Nov 7, 2017
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Papering over the cracks: Have Liverpool actually improved under Jurgen Klopp?

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On Saturday evening it was impossible not to be impressed by the smooth, fluent and dynamic attacking play that Liverpool produced to thrash West Ham United at the Olympic Stadium.

Two goals from Egyptian winger Mohamed Salad and additional strikes from Joel Matip and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain blew the home side away in devastating fashion as The Reds secured a 4-1 victory on their trip to the capital.

Jurgen Klopp’s team were good – very good in fact – and West Ham had no response to Liverpool’s pace, power and dynamism in the final third.

When Liverpool play well, like they did on Saturday, they are an irresistible attacking force with the forward line of Sadio Mane, Philip Countinho, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah capable of causing chaos within any defensive unit.

However, a quick glance at the Premier League table will show that they are already trailing league-leaders Manchester City by nine points and, to put their start to the new campaign into context, they have picked up the same number of points as Burnley.

Since arriving at Anfield two years ago Klopp has failed to mount a genuine title challenge or secure any silverware – so how successful has the German’s reign been?

A failure to correct long-standing issues

When Liverpool appointed Jurgen Klopp to replace Brendan Rodgers two years ago there was a genuine sense of excitement around Liverpool. The German was one of the most highly rated coaches in Europe and had done an exceptional job whilst managing Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, barring a turbulent final season.

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His personality and passion was expected to galvanise the club and recapture the bond between players and fans whilst his high-intensity, all-out attacking philosophy appeared destined to secure silverware.

However, progress has been slow, much to the concern of some supporters, and there has certainly not been a sharp uphill curve in the club’s fortunes since Klopp took over the reins.

Liverpool appear to be no closer to challenging for the Premier League than they were under the guidance of Rodgers and many of the issues and inconsistencies that led to his departure have yet to be corrected by Klopp.

The primary issue remains Liverpool’s defence.

In their opening seven league fixtures Manchester City and Manchester United conceded just two goals and during the same period Liverpool’s leaky backline shipped 13. Their defensive frailties have continuously undermined any potentially progress or success that their impressive attacking play might facilitate.

There remains uncertainty in the goalkeeping department with neither Simon Mignolet or Loris Karius appearing to possess the ability or mentality to hold down the number one spot for any significant period of time.

Klopp has regularly switched between the two goalkeepers and the fact that his own signing, Karius, has struggled to acclimatise to the English game will be a considerable source of frustration.

All of the club’s rivals have goalkeepers of the highest quality – Manchester United have David de Gea, Tottenham Hotspur have Hugo Loris and Manchester City purchased Ederson in the summer  – leaving The Reds trailing considerably behind in that area of the pitch.

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In the centre of defence Liverpool appear equally as fragile. Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan have all looked suspect at various time during the previous two seasons and you sense that one of the trio will always be likely to make a crucial error at the most inappropriate moment in a match.

The failure to secure Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk during the summer will haunt Klopp until the next transfer window and it is undoubtedly an area that requires immediate attention and significant investment.

There is also a lack of star quality in central midfield where there is an over reliance on the relatively unimaginative trio of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can. Neither of the three are particularly expansive in their play whilst Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has to yet find his feet at Anfield.

Again, Liverpool’s rivals possess midfield players that are on a different stratosphere in comparison – Manchester United have Paul Pogba, Manchester City have the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, Chelsea have N’Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas whilst Tottenham have Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.

Papering over the cracks?

So, how much progress have Liverpool really made since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp?

The impressive victory against West Ham United will have excited and enthralled supporters, but the team’s lack of consistency and Klopp’s failure to correct long-standing issues still leaves the club some way short of being able to challenge for the Premier League title.

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A four-goal win against a struggling team does little more than paper over some of the cracks in the current Liverpool’s side.

Why is it that two years on from his appointment, Klopp has yet to solve the fragility and lack of quality in his defensive line?

In truth, how many of Liverpool’s goalkeepers, defenders or central midfielders would get into the Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal teams?

The answer is none, which demonstrates that Klopp may have created an impressive forward line but that his team is unbalanced, top heavy and has been built on a weak foundation.

Klopp currently retains the favour of the vast majority of Liverpool supporters but there is an underlying sense that the club should be making more substantial progress.

There was once a time when The Reds were the dominant force in English football and yet the current team will face a struggle to secure a place in the top four when the campaign reaches its climax.

Brushing aside West Ham may paper over some of the cracks, but Klopps undoubtedly has plenty of work still to do at Anfield and it could be soundly argued that he should have already have done much more.

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Martyn Cooke

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.