Liverpool fans often have a poor reputation amongst other fans. They are targeted for a few things, not least their giddiness in expecting the very best from their managers, convincing themselves of the likelihood of that, and then being unreasonably disappointed when it doesn’t come to pass. Their passion is, on occasions, a tad ridiculous, and while there are obvious drawbacks, it isn’t all bad. Jurgen Klopp has experienced all of these tendencies, and he’s only been there for two years.
Understandably, Klopp’s arrival was a joyous time for Liverpool. It had looked unlikely that he would stoop to them. Surely, after all he had achieved, he would have been able to wait for an offer from one of the biggest European teams. He could, for example, have been an excellent appointment for Paris Saint-Germain, or later on, one of the newly-minted Milan teams. However, Klopp chose to go to Liverpool. A surprise, but not inexplicable. The money on offer would dwarf most other offers, as would the playing budget. And there remains a generation across the world who are attracted to Liverpool’s history and reputation.
And let’s not forget the circumstances in which Klopp took over. Manchester United were in disarray and Manchester City were trundling along in their last Pepless season. Arsenal were Arsenal, and Chelsea had started terribly. Klopp was offered the chance to patch up a young and occasionally dangerous side and perhaps make a dash for the title. A bit of a long shot, but if not the title, Klopp had the chance to overachieve in terms of a league finish. Leicester and Spurs ruined that, as did Liverpool’s own mediocre efforts.
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Klopp could not take all of the blame for that. The squad was disappointing when he arrived, but the problems have been exacerbated by his poor results in the transfer market. Georginio Wijnaldum, Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip and Loris Karius have all disappointed in their own ways. From that crop, Sadio Mane has been the only exceptionally good purchase. This summer’s haul of Mo Salah, Andrew Robertson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke is notably dull, with only Salah performing well, the purchase of Oxlade-Chamberlain seems directionless and unjustifiable. Spending close to £40m on an average midfielder who is only useful as a makeshift wing-back is an odd move. His desire to play through the middle matches only his current inability to play there.
It is hard to claim that Liverpool’s squad is meaningfully better than the one that Brendan Rodgers left behind when he was sacked. Klopp has benefited from the improvement of Roberto Firmino, but he hasn’t solved the biggest problems that confronted the squad beyond their immediate loss of form. Mario Balotelli is a thoroughly enjoyable man but was binned rather than rehabilitated. Daniel Sturridge has been regularly criticised but has neither improved nor been sold. There is no great focal point.
The transfer committee at Liverpool has often been a problem for managers. Rodgers didn’t want Balotelli, for example, and you can imagine that Klopp wasn’t desperate for Klavan to have featured as prominently as he has over the last year. But it comes with its own benefits. Rodgers was able to retain Luis Suarez despite his release clause being activated, and Liverpool were able to keep hold of Philippe Coutinho despite an offer of around £130m being made. This is not a club operated for the immediate benefit of the bottom line, and that is a rare quality in any sport club.
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On balance, though, it is understandable that Liverpool fans are currently disheartened. They should be able to defend better. A lot is talked about employing a high line, or about the tactical genius of Klopp taking its time to be effective. At some point, with football as it is, and the average intelligence of most human beings, this excuse needs to be analysed. Football might be physically and intellectually demanding, but buying defenders with a baseline of competence is not rocket surgery. Giving footballers a simple plan to follow for at least the start of their integration is not brain science. If you shoot for the stars then it can be no surprise when you continue to play in the gutter.
But when the season starts, less of this context matters. In fans’ heads, Liverpool are Liverpool, and the fans expect that they challenge for the Champions League. While they have lofty expectations, they do not have any more patience than any other set of fans. They might look at Klopp and see an incredible genius one day, and then a hapless charlatan instead. Liverpool have not won in September, and their next two matches are against Leicester City (fresh from a win over the Reds just a few days ago) and then Spartak Moscow. They have a defensive injury disaster, with Matip, Emre Can, Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne all potentially out. Coutinho managed 45 minutes against Leicester and does not appear entirely happy. There’s no obvious catalyst for improvement.
Football fans are impatient – too impatient. However, the challenges that Klopp faces are obvious, and while there has been a palpable uptick since the worst of Rodgers’ time, it is too fleeting and inconsistent. There are plenty of mitigating circumstances to point to, but unless something changes in the next few games, it would be silly to pretend that many fans will cling to them for comfort.