f there is an example as to the benefits of managerial stability in football, then Jurgen Klopp can surely stake a claim. Liverpool are looking ever more impressive under the German’s reign, with Saturday’s 5-1 demolition of Brighton the latest in a long line of eye-catching scorelines.
Under Klopp’s tenure, Liverpool are averaging exactly two goals a game. With the German well into his third season in charge, that’s an impressive return.
And it has come in the face of a shaky defence, a struggle to keep hold of the instrumental playmaker, Philippe Coutinho, who was the subject of fierce overtures from Barcelona last summer, and the frustration of niggling injuries throughout the squad that has forced the blooding of several youngsters.
The Achilles heel is that Liverpool still ship too many goals. Glenn Murray’s solitary reply for Brighton from the penalty spot was the 19th that Liverpool have conceded in the Premier League this season, one more than Swansea who are rock bottom.
And therein lies the smoking gun when looking for evidence of Liverpool’s success thus far. They score. They score a lot. Saturday’s 5-1 thumping took the reds to 33 goals for the season, third only to the dominant Manchester clubs, and in Mohamed Salah they have acquired the player of the season. The Egyptian may end up costing north of €50m but the proof is in the pudding. Salah is out alone as the Premier League’s top scorer this season. His 12 goals came at a rate of one every 94 minutes with 69% of his shots hitting the target. That’s higher than Harry Kane, Alvaro Morata, Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku.
As a Chelsea-supporting friend said to me: ‘Losing Lukaku and De Bruyne was bad enough, but Salah has turned out to be a shocking decision’. When you say it like that, and with Salah’s form not just this season but last year with Roma too, it does make you wonder if certain people over in west London have their heads screwed on the right way. Three outstanding players lost to arguably Chelsea’s three biggest rivals.
Salah typifies Jurgen Klopp’s approach to football. Outscore the opposition. Now that may sound like the most fundamental principle of the game but there is a multitude of ways to go about it. Jose Mourinho starts with a rock solid defence and relies on an attacking unit to score. Tony Pulis is the same, preferring to win games by scoring a single goal. But Klopp is different. There isn’t exactly a casual disregard for defending, it’s just that the emphasis is on scoring with every attack. Liverpool do not keep the ball for the sake of keeping the ball like Manchester City sometimes do and Arsenal certainly do. Every time Liverpool have the ball it is their intention to go forward and score and believe me, that is not how top-level football is supposed to work.
Many teams will keep the ball to give themselves a breather. And many teams will keep the ball to tire the opposition out in order to open up a space later in the match when the opposition players have become fatigued. I’ve been on both sides of the divide. But Klopp isn’t having any of it. Chess-like football does not interest him. Which is great for the rest of us. Liverpool have treated the neutral to some fine attacking football this season that have yielded one goalfest after another. Already in games this season the Reds have scored three or more on no fewer than 12 occasions. Who knows what they could achieve with two decent centre-halves?
Although Klopp does not place as much emphasis on defending as he does attacking, the centre of his defence is surely a priority next summer, particularly if they qualify for the Champions League — they’re currently fourth. The prospect of Europe’s finest strikers lining up against Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, and Ragnar Klavan should keep Klopp tossing and turning at night. Indeed, so thin are Liverpool in the centre of defence, that on Saturday Klopp was forced to field a back three of Emre Can, Dejan Lovren, and Georginio Wijnaldum. That may work against Brighton but it won’t fly in Europe’s elite competition. Wijnadum even admitted he didn’t know what he was doing, having never played in defence before.
But at least the problem is obvious for Klopp. There is nothing worse than being in a team that appears as if it has everything but can’t put a result together.
If the former Dortmund manager receives the money to plug the centre of his defence, then Liverpool will not be far away.
And that would make me happy. It really would. Even as a Spurs fan. I admit to having a soft spot for Liverpool. And I’ll also admit to something else, Anfield is the only stadium that has made me choke up as I walked out from the tunnel and up into the light. There is something about hearing ‘Walk on’ and seeing those huge flags decorated in the club’s history. Shankley, Fagan, Paisley Dalglish, Benitez, all that history, all that success, all of it celebrated in the most awe-inspiring way. No other club in England celebrates what football means to the people and what it means to play the game better than Liverpool.
The Premier League needs a successful Liverpool, and the people of Liverpool deserve a successful club. But for the banning of English clubs from Europe in the 1980s and later the tragedy of Hillsborough, Liverpool would arguably have remained as England’s elite club.
I’m genuinely hopeful that Jurgen Klopp can return the club to its former glory. And he’s on the right path. Stability comes in many forms, whether it is shoring up an average back line or digging out a player that another club couldn’t see the value in. But it is always built on the same foundation and that is a manager that is given time.