Are these the major areas which Jurgen Klopp needs to address at Liverpool?
A month on from Jurgen Klopp’s managerial debut for Liverpool away at Tottenham Hotspur, there has certainly been an uplifting feeling diffusing throughout Anfield, coming as a result in the improvement of both performances and more importantly, results. However, there are still areas that need attention and it is crucial that they are addressed as soon as possible if Liverpool are to achieve their aims this season. With the former Dortmund boss in charge, the confidence that he will succeed is understandably high but nevertheless, the magnitude of the task at hand leaves the outcome far from an inevitability.
Perhaps first on the German’s list should be the defence which for many consecutive seasons, has come under fire for its soft under-belly and penchant for falling apart at crucial moments. Although a recent knee injury to Mamadou Sakho; side-lining the lion-hearted defender until the New Year, has highlighted a certain lack of depth and quality in the middle of the back-line, it is at full-back where most work needs to be done. Nathaniel Clyne may well be shining now but it is simply the law of probability that he will experience a poor patch of form at some point. With an absence of senior cover, it can be argued that the former Southampton flyer is not being given that extra push for self-improvement and furthermore, an injury to him would be catastrophic.
Much of the same can be said for Alberto Moreno on the left-flank. The Spaniard is by no means as consistent as Nathaniel Clyne and work is required on his defensive positioning, but he can be a potent force when in the opponent’s defensive third. Like Clyne, Moreno can run all day and Jurgen Klopp’s system draws upon this tactic due to the lack of natural width further forward. With Jon Flanagan not yet back into full training after almost two years away from first-team action and Joe Gomez out for the season; both of whom can fill in on either side of the defence, quality reinforcements are required here in January. Of course, there is great belief around Melwood that with these four young full-backs fit and firing, Liverpool are set in that position for many years to come. This has all the hallmarks of becoming true but in the immediate future, the objective must be a return to Champions League football and an injury to either Clyne or Moreno would leave The Reds in a perilous situation.
At the other end of the field, Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool also face difficulties that need to be overcome. Daniel Sturridge has missed more matches due to injury than he has actually started since his arrival at Anfield. Were this the case for the vast majority of players, they would have been sold on to another club already, but such is Sturridge’s vast goal-scoring expertise, he is still seen as an important member of the squad for the future. Currently side-lined due to an incident in training; thought at the time to be little more than an innocuous clash with Jordon Ibe, his recovery has been slow and Liverpool fans are desperate to see him integrated into Klopp’s side. While Christian Benteke has scored some important goals for The Reds in his fledgling career on Merseyside already, the impact of the lethal Sturridge on this side would surely be a hugely positive one. His attitude and pace suit the pressing approach and with Liverpool’s ever-frustrating knack of failing to put away chances, his top-drawer finishing would soon put pay to these concerns. It is perhaps one of Jurgen Klopp’s key tasks to discover a way to maintain Daniel Sturridge’s long-term fitness.
A prime criticism of Brendan Rodgers since the agonisingly close failure to win the Premier League title in 2014 has been his apparent insistence on playing some star names out of position. While Jurgen Klopp has rectified this to a certain extent, he remains a victim of his circumstances somewhat, in that Coutinho, Can and Milner are all arguably being played in a role which is not their best. If we examine the diminutive Brazilian first, it is widely considered that he is Liverpool’s best player and prized asset. With his effectiveness being the greatest in central areas of the field so that he can wreak havoc in pockets of space, Klopp has stuck with the decision to play him off the left. In a fluid formation; something which the German encourages, Coutinho is by no means restricted to the flank and certainly cuts infield more often than not. However, it is clearly felt that at this stage in his Premier League career, fellow Brazilian Roberto Firmino would be a little lost out on the wing and so operates in the former Inter Milan star’s favoured role. Of course, Philippe Coutinho is still having a major influence on Liverpool’s performances; with three goals in the last two Premier League games as testament to this, but there is still the feeling that something is being lost from his potential. In the fullness of time, it may be decided that this is still the best long-term option but Jurgen Klopp must not be content with the current attacking system.
Despite arriving at Anfield with the pedigree befitting one of the world’s most promising central midfielders, Emre Can was only employed in that position with distressing infrequency last season. Filling in on the right of a back three or even as a conventional right full-back, the young German has enjoyed life in the middle of the park under his fellow countryman. Nevertheless, clarity of tactical instruction towards Can does not seem to be completely prevalent in Klopp’s early weeks, with the midfielder’s energy levels impressing but as a result, often finding himself out of position. With the welcome return of Jordan Henderson to first-team action looming on the horizon, this will greatly help the entire midfield and Can could well benefit the most. When Liverpool’s current captain initially came to Merseyside, he was not too dissimilar to Can in that he had all the potential in the world but a distinct lack of experience left him unable to apply it. Time spent learning off the skipper will inevitably hone the areas in which he currently lacks.
During Henderson’s absence, summer arrival James Milner has taken over the role as captain on the pitch and disappointingly, the armband seems to have weighed heavily on the versatile midfielder. An impressive pre-season and a promising start to the campaign on an individual basis has not been maintained in recent weeks, with the former Man City man looking out of his depth on the right side. For a player with such vast experience, this is at least a little surprising but the suggestion that the burden of captaining Liverpool is negatively impacting his displays may well not be far from the truth. Flying into challenges with reckless abandon at times and seemingly not understanding his role in the side could easily be as a result of feeling that extra responsibility which comes with leading the side out at Anfield. It is also felt that his current position is not the best one for Milner at this stage in his career and Henderson’s return will provide Jurgen Klopp with greater options in the middle of the park, thus potentially fixing both issues that the number seven is currently suffering through.
As a result of the somewhat questionable transfer policy over the last few seasons, this year’s Liverpool squad has been left with only a single genuine winger on their books. While Coutinho, Lallana and Firmino are all capable of operating on the flanks, their natural inclination is to come inside. Jordon Ibe is doubtlessly a prodigious talent but Jurgen Klopp’s options are severely restricted when the English youngster is his only choice on the flanks. Ibe has enjoyed a resurgence of form under the German manager in recent weeks and has been singled out for praise, especially after the fine winner in the Europa League against Rubin Kazan. Nevertheless, at this stage of his career, it is unfair to place too much reliance on Ibe’s shoulders and so a solution must be looked at in January. With conflicting stories surrounding the possibility of cutting short Lazar Markovic’s loan, it appears as though Klopp needs to scour the market, potentially favouring products from the Bundesliga.
On the subject of the upcoming transfer window, it is important that Jurgen Klopp has the financial backing from FSG to make his own mark on the team in terms of the playing staff, to go along with the obvious tactical alterations that he has already made. A trap that has been fallen into all too frequently in recent times has been acquiring players that simply fit the bill as ‘strengthening the squad’. Despite the fact that injuries have been plentiful already this year, The Reds have been numerically capable of dealing with it. What is really required is an injection of genuine quality – a couple of signings that make the rest of the Premier League stand up and take notice. Fanciful links with Robert Lewandowski aside, it is that sort of acquisition which Liverpool need to mount a serious challenge for top four and eventually reach the level where the Premier League title becomes a realistic ambition once more. A more achievable target appears to be Alexandre Pato, after the Brazilian forward was linked heavily with the Anfield outfit in recent weeks. Another option that seems sensible is for Klopp to attempt to raid his former side Borussia Dortmund. BVB’s current form would certainly not encourage their star men to leave but the chance to work with a previous manager who brought them a great deal of success may just swing the pendulum in Liverpool’s favour. In whatever form they come, what is certain is that January transfers need to be of the right quality to signal The Reds’ intentions.
The final task for Jurgen Klopp may not appear to be the most pressing of matters, but is important nonetheless. With the departure of Steven Gerrard, Liverpool have been left without an obvious link to the people of the city. This has only compounded the retirement of Jamie Carragher a couple of seasons ago and when you imagine the impact that these two legends alone could have on the club, their reintegration must be on Klopp’s radar. Gerrard has recently spoken about how he has found life playing for LA Galaxy much more taxing than he had initially expected and that his retirement is more than a possibility in 2016. One always had the impression that the Liverpool-born midfield general would struggle to live so far away from everything he has ever known and loved, and this appears to be coming true. With Jurgen Klopp inviting the legendary number eight to train with the squad in order to maintain fitness, the new manager will be able to see his impact in and around Melwood at first hand. As is also the case with Jamie Carragher, although their influence on proceedings at Liverpool would be most obviously felt as part of the coaching staff, perhaps the easiest transition would be for them to initially take up a role in an ambassadorial capacity. For the club to be missing out on the wealth of knowledge that each possess and the inspiration that their presence would provide is a mistake, and one that should be rectified as soon as possible.
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