Jurgen Klopp has now been manager of Liverpool football club for approaching two and a half seasons.
He has had five transfer windows to build his own team, to get his players playing in his system and to refine his tactical approach. His job as manager of Liverpool football club is to win trophies and that is what he will ultimately be judged on. In the big picture, nothing else matters.
Klopp is now just thirty games shy of the number of games Brendan Rodgers managed as boss before the hatchet came down on just over three trophy-less seasons. That figure of 166 matches will be equalled early next season. Time is running out. Rodgers came within a whisker of bringing the league title back to Anfield whilst Klopp has yet to mount a proper challenge. Their win percentages are almost identical. But how much have Liverpool really progressed?
A defining period for Liverpool and Klopp
Champions league qualification is some indication of progress. Liverpool have made it through the group stage and Porto await next week in the last 16. League performances have generally been good and it is hard to envisage any manager catching the runaway train that has been Manchester City this season.
However, an early exit in the league cup was followed by a home defeat to relegation threatened West Brom in the FA cup which means this will almost certainly be another barren season in terms of silverware.
You could argue that there is always hope with Liverpool in Europe, that we won in 2005 with a far weaker squad than we have now. There is some truth in this. However, in 2005 Liverpool had a tactical master in charge, a vital ingredient for achieving European success. Is Jurgen Klopp capable of the same? Unfortunately, the available evidence is not in his favour.
Klopp has put together a free scoring team that is easy on the eye and is at times breathtaking when they hit top form. However, after two and a half years and five transfer windows, there are still question marks hanging over so many different aspects of this squad.
The key issues to address
The goalkeeper situation is one that should have been sorted long ago.
By the end of this season, Simon Mignolet will have been at Anfield five years. You’ll struggle to find anyone at Anfield that thinks he is of the required standard for Liverpool football club. Some goalkeepers get nicknamed “the cat” for their leaping prowess but Mignolet should be given this nickname for the endless lives he seems to have. Just when you think his latest howler is one too many he somehow manages to come back for more.
Klopp clearly didn’t think much of him when he became manager as he went out and bought Loris Karius in his first season. Karius got off to a poor start and Mignolet got another life. Yet another howler against Arsenal before Xmas has let Karius back in and that surely has to be the end of the Belgian now? It is obvious Klopp doesnt rate him so to stick him back in for the West Brom cup game was just baffling. The ball was in his net four times and he barely made a save.
Karius has to be given the shirt until the end of the season. He had a good game against Spurs and I still have a glimmer of hope that there might just be something there. If he doesn’t step up though, a top quality replacement has to be bought in this summer.
The defence has been a huge problem since day one.
The goalkeeper situation hasn’t helped at all. The farcical pursuit of Virgil Van Dijk cost valuable points in the first half of the season. I have no doubt the ex-Southampton and Celtic man will be a fantastic acquisition as he has everything we need. He may not shine straight away however as he is surrounded by error prone individuals.
Dejan Lovren is another who has had far too many lives and has got to go in the summer. He does a good impression of a decent centre half much of the time but then the mask slips again and the ball is in the back of our net, again.
Joel Matip is having a very average season and there has to be question marks abut his long term future.
Ragnar Klavan has been our best centre back this season which should set alarm bells ringing.
Joe Gomez could well be Van Dijk’s long term partner but he still has a long way to go making numerous mistakes so far this season at right back where he doesn’t seem comfortable.
The stats show that Liverpool have actually gotten worse defensively under Klopp
Over 47 games last season, Liverpool conceded an average of a goal a game. Well past the half way marker this season, Klopp’s team are now averaging 1.24 goals conceded per game. He just doesn’t seem to know how to organise a team defensively. The midfield is a huge part of the problem offering very limited protection, with those selected constantly losing their runners. This team is desperate for a quality defensive midfielder to anchor the midfield.
Jordan Henderson has come in for a lot of criticism this season but is the best option we have at the moment. Emre Can cannot play defensive midfield. He is clumsy, lacks discipline and is caught in possession far too often. He was twice the player once moved further forward upon Henderson’s return against Huddersfield recently and he put in a man of the match performance.
Liverpool’s defensive record against the big teams has been extremely alarming this season. If we just look at matches against other “big 6” clubs as well as the one quality European opponent they have faced, Sevilla, Liverpool have conceded 23 goals in 10 games, keeping just 2 clean sheets! Klopp just doesn’t seem to be able to set the team up to stop quality opposition from scoring goals.
The consequence of this is a Playstation style shoot-out which is great for the neutral but hugely frustrating for Liverpool fans. We were 4-1 up at home against City a few weeks back with five minutes to play and I still wasn’t confident we’d won the game. And City came within inches of equalising in injury time.
Blowing leads is something Liverpool have got used to under Jurgen Klopp.
Forty five points have been dropped from winning positions since Klopp took charge, more than any other team in Europe! That is astonishing and not what you would expect from a top manager. Time and time again we have seen Liverpool collapse, often in the second half.
There are huge question marks about Klopp tactically. There is no plan B. He seems unable to organise a team defensively, unable to make a tactical change work in our favour. His in-game management is atrocious, quite frankly. Subs rarely make any impact on the game and I think we have scored maybe two goals in the last ten minutes of games all season. That we are not fit enough to play Klopp’s high tempo style is definitely a possibility.
After five transfer windows any manager should have the personnel he requires. Klopp has also lost five cup finals in a row now going back to his time in Germany, another indicator that he is not up to it tactically in big one-off games. Did Houllier or Benitez lose five finals in their entire careers?
Finally, we get to the issue that has undermined Liverpool for the last two decades, utter incompetency in the transfer market.
In Gerrard Houllier, Rafael Benitez and Brendan Rodgers, I believe Liverpool had managers capable of winning the premier league, had they signed the right players. Each one lost their job because of poor transfer business more than anything else.
All three were very good tacticians and could influence a game from the side lines. All three were torpedoed by a transfer window they couldn’t come back from.
Houllier won five trophies in 2001 and then went out and signed Diouf, Diao and Cheyrou in possibly the worst transfer window in the club’s history. That was the beginning of the end.
Benitez got to two champions league finals in three seasons but decided to replace Xabi Alonso with Alberto Aqualani and went on to make numerous other signings that lacked the quality required, Dossena, Riera, Kryiakos.
To be fair to Rafa, he had to put up with a lot of issues of the field and didn’t have the required financial backing.
However, he still mismanaged his budget in my opinion. Always signing 6-7 new players each season when spending that money on 2-3 quality additions would have made all the difference. He always seemed to be one quality player short.
I’m not even going to mention Rafa’s replacement and will go straight on to Kenny Dalglish, the last manager to win a trophy for the club.
Again, had he bought better then who knows what might have happened. Signing Carroll, Downing, Adam, Henderson (who had a terrible first season) and Enrique ended any chance he had.
Brendan Rodgers very nearly won the league but after losing Suarez went out and bought Ballotelli, Lambert, Lovren, Lallana (poor first season again), Origi and Moreno. It is a repeating pattern that has cursed Liverpool football club.
With Champions league football secured and a promising looking squad, last summer was supposed to be the moment where Klopp took the club to the next level. The whole world could see we needed a defender or two and more quality in midfield. The opportunity was squandered with Klopp claiming his number one targets were not available. It was crucial that he made amends in the winter window.
It looked so promising when he finally secured Van Dijk’s signature, there was no way we were letting Coutinho leave mid-season, we held all the aces with it being a World Cup year especially. Sulking wouldn’t have been an option if Coutinho wanted to keep his starting place in a star-studded Brazil side.
What happened next was unforgiveable and nothing short of gross negligence.
For years we were told the club wouldn’t be making any major January signings because “clubs don’t sell their best players in January”. Coutinho clearly wanted to leave but that just isn’t a relevant factor for me. He had a contract and there was no way on earth he should have been allowed to go.
The only possible way it could have been anyway acceptable would have been if a replacement was lined up ready to go. That’s how big football clubs operate, that’s why the Batshuayi, Aubameyang, Giroud transfer triangle went down to the last day of the window. Dortmund wouldn’t let Aubameyang go without a replacement, Chelsea wouldn’t let Batshuayi go without a replacement, Arsenal wouldn’t let Giroud go without Aubameyang signing, you see how this works Jurgen?
Liverpool let Coutinho go. Then they let Sturridge go, then they let any promising youngster who might be anywhere near the first team go, bar Ben Woodburn, who Klopp hasn’t seen fit to use all season. Seven players left in total and one came in.
On Sunday against Spurs, Lallana was the only missing front six player. Had one more got injured, Ben Woodburn would have made the bench. If any more than that get crocked, that’s it. There is literally nobody left to come in.
Every promising youngster (Ojo, Kent, Ejaria, Wilson and Grujic) is out on loan. Brewster is out for the season. Gross negligence! There is no depth to this squad anymore and a huge Coutinho shaped hole in the midfield.
Making the top four is still a good possibility, Chelsea are imploding, and Spurs are hugely reliant on Harry Kane. If we lose Firmino though, then we have just Solanke and Ings who haven’t scored a goal this season between them. If we lose Salah we are pretty much done. If we lose Van Dijk we are in a bad way at the back. If Mignolet comes back in, if Henderson gets injured again, if we have any sort of injury crisis at all…
If we’d kept Coutinho and actually signed a quality addition, as City did, as United did, as Spurs did, as Arsenal did, it might have been different.
Liverpool football club have had some very good managers in recent history. All departed on the back of poor transfer business. The responsibility for this latest disastrous transfer window lies squarely with Jurgen Klopp.
I’ve seen plenty on social media trying to point the fingers at the owners. There is no evidence at all that they have not backed the manager. If they haven’t backed him then it’s down to Klopp to let the supporters know, as Rafa did previously. He has repeatedly said he has a sizeable budget available but basically can’t find the players. This summer will almost certainly be his last window if it does not prove to be very successful. He should have the majority of the players he needed in place by now. Instead, he is probably going to have to sign a new goal keeper. A new centre back, a whole new midfield realistically (Coutinho has to be replaced, Keita is signed already and he MUST identify a defensive midfielder) and another forward option.
One of Klopp’s strong points was supposed to be that he was very good at developing talent. Unfortunately, this appears to be another area where he is making little progress. How many players can we say have improved under him? Firmino and Lallana maybe? Not Mignolet, not Karius, not Matip, not Lovren, not Can, not Wijnaldum, not Henderson, Mane has regressed this season, the youngsters all seem to be making very limited progress, Woodburn has hardly had a sniff, same with Danny Ward. Trent Arnold looks promising but is making lots of mistakes, same with Gomez, Solanke has shown nothing so far.
I’d love to believe that with the right signings, Klopp could go on and achieve great things at Liverpool. The evidence suggesting otherwise is considerable however. If you can’t operate affectively in the transfer market, if you can’t impact a game tactically beforehand or in-play, if you aren’t improving the players you already have…and you are the manager of Liverpool football club…..that’s not a situation that is likely to last very long.
I’d love to be proved wrong I really would, because if I’m right about my observations then we’re back here again, looking for a new manager wondering how much longer we are going to have to wait before we are winning trophies again, the only thing that matters.
Carl Rogan is a former football odds compiler and trader for a number of major bookmakers. As a scout he has written next opponent reports for Preston, Carlisle and other clubs in the North West. Carl lives in London and when he’s not covering games he is a regular at Anfield. Follow Carl on twitter: @crogan1979