Ever since Jurgen Klopp took over as manager in early October last year, Liverpool have been surrounded by positivity. The German has an infectious enthusiasm, and with a pedigree as one of Europe's top managers, every person connected to the club seems to have total trust in him and his methods.
Since Klopp's arrival, they have progressed to the Capital One Cup final, achieved great results against some of the top teams in the league and made their way to the last 16 of the Europa League. Lately, there have also been signs that suggest the Reds are making real progress on the playing field under his stewardship, with comprehensive and utterly deserved victories against the two Manchester clubs in the space of nine days and a win against Crystal Palace - after playing with 10 men - sandwiched in between.
So far, however, Klopp's Liverpool have also showed a worrying tendency to flounder in the crucial games. A couple of good runs in the league have turned out to be nothing more than false dawns, with subsequent disappointing results in the next few games preventing them climbing the table and really fighting for a top-four position.
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In fact, if we look beyond the impressive one-off results against some of the top teams, Liverpool's points per game ratio since Klopp took over (1.60) has only improved slightly from Brendan Rodgers' eight games in charge at the start of the season (1.50), and is worse than what Rodgers achieved during his three full seasons at the club (1.61 – 2.21 - 1.63)
Liverpool have beaten Manchester City in convincing fashion twice in the league this year, but presented with a golden opportunity to pick up the first trophy under Klopp, they didn’t really show up in the same manner in the League Cup final.
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Some might even argue that Liverpool were lucky to even be in that final, having surrendered to their bad habit of underachieving at crucial moments in the second leg of the semi-final against Stoke. They lost the game at home, were awful on the night, but eventually progressed after a nervy penalty shoot-out.
Despite Liverpool's inability to perform at crunch-times, Jurgen Klopp has escaped any form of noteworthy criticism. The general consensus in the world of football seems to be that Klopp will transform this Liverpool team during the summer. By bringing in lots of players that suits his style of play, and finally implement the tactics that he really believes in, Klopp will turn his side into a team that challenges the Premier League elite. Converting Liverpool from pretenders to contenders, however, will not be a straightforward task.
First of all; Klopp will probably not have a massive amount of money to spend in the summer transfer window. Liverpool have admittedly been quite big spenders in the last few transfer windows, but their acquisitions have, to a large degree, been funded by the sale of Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, who together brought in around £120 million.
This summer, Liverpool won’t have a player with extraordinary class or talent to sell, and their income from other player sales will in all probability be limited. Missing out on the Champions League for the second consecutive season, which seems likely at this point, will also have a detrimental effect on their ability to afford, and attract, top players.
The lucrative new TV deals that kicks in next season will boost the club's revenue, but the fact that this applies to all of the 20 clubs in the Premier League will diminish the impact it has on the club's actual spending power.
If clubs have struggled to find value in the transfer market before, then good luck with that in the coming transfer windows, when 20 nouveau riche English clubs will be competing for the most exciting players out there.
New players will arrive, no doubt, but maybe not as many, or of as kind of quality everyone seems to expect. It is also worth noting, that 23 players have made at least seven appearances for Liverpool this season. In modern football, with 50-60 games per season, it is all about the squad, and even with a handful of new players arriving in the summer, the majority of next season's Liverpool squad will be made up of players that already are at the club.
There’s also reason to lower the expectation levels when it comes to the second part of Klopp's summer revolution - the implementation of his famous tactics.
Yes, Klopp is a brilliant tactician. The way he made his Borussia Dortmund team play was no less than sensational, and he has made a genuine contribution to the tactical development of football in the last decade. The problem with being an innovator, however, is that other people will copy you. They’re gegenpressing in League Two these days, and the head start which Klopp once had is - to a large degree - gone. Other teams have also found ways to cancel out Klopp's tactics, and in order to stay successful, the German will have to develop and refine his tactics further.
Being such a good manager, Klopp will surely improve Liverpool during the summer. He isn't a miracle worker though, and the sudden transformation that some people seem to expect will probably not materialise. To be harsh, Klopp has already squandered a golden opportunity to take Liverpool forward.
In a season where nearly all the top teams have underachieved grossly, and the points tally required to finish top four could be lower than ever, Liverpool have not managed - so far at least – to take advantage.
The good news however, is that it’s not too late. In the league, Liverpool are only seven points off Manchester City in fourth, with two games less played. Additionally, if they avoid a heavy defeat against Manchester United, they will be in the quarter-final of the Europa League. With that in mind, Klopp and his Liverpool team must seize the opportunity to make real progress this season, and not just pin their hopes on the next one.
They need to start winning when it really matters, in the truly crucial games. What better way to start, than to dump arch-rivals Manchester United out of the Europa League?
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