sign of brilliance, but has struggled to find consistency, partly owing to injuries and an unsuitable defensive partner; Georgino Wijnaldum, who has converted into a reliable central midfielder.
Admittedly, his signings haven’t been perfect either, with Loris Karius, Liverpool’s equivalent of Claudio Bravo, being an example. This summer, he continued his squad’s redevelopment, with Oxlade Chamberlain brought in to add further variety to an already evergreen attack, and the signing of the summer without a doubt in Mo Salah. Not only in terms of the impact, but the execution of the signing itself – Early identification, a not drawn-out negotiation, which is a rarity in today’s market, and in perfect time for pre-season with the new teammates. Also signed was Naby Keita, who will be joining Liverpool officially from the next season forth, adding steel to an otherwise defensively questionable midfield.
Now, Jurgen Klopp has Liverpool playing exactly the way he wants, with the high pressing by the front three, the recently departed Coutinho flourishing in the role of an inverted winger-come-playmaker, and Roberto Firmino having been successfully moulded into a number 9. The signing of Virgil Van Dijk for that astronomical amount of money underlines Klopp’s intentions of making his incomplete Liverpool team look more towards the finished article.
An important question for Klopp, and one which surprisingly, has gone under the radar, is the potential departure of Emre Can for a free transfer to whichever club offers him a contract. Can has played a huge role in the front 3 being able to thrive as much as they are, because he not only sits in front of the back line and defends, he also has an incredible stamina and a very good passing range, all at a considerably young age. He could potentially become Liverpool’s midfield enforcer for the next 5 years if they could convince him to stay. If he does leave, it creates a void in the centre of midfield, a situation Arsenal perpetually find themselves in, with their lack of a midfield general, as Jordan Henderson does his job well, but he can’t do it alone. Perhaps Naby Keita will be tailored to suit that particular requirement, but from what I can tell, he is a more offensively inclined player. Perhaps Leon Goretzka of Schalke, also a free agent in the summer, could help Liverpool’s aspirations, but he too, doesn’t possess the defensive skill set that Can offers.
Either way, this winter transfer window could make or break everything that Klopp has spent the better part of two years constructing, and potentially redefine his entire tenure at Liverpool football club.
Written by Ayush Verma.