Seven Klopp ages: Liverpool’s journey from his call to Paris | Liverpool

2015-16

Jurgen Klopp had only worked with Liverpool’s squad for three days before his first game. As such, he could have been forgiven for sticking to the tactical lineup and style of his predecessor Brendan Rodgers. Instead, he went all out counterpressing from the beginning.

The team organized in Klopp’s favored 4-3-3 and got in each other’s way. Tottenham didn’t know what hit them, literally at times, as their opponents pushed relentlessly. There was a desire to gain possession quickly and use it even more quickly, and the afternoon ended with Liverpool covering more distance than in any previous game this season and becoming the first team to run further than Spurs (116km to 114, 8 kilometers).

The revolution was underway immediately but it was obvious there was still work to be done: Liverpool’s game was at times unrefined and thoroughly chaotic and remained so for the remainder of the season. The weaknesses were evident in the two finals they reached against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup and Sevilla in the Europa League, the latter a particularly sobering event as defeat meant not only missing out on the trophy but also missing out on Champions League qualification.

Liverpool starting XI, 2015-16
Starting XI: Tottenham 0-0 Liverpool, 17 October 2015.

2016-17

Liverpool recorded that fourth league win and third in a row at the start of Klopp’s first full season in a performance that really showed the German was delivering on his promise of bringing heavy metal football to Anfield.

The hosts were superb against Mike Phelan’s Hull and the key were two changes up front: Roberto Firmino picking up a false 9 position, introduced in last season’s 4-1 win at Manchester City, and the uptake by Sadio Mané after his summer arrival from Southampton. Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool spent £30m on the Senegalese but he injected devastating speed and ruthlessness and it was a measure of his importance that Liverpool’s quest for the title essentially collapsed while he was in the service of the African Nations cup was.

Liverpool also signed Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle for £25million in the summer of 2016 and, like Mané, the midfielder played a significant role in the side that secured Champions League football with a fourth-place finish.

Liverpool starting XI, 2016-17
Starting XI: Liverpool 5-1 Hull, 24 September 2016.

2017-18

Ask Liverpool supporters about their favorite season under Klopp and it’s possible many would pick 2017-18, even though it ended without trophies and with a Champions League final defeat by Real Madrid in Kyiv. That’s because the football was rousing from a team that heralded glory to come.

Klopp had the energetic, high-profile full-backs he had wanted since arriving at Trent, Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson – the latter an £8m purchase from Hull which highlighted Klopp’s keen eye for unheralded talent – and ahead most notably a world-class centre-back in Virgil van Dijk, who was bought by Southampton in January for a club-record £75million. The deal was funded with part of the £142m Barcelona paid for Philippe Coutinho this month. The Brazilian was a huge loss but Liverpool fans got over it as Van Dijk brought calm and order to the back line and allowed the team to play higher up the pitch with his superb positioning, awareness and pace. His arrival was groundbreaking.

Speaking of which, this was also the season that saw Mohamed Salah join from Roma for £36.9million, scoring 44 goals in 52 games. The Egyptian completed one of the greatest frontlines in English football history. The trio demonstrated their skills individually and collectively in February’s Champions League round of 16 first leg against Porto. Mané scored a hat-trick while Salah and Firmino scored one each.

Liverpool starting XI, 2017-18
Starting XI: Porto 0-5 Liverpool, 14 February 2018.

2018-19

Another season, another Champions League final and this time Liverpool triumphed. One of the most obvious reasons was a goalkeeper change. Loris Karius had essentially cost Liverpool in Kyiv and Klopp, who had been loyal to him and Simon Mignolet for some time, realized he needed a real world-class No1. Step forward Alisson, who joined from Roma in July 2018 for £65million – essentially the remainder of Coutinho’s money – capped a stellar season with a stellar performance against Tottenham in Madrid, making eight saves.

Like Van Dijk, Alisson was a game changer, the Brazilian combining superior technical ability and safety with speed and positional awareness, meaning he fitted seamlessly into a team playing from a high line.

Another major signing of summer 2018 was another Brazilian: Fabinho. Klopp appeared content not to field a specialized defensive midfielder, but he grabbed one following Emre Can’s departure to Juventus. Fabinho took time to settle down after arriving from £40million from Monaco but was fully established by the turn of the year, his athleticism, aggression and technical quality bringing greater confidence to a Liverpool side who were in and out of possession on a level that grew reflected not only in Europe, but also at home, where they accumulated 97 points and missed out on the title against Manchester City by one point. It was the birth of Klopp’s “mentality monsters”.

Liverpool starting XI, 2018-19
Starting XI: Tottenham 0-2 Liverpool, 1 June 2019.

2019-20

The team that won Liverpool’s first title in 30 years – as well as the Super Cup and Club World Cup – was essentially the same as last season. They had momentum and faith and made it count to all but complete the championship before the pandemic forced a hiatus.

If there was a change, it was in central defence. Joël Matip excelled alongside Van Dijk in the 2018/19 season but the following season, serious knee and ankle injuries limited him to 13 appearances. He was replaced by Joe Gomez, Van Dijk’s regular partner in 2018-19 until he sustained a serious ankle injury in December.

Returning to full fitness, Gomez made 43 appearances in 2019/20, including beating Crystal Palace on a warm evening at a nearly empty Anfield that put Liverpool within range of the title. After Manchester City’s loss to Chelsea the following night, they won it without playing again.

Liverpool starting XI, 2019-20
Starting XI: Liverpool 4-0 Crystal Palace, 24 June 2020.

2020-21

In Liverpool’s first season as champions since 1990/91, Klopp took on a firefighting role after losing Van Dijk, Matip and Gomez to long-term injuries. With Dejan Lovren also joining Zenit St. Petersburg in the summer, the coach found himself in a hole in the centre-back and tried different solutions, including using Jordan Henderson and Fabinho as a partnership. It caused the midfield and the squad to collapse.

Klopp signed two defenders in January – Ben Davies from Preston for £1.6million and Ozan Kabak from Schalke on loan. The former never played and the latter struggled with a side that had lost their way, evident in a run of six straight home defeats in the league. A lack of spectators contributed to the slump and while there was nothing Klopp could do about it, he was able to remedy the deficiencies on the pitch by reaching out to two academy graduates. Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams started together at central defense in each of the five season-ending victories that secured Champions League qualification, including a 4-2 win at Old Trafford. Aged 24 and 20 respectively, the couple was raw but showed maturity under difficult circumstances.

Other factors contributed to Liverpool’s revival, including performances by summer signings Thiago Alcântara and Diogo Jota. And then there was Alisson’s header at the Hawthorns, an exceptional moment that reinforced the feeling that this is a once-in-a-lifetime campaign in the Klopp timeline.

Liverpool starting XI, 2020-21
Starting XI: Manchester United 2-4 Liverpool, 13 May 2021.

2021-22

Klopp’s last season was one in which his experienced centre-backs have returned and in general he has been able to lean on the players who have served him so well for so long. But it has also seen a remarkable renewal of its resources.

This was most noticeable at the front. Luis Díaz has been a revelation since he joined from Porto for £37million in January. His speed, skill, aggression and hard work make him a perfect match. And the Colombian’s influence has been such that Klopp put Mané in a central position to house the pair. Jota has also featured prominently, meaning Firmino is increasingly on the sidelines, albeit partly through injury.

In central defence, Ibrahima Konaté has shown supreme presence after joining from RB Leipzig for £36m and in midfield Thiago has established himself as fundamental, with his passing range bringing new and sometimes amazing levels of control and penetration. He and Fabinho are first-choice favourites, with Naby Keïta being picked more often than Jordan Henderson as a third midfielder following Wijnaldum’s summer move to Paris Saint-Germain. The Dutchman’s departure also opened the door for Harvey Elliott to play more, something the 19-year-old realized before suffering a serious injury in September. Elliott has been in action ever since and, as with Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Williams and Elliott’s fellow midfielder Curtis Jones, it speaks to the manager’s willingness to trust the right young player at the right time.

Liverpool starting XI, 2021-22
Starting XI: Manchester City 2-3 Liverpool, 16 April 2022.

This appears to be Klopp’s third great team after those of 2017-18 and 2018-20, exemplified in April’s FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City when Liverpool took a 3-0 lead through football as positive and determined as anything, what has been seen during the past seven years. Injuries permitting, the same eleven could face Real Madrid in Paris as the team chase a third trophy, showing not only how much Liverpool have changed under Klopp but how much is still to come.

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