WThe chicken was everything he got so much for yourgen club In Mainz, when defeats began to pile up and negative thoughts began to mount, he would clear the table, hop in the car and take his team on an adventurous vacation. Hiking in Hunsrück. Mountain biking in the Black Forest. I spent two or three days ditching beer, sleeping in little shacks, and having honest conversations you couldn’t really have in an office. This was Klopp’s land, the land he grew up in, and in times of crisis it also became his sanctuary.
For Klopp’s players, the sudden change of scenery was not only refreshing, it became absolutely necessary. The training drills were changing a lot, but the rough sound conveyed by the cigarettes never changed. The limbs and lungs will be exhausted from July through May. With each passing year you may feel stronger, fitter, harder and tougher. Football was exciting and relentless. The camaraderie was strong and intense. Everything was working and working and working, until the moment it stopped working.
“This is your ball! This is your ball! You go with it!” James Milner shouted at Virgil van Dijk at Old Trafford on Monday night. Manchester United also celebrated the goal of Jadon Sancho in the first half, Liverpool They began their investigation into a defense that literally stopped working. Trent Alexander-Arnold simply stopped chasing Anthony Ilanga. Joe Gomez was a fusion nut. Milner dipped in Sancho with all the firefighters who showed up at the christening.
At last came Van Dijk, who had the opportunity to close the six yards separating him from Sancho, simply stood still, arms behind his back like a terrified hostage. In any context, this furious exchange between 36-year-old Milner and 31-year-old Van Dijk seemed like a quietly defining moment in the trajectory of this Liverpool side under Klopp’s leadership: a fantastic fighting machine that time might be with. Catch.
This is not so much a reflection of results as it is of mood. Yes, this season’s results – as in the three existing ones – have been disappointing, but mitigation can be made for all of them. Fulham: an early start, a promising team and Quiet start. Crystal Palace Red card and a bunch of missed chances. Losing 2-1 at Old Trafford: The kind of frightening outcome that often happens in local derbies. Liverpool are enjoying their home games against Bournemouth and Newcastle on Saturday and Wednesday, and it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if they continued their 10-game winning streak from here.
But in any case, the broader picture will still be clear: a team that has never felt the dire need for an update, a reboot, and maybe even some relief and an injection of simple joy. This is a club that has spent the last three or four years working to the limit of its capabilities: athletically, financially and emotionally. And I did it with the same man, the same voice, practically the same players working with the same strength, the same challenge, the same competitors, a richer opponent with a much larger margin of error. This has always been a product with a limited shelf life. The only real question is how much.
There is a temptation to see the current troubles at Anfield as part of the normal cycle of Klopp’s side: the extension of the Bella Guttmann curse that seems to have afflicted all Klopp teams five or six years later. In Klopp’s seventh season in Mainz, they were relegated from the Bundesliga after an exciting period of promotion. In Klopp’s seventh season at Borussia Dortmund, there was a major meltdown that left them in the relegation zone at Christmas and eventually precipitated his exit from the club as he won two consecutive titles.
Both times, Klopp tried to struggle, continuing to insist – often in a terse and angry tone – that better times were just around the corner. In a way, it is Klopp’s demeanor that is the most important factor here, a man whose drawn features and basic tired-out air of the world seem at odds with the sunny, uplifting coach who walked in through the door seven years ago. Here it is about Darwin Nunez’s critics. Here he is grumbling about wasting time at United. Here he is driving home and Unnaturally angry at Gabriel Agbonlahor on TalkSport. It is perhaps understandable that Klopp is in that frame of mind after seven years in the job. And for that to happen in August, it seems somewhat worrisome.
The closest analogy here is to the 2014-2015 season in Dortmund, where a poor start, a truncated World Cup pre-season, the departure of the star striker (Robert Lewandowski) and the fall injury crisis sent Klopp’s team into disarray. They could not extricate themselves. “Our football is meaningless,” Klopp complained after a modest 2-1 defeat in Cologne, however, even as Dortmund went into free fall, there was still little desire for change. After all, Klopp enthusiastically signed a contract extension only the previous season. There were new strikers like Ciro Immobile and Adrien Ramos who needed time to sleep. The spherical message remained the same. Looking back, this may have become part of the problem.
There is no good team like Liverpool that can really be ‘worked on’. What has changed is the look and execution, the confidence and the intensity, the little guys who make the difference when you play in high-energy, high-quality football. Early signs of this season are that Liverpool have fallen sharply by the simple metrics of running, challenge and creativity. Not only that, but in many cases this is an acceleration of trends that have already become apparent in the last season.
Pressures in the last trimester dropped from 45 to 36. Pregnancies to the last trimester dropped from 18 to 12. Even errors – a measure of the aggressiveness and prejudice that Liverpool sought to prevent you from playing – are down 25% from last season. However, Liverpool are seeing more ball: 70%, compared to 62-63% in each of the past four seasons. Across the pitch, and already off it, Liverpool traded safety for risk, solidifying engagement, and maintaining institution. Much has been said about the fact that Liverpool have barely erred in the transfer market over the past few seasons. This is a lot easier, of course, as long as your strategy is so strict and you avoid risk that you hardly ever take a step.
Perhaps the story of this Liverpool team is one that has reached unimaginable heights but since then failed to move forward, never had enough time to move on, never had time to do much at all except to maintain the engine. Run, keep the lights on, keep popping up every three days. Had this been a smaller or larger club, perhaps Klopp would have had more room for reinvention: time to implement new ideas, time (and money) to modernize the team, and perhaps it was time simply to get everyone out into a cheerful, cheerful atmosphere. In front of a raging campfire. But here and now, that’s all there is to it: a bloated red engine running at full throttle.