This past Saturday, Jurgen Klopp celebrated his first anniversary as manager of Liverpool Football Club. The match, a rainy 2-1 victory over Swansea City at Liberty Stadium, shot Liverpool up to second place on the Premier League table at the time. And while Liverpool still displayed their typical flaws (set-piece worries, spotty goalkeeping), the second half performance was a statement to the rest of England: this club is the most exciting team in the country and has what it takes to contend for the title.
In many ways, Saturday’s victory over Swansea was a glaring display of just how different this side is under Klopp’s regime as opposed to that of former boss Brendan Rodgers. In the first half, Liverpool came out slow and failed to present any real threats. The club went down by a goal at the break courtesy of Leroy Fer’s early score and faced the possibility of dropping points to a woeful Swansea side that had not won since the first match of the season.
Then the men in red stepped onto the water-heavy pitch for the second half and promptly leveled things. Roberto Firmino’s grazing header found the back of the net, and it was off to the races. Liverpool dominated possession, wreaked havoc in the box, and eventually earned a penalty that would seal the three points. It was that resilience, effort, and perseverance – all qualities that Klopp has instilled since taking over 12 months ago – that were absent from the first half. And when the turnaround occurred, it was like a completely different team emerged from the locker room; one that wanted the win more than the opponent, one that looked like they could score on anyone.
Now, one may hesitate in dubbing Liverpool the “Showtime Lakers of the EPL,” but entering the weekend’s action, Liverpool were first in the league in shots per game (20), shots on target per game (7), and chances created per game (16). The club also were first in sprints per game (588), average distance covered (116 km per game), passes in opposition half (377 per game), and were second best in possession percentage (61%). The victory shot their goal tally on the season to 18 in league play (24 in all competitions), which ranks them tied for first with Manchester City.
What does this all mean? No team runs like Liverpool, no team presses like Liverpool, and no team passes like Liverpool. Just look at the build-up play leading to this Philippe Coutinho goal against Arsenal:
Count along. That is 19 unchallenged passes to earn a slick finish from the Brazilian international.
Klopp sides are fluid and versatile, as were Borussia Dortmund during the German’s tenure in charge there. Liverpool no longer sit back defensively and attempt to win 1-0 on a counter-attack goal (this was often the case under Rodgers). Rather, Klopp has this squad pressing higher on the pitch to create chances and draw defenders out of place.
Liverpool feature four of the most talented attacking players in England today. Daniel Sturridge (2 goals in all competitions) has scored at near 2:1 game-to-goal ratio throughout his Liverpool career, while the aforementioned Coutinho (4 goals) is absolutely lethal from long-range freekicks. Roberto Firmino (4 goals), who was brought in two summers ago and struggled to find his footing under Rodgers’ management, now fits like a glove in Klopp’s system. Unlike the forwards that have failed since Klopp’s arrival, such as record-breaking singing Christian Benteke, Firmino’s ability to run, press with intensity, and consistently close-in on the ball earns him a spot up front on match day. Then there’s the surprise signing of the summer for Liverpool: Sadio Mané (3 goals). Liverpool supporters haven’t seen a player dribble like this since Luis Suarez.
So, yes, this team can attack with the best of them. Does this mean you should immediately place your bets on Liverpool hoisting the title next May? Well, although this team can score goals, they do concede as well. In fact, entering the third month of the season, Liverpool have yet to tally a cleansheet in league play. Part of this was a goalkeeper issue early on (Loris Karius injured his hand in the preseason and Simon Mignolet has had his fair share of struggles), and part of this has been the left-back conundrum for Klopp. After not signing a true LB in the summer and opting to start the season with Alberto Moreno at the position, the defense started leaking goals. James Milner’s move from the midfield to LB to replace Moreno has featured some growing pains, but the crafty veteran seems to be growing into the spot.
Liverpool have only lost one game this season, and that was a Burnley match where they dominated possession for 81% of the time and miraculously failed to score. However, their six other matches this season have featured away victories over Arsenal (currently level with Liverpool for 3rd in the league) and Chelsea, a home victory over defending-champions Leicester City, and a rigorous away draw against Tottenham (currently 2nd in the league). Round that out with the aforementioned victory over Swansea and a 5-1 dismantling of Hull City, and it is quite obvious that Klopp has this Liverpool side rolling on all cylinders.
On this goal, great communication by Jordan Henderson and Mané, spotting that the goalkeeper was out of position, and some nifty footwork to finish things off.
Now look around to the other big clubs in England. Manchester United entered the season after a summer of pomp and circumstance, seemingly being anointed Premier League champions before the season ever really got going. To be fair, bringing in Jose Mourinho as manager and signing players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba will get the pundits talking about your club. But let’s be honest here: Manchester United are boring. Wayne Rooney is off to what could be the worst (and possibly last) season of his career; he does not provide really anything on either side of the ball. Ibrahimovic is past his prime and mostly stands in the box waiting for a chance to get his head on the ball. Pogba, while talented, has yet to meet the expectations of his £89.3 million price tag (1 goal in 8 appearances across all competitions).
Manchester City, meanwhile, sitting in the top spot on the league table, having won six of their first seven matches this season, are a great side, but their success comes from how talented they are. Sergio Aguero is hands-down one of the best forwards on the planet, Kevin De Bruyne has emerged as a star in the league, and shrewd signings like John Stones is helping fill out their defense. But with a team that spends as much money as Manchester City does (net spending of £162 mil this past summer, which was most by any club in the league), they’re expected to contend for the title. Although Pep Guardiola’s City side is 2 points the better to Liverpool thus far, it can be argued that Klopp has gotten more out of less given the squad he has (for comparison, Liverpool’s net spending for the summer was only £2.3 mil). And the end result all comes down to Klopp’s style of play; a style that is fast-paced and beautiful to watch.
Again, will Liverpool win the title? Who really knows? However, in the past calendar year, Jurgen Klopp has instilled a work ethic and style in this club that is unlike anything else in England at the moment – and we as football viewers are finally seeing the fruits of their labor. It is run-and-gun, it is intense, and it results in high-scoring affairs. Not only that, but this team is oozing with swagger at the moment.
Maybe it would be more apt to call them Showtime after all.