After Liverpool blew their seemingly unassailable 3-0 lead on Tuesday night away in Seville, it occurred to me that we are probably one of the only sides in Europe who wouldn’t have won that game from the half-time position. Even leading 3-2 with seconds to play, I find it hard to believe that many other teams would have been so reckless in seeing out the game. After the game the usual grumblings calling for Klopp’s head could be heard from some (albeit a minority of) fans.
However, after a frustrating few years, are these doubters right, and are Liverpool fans blinded by the likability of the big German, or is there a far bigger problem manifesting itself at the club?
Is Klopp the issue?
The charismatic German, for me, has only been a positive thing for this football club. All you have to do is compare the squad from when he took over, to now. When Klopp took over Benteke and Origi were the first two strikers in the pecking order, but such is the nature of our squad nowadays that both have been deemed surplus to requirements and sent packing. Our midfield no longer boasts Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva in and around the starting eleven, and we even have more depth at the back with strong backups in both full-back positions.
The reason for this is that Klopp is one of the best managers in the Premier League for making signings. Never one to go crazy with money, Jurgen has bought shrewdly and on his terms, and there’s a case to be made that he hasn’t made a bad signing so far. Klavan and Matip aren’t world beaters, but getting them both for a combined £4 million was brilliant business, and although the jury may be out on arrivals like Karius, Grujic, Robertson and Chamberlain, they are all young with time to develop and become first team regulars. Solanke looks a very effective option for Liverpool with a bright future, and Wijnaldum has arguably been transformed into our best central midfielder. And it goes without saying that Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have been two of the most effective signings Liverpool have made this century.
Not only have the transfers looked good on paper, results have also taken an upwards swing. I am sick and tired of seeing comparisons between the win percentage records of Rodgers and Klopp; in 2013/14 Rodgers was helped by a certain Uruguayan having the best season of any Liverpool player in recent memory, and I believe the league has become much more difficult even since then, with the arrival of Pep, Pochettino and Conte meaning the big clubs are improving all the time. Even so, Klopp secured a top four finish last season, (his first full season), a feat which Rodgers achieved just once in his tenure. The faltering forward play of Rodgers’ final years has been transformed, and Klopp has managed to take us to two cup finals which we were unlucky not to win at least one of.
Perhaps Klopp’s only real mistake thus far has been to not have a backup centre back in mind just in case Van-Dijk’s seemingly impending transfer fell through. It came out this week that Klopp tried to sign three other wingers before landing on Salah, and it astounds me that he couldn’t find a suitable defender that would have made us more solid after Southampton wouldn’t budge. However, I fully believe Klopp will rectify this in January which will be a big boost to our chances of progressing far in the Champions League and securing another top four finish.
The real problem
While some Liverpool and the vast majority of opposition fans like to slate Klopp and blame him for Liverpool’s lack of success, the far more pertinent issue at hand is created by these fans themselves.
Every single time I go to Anfield, the atmosphere during ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is superb, and then near silence descends upon the ground for the 90 minutes that follow it. It is almost as if people are either afraid of singing for fear of getting odd looks from those around them who just wanted a nice day out at the football. At the biggest games the atmosphere of old can be felt, but for the bog-standard premier league games against a team like West Brom, fans are just waiting impatiently for the goals they expect to go in.
And this is why it’s such a problem, as soon as the goals don’t start flowing, audible groans can be heard, with Henderson bearing the weight of the fans anger with every sideways or backwards pass he performs. Even worse than this, when Liverpool go one or even two goals up in a game, there is a nervousness that the game is still very much in the balance. The players do need to take responsibility for dropping numerous points from winning positions this season, but there is a definite chicken and egg situation that occurs. If the fans weren’t so nervous and actually got behind the team, the team wouldn’t let the pressure affect them so much, although this also works vice-versa.
In spite of this, we’ve had a pretty good record at home this season, I just get the impression games like the draws against Burnley, United and Sevilla at home could have been turned into victories if the crowd had really got behind the team. In contrast, we’ve seen home crowds lift teams when Liverpool have travelled away, and teams have managed to come from behind and get results against us as a consequence. Watford, Newcastle and most recently Sevilla have achieved this; mostly spurred on by the intense atmosphere created by the fans. I was at the recent Leicester game and there was such a buzz around the stadium when Vardy scored to make it 2-3, it felt like an equaliser was coming, but luckily Leicester spurned a penalty amongst other chances that day, we were lucky.
Liverpool fans should try to emulate these clubs; rather than have the arrogance of expecting the goals and entertainment only Man City can provide, create an atmosphere that intimidates the opposition and inspire the Reds. The game against Spartak Moscow in a couple of weeks’ time is now pivotal; and if Liverpool don’t go 1-0 up early on I fear there could be a wave of anxiety that infects the players. If we fully get behind the team, the biggest problems will start to fade away.