“It’s a big relief to be honest because the pressure was there, there’s no doubt about that,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said after his side’s victory over Huddersfield Town, their first in over a month.
The 3-0 home victory brings the Reds’ points total to 16 as they saunter into sixth place behind Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal – not the ideal scenario by which to celebrate the second anniversary of the German’s arrival at Anfield.
While there have been commendable achievements, such as a Europa League Final and Champions League qualification in respective years, Klopp did not come to Merseyside to be ‘commendable’.
Myles Stedman looks at Klopp’s Liverpool career so far before looking at what the future holds for him.
The Front Three
Liverpool are a banged-up squad. Missing from the Huddersfield match were first-team fixtures Nathaniel Clyne, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mane. It was also Georginio Wijnaldum’s first game back in the side. However, many of their shortcomings this year do not relate to the roles of any of those players.
In attack, Liverpool have been as electric as any other side. But with only 17 goals to show for it, this reveals just how poorly the team’s finishing reflects their attacking potency.
With the trio of attackers set to return later in the season – perhaps after the international break Klopp tells us – it remains to be seen whether or not there will be any time to salvage the season or whether this front three even have the ability to do so.
Until then, Liverpudlians will wonder “what’s wrong with our club, and why isn’t Klopp fixing it?” It remains a valid question.
Plugging up Van Dijk
Speaking of injuries, Liverpool are also afflicted at the opposite end of the park. Besides Nathaniel Clyne’s back injury, Dejan Lovren missed Saturday’s game with a thigh injury, ruled out moments before game time. Perhaps Lovren’s absence helped, as the Reds kept a clean sheet in his stead, with utility defender Ragnar Klavan deputising and 20-year-old Joe Gomez impressing.
Viewed in general, though, this season has been atrocious for the Reds’ defence: their 16 goals conceded the sixth worst in the entire Premier League.
This was a problem for Liverpool in the offseason, a problem they failed to solve. Demanding and receiving an apology over an inappropriate approach to their centre back Virgil van Dijk, Southampton dug in their heels and refused to sell their star man to Klopp’s Liverpool.
After multiple subsequent attempts, they came up empty, and a player desperate to feature for the home team at Anfield now has to wait until at least the mid-season transfer window. However, the fact the club had no backup option after van Dijk was bizarre.
Slightly less puzzling was the Naby Keita saga. All’s well that ends well, though, as the Guinean has agreed to join Liverpool ahead of next season after being told he was not for sale this year.
For such an anticipatory offseason, the prevailing feeling at the start of the season was very ‘light beer’ – good, but not quite what you’d hoped for.
Having secured the pacey and dangerous Mohamed Salah and closed out the window with Gunners youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, there were still noticeable shortages across the first team which went unsolved.
Klopp or FSG?
Fans like to blame below par transfer windows on their ownership, but this was not the case in Liverpool’s latest offseason. Fenway Sports Group have been there for the club in sickness and health, acquiesing to the £75 million asking price for Virgil Van Dijk in the face of perceived stinginess and triggering Naby Keita’s release clause of £48 million.
Any disappointment still held by Reds fans over what transpired last off-season falls squarely at the feet of Klopp, as do this season’s on-field results and the one word to sum up both is “lacklustre”.
This season has been a season of more questions than answers for Liverpool. Next season, it will be the same old story for Liverpool fans. Great expectations, following the arrival of at least Keita and – hopefully – European football in some form.
If Klopp cannot satisfy the club’s appetite by then will the Reds have the guts to make a change? Will they have the guts not to? One thing is certain, though: if the German mastermind cannot solve the riddle, who can?
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