On October 9th, 2015, Liverpool fans around the world united like never before as former Borussia Dortmund manager — and the most charismatic managerial figure in the game — Jurgen Klopp would be arriving at Anfield to take control of the five time European champions. A new era had begun.
It’s been nearly three months since that fateful day and while the mood has been lifted at Anfield, result-wise, things seem to be the same. Brendan Rodgers only got 12 points out of a possible 24 this season while Klopp currently has 15 points out of a possible 30. This is unfair on Klopp however, as it’s not his team, but regardless, there have been definite upgrades in most aspects of Liverpool’s games since the German took over — here are the five that stand out.
1. Distance covered
Liverpool have covered much more ground since Jurgen Klopp arrived. The manager prefers a quick approach to the game, giving his players all the work in the world, so that the other team doesn’t get time to do any operate. This effectively means that every outfield player at the club has to work his socks off on the pitch.
In his very first game in charge of Liverpool, Klopp’s players became the first team to outrun opponents Tottenham Hotspur in the league this season – they ran a combined of 116 kilometres, as compared to Spurs’ 112.
This was also an immediate improvement over Rodgers’ best this season – a 108 kilometres. Although that game ended in a stalemate, the players knew what was coming. Distance covered shouldn’t be the new possession but it’s been an improvement seeing Liverpool press teams more by covering more ground.
2. Winning the ball back
Some people would misunderstand this aspect of Klopp’s style, assuming it’s similar to the first point. However, that isn’t the case. Running around aimlessly and improving the stats is one thing — running with a purpose and in order to achieve something important that affects the ongoing game is a whole other thing.
Klopp deploys a moderately famous style of play called gegenpressing, which can be best summarized as running relentlessly, covering as much area as you possibly can, playing the best counter attacking football, and most importantly – winning back the ball as soon as it is given away.
Players like Adam Lallana to Dejan Lovren have taken to this style beautifully and as a result, Liverpool have benefited. The team has won the ball more in the final third since November than any team in the league bar two. Dejan Lovren has won the ball more times than any of his teammates, surprisingly, he has won the ball almost as many times in the opponent’s half as he has in his own. That’s what Klopp has done — made Liverpool a more hungry team.
3. Performance against the big teams
Liverpool are strange. Strange in the way that they give a world class performance one week, and play like a Sunday league side the other. The Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp has not fared very well against teams like Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion or Crystal Palace, but they have ripped apart the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City.
In Klopp’s first big fixture, his side shattered Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a comprehensive 3-1 win. An even more impressive win came against title favourites Manchester City at the Etihad, where Milner and company ran Manuel Pellegrini’s men ragged in a humiliating 4-1 victory. Most recently, Anfield welcomed the most in form team in the country, Leicester City and prevailed.
This season, Liverpool have gathered 7 points (joint most with Arsenal) in fixtures consisting of the five major clubs of the league — and Klopp was involved in 6 of those. A stat to be proud of, and the plaudits go to one man.
4. The comeback factor
Rodgers’ Liverpool was involved in only two comeback victories in the entirety of the 2014-2015 season — Klopp had two comeback victories in his first six weeks in charge.
Managing to win from a losing position three times under Klopp overall, Liverpool have also drawn once from a losing position. This aspect of the game is, however, not one which can be explained through results alone. The Liverpool under Rodgers looked depleted and finished when it went down — the Liverpool under Klopp looks rejuvenated and hungry for success.
This is exemplified by their 96th minute equalizing goal that Divock Origi scored against West Brom, a game where Liverpool went down but did not give up, not even for one second. It’s also very clear by seeing the difference in their attitude towards the game against Manchester United at Old Trafford, and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
When Rodgers’ Liverpool went a goal down against United, they tried to attack and get one back, but the team looked more like a bunch of individuals trying to hocus pocus their way past David de Gea, not like a team of people who know each other’s movements and have the drive to fight back. They ended up conceding another, and eventually lost the game 3-1.
Against Mourinho’s men, Liverpool faced a similar scenario — but Klopp’s side gave a completely different response. They conceded in the 2nd minute itself, but that did not hinder what one would have suspected to have been their original approach to the game. In fact, going a goal down gave them that much more incentive to take away all three points, which due to their constant pressing and attacking, they did. An exact reverse had happened. The team that lost 3-1 at Old Trafford, won 3-1 at Stamford Bridge. The change was evident.
To anyone who follows the club, the newfound drive and passion is there for all to see. Fans are no longer afraid when they go a goal down, as compared to one season ago where they had their heads down in the same scenario.
5. Man management
The shock of the month of November was not that Leicester City still managed to hold their position in the top two — it was that Dejan Lovren had been nominated for the Barclays player of the month.
Since he was signed by Rodgers last season, Lovren has arguably been the worst Liverpool player, giving subpar performances week in, week out and just looking like a shadow of the player who performed so well for Southampton.
That all changed the moment Klopp arrived in England. The Lovren that the fans see now is so improved and confident, it begs the question, where was this man last season? Lovren got back to his basics and against Leicester, had a very impressive performance at the back, cleaning up the mistakes of Mamadou Sakho as well as keeping Jamie Vardy quiet.
Another player which the manager has given chances is Divock Origi. Along with the 96th minute equalizer against West Brom, the 19-year-old also became the first Liverpool player ever to score a hat-trick at St.Mary’s in what was a 6-1 win over Southampton in the Capital One Cup.
Apart from these two, Adam Lallana has created more chances and completed more dribbles and take-ons, Roberto Firmino has provided four assists and scored one goal and Alberto Moreno has become the most creative defender in the league, even creating more chances than his midfield teammates.
Alberto Moreno has created 35 chances this season in the BPL, more than Coutinho (23), Firmino (17) and Lallana (16). #LFC
— Liverpool FC News (@4ever_liverpool) December 29, 2015
All this points to one thing – Jurgen Klopp is an excellent man manager who knows his players’ weaknesses and strengths inside out. Backing Simon Mignolet when the goalkeeper was going through a rough phase while praising Christian Benteke when the fans doubted his ability — the manager sure knows how to earn the respect and loyalty of his players.
A win against Sunderland would see Liverpool level with arch rivals Manchester United — the clubs were six points apart on the table, and miles apart in gameplay when Klopp arrived. It has only been 11 weeks since the German took over the club, and yet, the club already looks different.
It’s still early days but these improvements may just be the tip of the iceberg, in what could be a managerial era that will be remembered for years to come.