Liverpool was the club to watch out for during the 70s and 80s when legends Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley led the club to 11 League titles and seven European trophies. However, to the dismay of the supporters, the club was unable to find a figure who could lead the same way as their former heroes. Rafael Benitez, Gerard Houllier were some of the managers who took up the gaffer’s role but even then there was much left to be desired. The league trophy continued to elude the club, and even though the UCL win in Istanbul and the domestic cups sweetened the bitter taste, there was no one who could be looked upon as a reliable figure like Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex were for their respective clubs.
Steven Gerrard arguably one of the greatest players ever was also affected as a result of this inconsistency. He expressed his desire to leave for Chelsea after being attracted by the glitz, glamour and promise that Roman Abramovich brought after purchasing the club and appointed Jose Mourinho, the self-proclaimed “Special One” giving him a free hand in spending money like water to get the players required to challenge for the major trophies. Though the situation did not end with Gerrard leaving the club much to the relief of the supporters, the on-field performances regressed after the 2008-09 season when the club finished runner-ups to Manchester United to such an extent that Benitez was sacked in the 2009-10 season with Fulham Manager Roy Hodgson taking up the role.
Hodgson had a bad run and was sacked soon with fan favourite Kenny Dalglish appointed as the gaffer. There were expectations that the Messiah who could lead the club to glory in these troubled times had finally arrived. However, the optimism quickly evaporated when the club ended the Premier League campaign with their worst league position in 18 years leading to Brendan Rodgers’s appointment.
In the 2013–14 season, Liverpool mounted an unexpected title charge to finish second behind champions Manchester City led by Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling in a season where the winning attitude and drive was finally back. Luis Suarez bounced back from the transfer saga controversy linking him to Arsenal with aplomb. Goals were scored with such disdain for the defence that you could not help feeling sorry for the defenders forced to handle such an impossible situation. They subsequently returned to the Champions League, scoring 101 goals in the process, the most since the 106 scored in the 1895–96 season.
Raheem Sterling had left in a£50 million move for Manchester City with the talisman Luis Suarez leaving for Barcelona. Sadly all the efforts by Rodgers to replace Suarez with him pursuing Sanchez failed. All the detractors started labelling the 2013/14 season a fluke only possible because of the efforts by Suarez. The believers slowly began dwindling in number.
Jürgen Klopp was a manager who took the Bundesliga by storm with Borussia Dortmund. His attacking footballing style won him many fans. His ability to unearth stars like Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski and Ilkay Gundogan was hailed, and he was someone other clubs started keeping an eye on about his potential availability. A less than impressive season resulted in him quitting the role. He was linked to the Bayern job, but Klopp stated his desire to work “in a club which needed him”.
Liverpool appointed him in a stunning show of ambition with the pundits hailing it as a splendid move. There was a great deal of interest in the changes Klopp brought in the overall set – up. Brendan Rodgers was someone whose tactics were sometimes labelled baffling, ridiculed and rarely praised.
Klopp decided to bring his style of play which was flexible and at the same time disciplined in nature. However, the lack of confidence the team displayed on the field and the missing winning attitude made him take notice of the lacunas the team had. Klopp inherited a squad which consisted of players like Divock Origi who had been named in the ‘Ligue 1- Worst Team of the Season’ and a defence which was famous for leaking goals on a frequent basis with the performances being likened to Bambi on Ice.
Dejan Lovren who had moved from Southampton in a big money move was ridiculed for his poor positioning. His first game against Spurs was an indication of things to come with Lucas, Emre Can and James Milner forming a three in midfield. There were early signs of the famous “Gegenpressing” tactic. Pressing which was nothing new in English football suddenly had a certain madness to it. The formations were changed frequently leaving the opposition baffled over which one will finally be played out.
There was a great deal of confusion over how to get the best out of players like Firmino and Sturridge, but Klopp made Firmino an essential part of his system as the No.9.
“No playmaker in the world can be as good as a counter pressing situation”.
– Jurgen Klopp
The system required a significant amount of exertion as the players needed to effectively neutralize the opposition before finally making a strong move on the counter leaving the opposition dazzled. Any mistake at any stage could lead to a goal getting conceded which was not a price Klopp was willing to pay. Adapting to the system needed its fair share of time as the squad could not acclimatise to the new system overnight.
Initially, results were not very positive as the side struggled to adapt to his tactics with the fans anticipating an early group stage exit with a low league position putting the nail on the coffin. However, the fans were in for a surprise when the club started displaying the same ruthlessness and attacking mindset that was observed during the 2013/14 season.
The difference was that this was no one man army system at play with a team based gameplay clearly observed. Emre Can who was purchased by Rodgers but did not enjoy a prominent role suddenly became the man fans started looking up for solid German gameplay. Liverpool Legend Sami Hypia was glowing in his praise when he expressed his belief that Can and will have a great career at Liverpool.
Adam Lallana who fans believed had not lived up to his potential suddenly became an integral part under Jürgen Klopp. Coutinho who the fans adored and believed in was in the thick of things with his glorious long-range bangers and assists.
However, the biggest shock of the season was the re-emergence of Divock Origi under Jürgen Klopp in such a way that he went on to bench Daniel Sturridge who was a fan favourite. Christian Benteke found himself warming the bench as he did not fit into Liverpool’s gameplay. Mamadou Sakho formed a solid CB partnership with Lovren who gave the fans a glimpse into why Rodgers had considered him as someone whose services Liverpool required.
James Milner who had come on a free transfer under Rodgers quickly blossomed under Klopp. He was an invaluable member of the team which went on to trump big-time rivals Manchester United in the Round of 16 in the Europa League. Milner was also a crucial member of the teams that made several comebacks noteworthy being the 5-4 Norwich win.
Klopp inspired the club to reach the Europa League final with the Quarterfinal clash against Borussia Dortmund going on to become special for the Kopites and providing a feel similar to that of Istanbul with the second half comeback in the second leg at home where four goals were scored leaving the audience wild with happiness.
The campaign ended on a heartbreaking note with a loss in the final against Sevilla FC which took away the only chance the Reds had of playing UCL football next season. Klopp quickly bounced back from the disappointment of the loss with the purchases of Mane, Matip, Marko Grujic and Georginio Wijnaldum which helped him further implement his tactics on the field.
Liverpool have undergone a significant transformation over the years with the addition of the likes of quality players like Mohammad Salah, Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and most recently Roma goalkeeper Alisson. The club’s performances in the Champions League and the Premier League have been optimistic, to say the least with Liverpool emerging as finalists in the previous edition of the Champions League.
Klopp provides Liverpool hope that they can go on to reach the same heights that they had achieved during the 1980’s, in the process going on to reclaim their position amongst the top teams of the world.The attacking style of football with the solid team play is precisely the approach every Kopite desires. It also happens to be exactly what Klopp has always encouraged. The German manager has emphasised that he will be targeting trophies with Liverpool in every season which is music to the ears of Liverpool fans. There is hope that lifting the Premier League Trophy which has evaded them all these years will soon become a reality this season.