Looking back on the 2019/20 football season, the likelihood is that in years to come people will look back and remember the carnage caused by the pandemic and the disruption that ensued.
Liverpool fans won’t – they’ll remember their beloved outfit winning the Premier League title for the first time in three decades.
Pundits will remember the brilliance of Salah, Mane and Firmino in attack; the rocksteady midfield presence of Jordan Henderson – who is getting better with age – and Fabinho; the Rolls Royce defending of Virgil van Dijk and the assured goalkeeping of Alisson.
But ask anyone close to the club and they will tell you that responsibility for the Reds’ resurgence falls on the shoulders of one man: Jurgen Klopp.
The German manager has revolutionised the way that Liverpool play the game, he has recruited well and turned the Reds from the bridesmaids of English football to the undisputed and deserved champions.
The bespectacled boss was interviewed by Sky Sports when his side’s title reign was confirmed by Manchester City’s 1-2 defeat at Chelsea, and he was visibly emotional as he said:
“Becoming champions with this club is absolutely incredible.
“It’s the best thing I can imagine and more than I could have ever dreamed of. It’s unbelievable. Much more than I ever thought would be possible.”
So how did a man with the middle name Norbert transform Liverpool into the best team in the land?
A Change of Culture
How do you set about turning a team of nearly men into the real deal?
That was the task facing Jurgen Klopp when he stepped through the door at Anfield for the first time in October 2015 after replacing Brendan Rodgers. They were tenth in the Premier League table at the time, and looked a million miles away from being title contenders.
“I felt from day one when he came in the door he changed everything,” said Jordan Henderson, the club captain.
“We followed him and believed him. It’s been an amazing journey. I’m hoping there is more – we just stay hungry, keep wanting more and following him.”
Klopp set about changing the style of Liverpool’s play, introducing his own brand of ‘heavy metal’, high octane football that had proven so successful at his former club Borussia Dortmund.
The manager also identified a number of players that he wanted to bring in, and the club’s sporting director Michael Edwards set about persuading them to head to Merseyside. One such player, Mo Salah, arrived in time for the 2017/18 season – the rest, as they say, is history.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool Signings: 2016 – 2020
|Jan||2016||Marko Grujic (CRO)||Red Star Belgrade||£5.1m|
|Jul||2016||Joel Matip (CMR)||Schalke 04||£0|
|Jul||2016||Loris Karius (GER)||Mainz 05||£4.7m|
|Jul||2016||Sadio Mane (SEN)||Southampton||£30m|
|Jul||2016||Ragnar Klaven (EST)||Augsburg||£4.2m|
|Jul||2016||Alex Manninger (AUT)||Augsburg||£0|
|Jul||2016||Georginio Wijnaldum (NED)||Newcastle United||£23m|
|Jul||2017||Mohamed Salah (EGY)||Roma||£36.9m|
|Jul||2017||Dominic Solanke (ENG)||Chelsea||£3m|
|Jul||2017||Andrew Robertson (SCO)||Hull City||£8m|
|Aug||2017||Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (ENG)||Arsenal||£35m|
|Jan||2018||Virgil Van Dijk (NED)||Southampton||£70m|
|Jul||2018||Naby Keita (GIN)||RB Leipzig||£52.8m|
|Jul||2018||Xherdan Shaqiri (SUI)||Stoke City||£13.5m|
|Jul||2019||Sepp van den Berg (NED)||PEC Zwolle||£1.3m|
|Jul||2019||Harvey Elliot (ENG)||Fulham||Undisq.|
|Aug||2019||Adrian (ESP)||West Ham United||£0|
|Aug||2019||Andy Lonergan (ENG)||Middlesbrough||£0|
|Jan||2020||Takumi Minamino (JPN)||Red Bull Salzburg||£7.3m|
Klopp’s philosophies began to take shape, and with Salah lighting up Anfield alongside the improving Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool began to go through the gears.
But it was two defence-orientated players, Virgil van Dijk and Alisson, who would change the fortunes of Liverpool for good.
Van Dijk was signed for a world record fee for a defender – £75 million – but he didn’t buckle under the weight of expectancy, and instead the Dutchman has since proven himself to be the best centre back on the planet.
In goal, the Reds had struggled for consistency for years, but Alisson brought with him a calm and orderly presence, phenomenal shot stopping when required and a range of long passing that helped him become a playmaker as much as a keeper.
With the final pieces of his jigsaw in place, Klopp began to see massive improvements in his team – and perhaps the watershed moment came in the Champions League semi-final of May 2019 against Barcelona.
Trailing 0-3 from the first leg, Liverpool produced a scarcely believable performance at Anfield, demolishing the Catalan giants 4-0 with a famous last-gasp winner from Divock Origi.
Their football was sublime that night, and you suspect the confidence they took from dismantling one of the world’s best sides was ultimately what gave them the belief they could topple Manchester City.
And that’s exactly what they’ve done, roughly a year since they lifted the Champions League trophy. This is Liverpool’s nineteenth top-flight title, and yet in many ways it will be the most cherished for decades to come.
So what is so special about Jurgen Klopp as a manager?
He enjoyed a decent but unspectacular playing career with Mainz 05, before making the leap into management with the very same club. A strong seven-year stint there alerted the chiefs at Borussia Dortmund to his tactical wizardry and eye for a bargain, and they took the plunge on the largely unheralded head coach with the glasses and the big smile.
And Dortmund would not be disappointed. He won two Bundesliga titles with them – ending Bayern Munich’s reign of terror – and guided them to the Champions League final, where Bayern would have their revenge.
He imported any of the tactics he deployed in Germany to Liverpool. The phrase ‘gegenpressing’ became the zeitgeist for a while and a buzzword, but the logic behind it is sound – if you press hard higher up the pitch and win the ball back quickly, you are in an excellent position to launch a counter raid of your own.
Liverpool’s players work exceptionally hard – Klopp won’t accept anything less, and their tactical superiority has been franked by a team spirit and a togetherness that is palpable. Even when the chips have occasionally been down for the Reds, they have found an answer – the famous night against Barcelona was proof of that.
Defensively solid and with a front three that is the envy of managers around the world, Jurgen Klopp has been able to instil his footballing vision at Liverpool in quick fashion. He will be rewarded with an astonishing legacy at a club synonymous with success.