Over the summer, the staff of The Liverpool Offside set out to define what it would take for the 2015-16 season to be counted a success. With the season two months in and a new manager set to be unveiled, we wanted to revisit that topic and define just what it would take for Jurgen Klopp’s first season as Liverpool manager to be considered a successful one.
I’m dialling down my expectations somewhat from pre-season. I originally said fourth in the Premier League, semi-final and final in League Cup and FA Cup, and Round of 16 Europa League. I think with how terrible everyone bar Manchester City has been in the league, fourth or higher is still a possibility with a new manager, but I’m less fussed about a domestic cup win at this point. I think Liverpool still need to make a respectable showing in each competition, but a quarterfinal and a semi-final wouldn’t be the worst in my mind. Despite the poor start in Europa League, though, I’d like to get out of the group, and I’d like to think that under someone like Klopp, Liverpool could still progress to the Round of 16.
I’d like to reiterate my previous stance: it’s more about how we play not where we finish. At the moment we’re four points behind Manchester United—and four points ahead of Chelsea—with mighty Crystal Palace currently in line for the Arsene Wenger Memorial 4th Place Trophy™. So it’s been a weird season so far, and with a mid-season change for us, things might get weirder still before all is said and done. No one should expect Klopp to come in and start running opposing teams off the pitch straight away, but if we’re playing cohesive, exciting, quality football by the end of the season, I’ll be happy with our progress. Even great managers need some time to implement their philosophy and get players executing in the new system.
However, we’re not out of the running in any competition yet. The final Champions League spot appears to be up-for-grabs. The domestic cups are always a bit of a crapshoot, with so much depending on the luck of the draw each round. We absolutely need to qualify for the knockout rounds of Europa League, though, and given how weak Liverpool’s group is the expectation should still be to finish top of it. From there, as in the domestic cups, our silverware chances could depend on—or at least be helped by—a couple of favorable draws.
Actually getting some silverware or a top four finish might be asking for too much, too soon from Klopp, but if we see a strong indication that we’re at least on the right path, we can start looking forward to next season with real, legitimate excitement.
In Rodgers’ first year, as a fan, the main goal—the difference between whether or not the season would be counted as a success—wasn’t trophies, it was being able to see a clear plan; something coherent that the manager and players were working towards. It’s the same for Klopp in that the main goal for his first season in charge is to do enough and show enough that heading into year two, the fans can once again feel some kind of hope for the future that seems grounded in reality. Beyond that, really, anything is a bonus.
Of course, given how dysfunctional the league is and how weak Liverpool’s Europa League group is, it would be hard to imagine a Liverpool side doing that without at least challenging for the top four and making a decent run into the knockout rounds. It’s just that while a top four challenge and still being in Europe deep into the new year seem eminently reasonable expectations right now, they won’t be what Klopp is measured on in his first season in charge.
A wonderful season would still involve making the top four and winning the Europa League, which would invigorate the fanbase and possibly announce the start of a proper resurgence. Liverpool haven’t been knocked out of any competition yet, nor are we that far off the pace in the Premier League or Europa League. What has been greatly disappointing, however, has been the football on display. There’s been no sustained promise to be found in defence, midfield, or attack so far this season, so like many, my focus will be on how Liverpool actually play, as that will be the basis of a successful tenure for Jürgen Klopp.
Klopp is such a big name, though, that the season can’t be written off for development purposes when there’s still so much of it left. Take Rafa Benítez’s stint at Chelsea as an example. Benítez was appointed “interim first-team manager” in late November 2012 in a hostile environment where he didn’t have the same power or backing that Klopp will. He led them to a League Cup semi-final, an FA Cup semi-final, a Europa League triumph, a FIFA World Club Cup final, and a third-placed finish. Obviously Chelsea’s squad was deeper and more talented, and Rafa already knew the league, but there will rightly be high expectations for Klopp to get Liverpool competing and looking as though they have a coherent plan.
With that in mind, there are a few positions that likely require upgrading for the quality and tactical fit that Klopp desires, and I do expect him to be given support in the January transfer window. After getting a few months in the autumn to settle, I think that will be crucial to helping the German tactician shape Liverpool’s season into a successful one. There are some good players already at the club, but laying the foundations for genuine and lasting success with FSG’s modus operandi may take a little bit of time even with a manager of Klopp’s calibre. For that reason, this season should be one of progress, even if we’d all of course hope to see more than just progress.
I’m with Zach in centering my expectations around the way Liverpool play rather than specific results, although I’d say that at least competing for a Champions League spot is essential. Klopp will have a clear view of how he wants Liverpool to execute, but it’ll take time for the team to fulfill his vision and the important thing is that they buy into his ideas and make consistent progress. That said, it’s important that Liverpool show some life right off the bat—the season is not lost, and with a shot in the arm from Klopp as they enter the most difficult stretch of it, a top four spot is still attainable. I don’t expect them to go on an immediate streak of title-winning form given the level of competition, but lively play and the redevelopment of an identity are of the utmost importance for this team.
It's a strange one, because expectations are so high and everyone is feeling this euphoria right now. It's also still relatively early in the season, and a lot of other teams have also been doing poorly. Beyond looking like they have something resembling a plan, though, so much is going to depend on the results and performances over the next month against a difficult schedule. Once those games happen, I think we’ll have a better baseline for re-assessing the season’s goals. By that point, we should also have Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino back, both of whom seem ideally suited to play under Klopp.
Tentatively, though, I think the expectations so many of us had in the summer—top four and some silverware, along with a renewed confidence that Liverpool are moving in the right direction—remain reasonable and achievable. I’m not opposed to Klopp working a miracle and taking us on a title run, though. Just saying.