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The Liverpool Offside 2017-18 Season Preview, Part 1: Jürgen Klopp’s Third Year

In the first part of our season preview, The Liverpool Offside staff consider expectations for Klopp in year three.

Audi Cup 2017 Press Conference Photo by Sebastian Widmann/Getty Images For AUDI

Liverpool have improved under Jürgen Klopp in his two seasons at the club. That much doesn’t open to debate. His time in charge hasn’t been without its question marks, though. Injuries have been an ongoing concern, as has a lack of depth and at times a personal stubbornness that can both hurt and help. With his third season at the club now less than a week away, how do you feel about what he has managed since arriving at Anfield, and what, if anything, do you want to see change heading into year three in charge?

To start the discussion, I’d like to submit a quote from the book The Numbers Game: “According to this theory [of substitutions], reluctant substituters such as Jürgen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund and Rafa Benitez of Liverpool were damaging their team’s chances of salvaging a point or more from a losing position.”

The theory on substitutions in itself isn’t really the important point here, rather an acknowledgement that Kloppo is Kloppo and has been since the days when Rafa roamed the sidelines at Anfield. With Klopp, you have to take the good with the bad. Personally, I think the good—playing exciting, dominating football that is capable of beating anyone on the day, plus just getting to experience the Jürgen Klopp Show on a daily basis—outweighs any bad.

All of this is not to say that I don’t wish certain things were different in some areas. But all in all, I think the club hasn’t been in such good shape in a long time, I’m excited to see where we end up in the years ahead, and at this point we should maybe just accept that Kloppo will be Kloppo.

So Borussia Dortmund are my Bundesliga team, and I started following them during the Jürgen Klopp era. All the peculiarities of Klopp’s management—good and bad—were also pretty obvious at Dortmund. I adored him then and I was extremely hyped about him coming to Liverpool for basically the same reasons. I don’t deny there are some very frustrating elements with his style and approach. But I also kinda knew what I was signing up for when the club announced him. So, as with Dortmund, I’ve just sort of learned to take the good with the bad. And I agree with Zach—the good stuff outweighs the bad, on balance. And while I think he may be capable of making some adjustments, he is who he is. I just don’t see any of the issues being comprehensively addressed unless Liverpool fire him. And I really hope that they don’t do that.

Of course, it’s possible Liverpool could have a season like Dortmund had in 2014-15. I reserve the right to change my mind should the Reds find themselves battling relegation.

Klopp has made us a better side since he took over. Transfer strategy seems to correlate with matchday tactics much better than it did at times under Brenand Rodgers. We are often exhilarating going forward. There is a certain resilience in the side when they go down a goal, which is encouraging. All these coins have a flipside, however. Reluctance to gamble on an alternate in the transfer market when a top target doesn’t materialise means that we have a higher rate of success when we do sign someone, but we always seem to be just a few bodies short through the team.

And as sexy as our football is when we face teams that play into our game, we look no closer to cracking the parked bus/aggressive counter strategy many bottom-half sides employ against us. Perhaps this sort of high-variance, high-payoff style of manager is what is required for the Reds to win a league title when so much of their competition can outspend them, but it seems to also mean we will have to continue to sit through the occasional abysmal game where playing those odds comes back to hurt us.

Klopp’s teams can play defensively sound football—our performances against top half sides and his early career at Dortmund are evidence of that—but striking that balance has been tricky for him at Anfield, and that’s what I would like to see improved in the upcoming campaign.

I definitely think there’s more good than bad when it comes to our Kloppo. He’s really revitalized a club that was suffering under the pressures of a modern supporter culture and where outside funds were acting like steroids in baseball for other clubs. For a long time it felt we weren’t able to keep up with the changing landscape of the Premier

League, and now we’ve gotten at least taken a decent step forward. There’s growing pains, to be sure, and Klopp had them at Dortmund as well before they became a force. This is our third year with him, though. Second and a half, really, and we’ve made huge strides forward—being back in Europe isn’t something to scoff at—so hopes and expectations are understandably high for this season.

There’s also another chance to see if the lessons of seasons past have been learned—preparing for the inevitable injury curse to come and wondering if we’ll fall victim to not have a strong enough squad to get through the glut of games we’ll be faced with this year. Hopefully we can all be proved wrong, but that weighs heavy on my mind right now.

For the most part, he’s done wonderfully, and it feels like for the first time since Rafa Benitez’ penultimate season, Liverpool are relevant domestically and in Europe. Some of that’s theoretical at this stage, perhaps, but it feels like Klopp has finally dragged the club out of the wilderness it’s been stumbling through since the end of the Hicks and Gillett era. Still, I’m afraid some rather obvious lessons from the past two seasons haven’t been learned from. I’m afraid that Klopp, a little bit like Arsene Wenger, is too fixated on only getting in the perfect players to build on his vision.

There’s still time, perhaps. Time for those fears to largely be put to rest if the club can sign both a top four-calibre midfielder and centre half before the window shuts on August 31st. And even if they aren’t, I believe Klopp is a good enough manager to achieve great things with the players he has at hand—and maybe a little bit of luck. But I’m worried that after two seasons that have seen the squad’s lack of depth lead to a Christmas collapse, it’s looking as though the lessons of the past may not have been learned from, and that we may be destined for another frustrating winter run.

We all want to be at the start of a new dynasty for Liverpool, here, knowing that we stood with Jürgen Klopp at the genesis of success, before we got the biggest trophies for the longest stretch of years. And maybe it’s happening. We’ve got some excellent players playing under an excellent manager. Champions League football. It excites us. But that prospect of being the best again, the anticipation, it can also entice us to cheer for disproportionate expectations in the short term as frustrations for glory arrive with a devilish swagger upon our shoulders. More, faster, now.

I’m as tempted as anybody by a Liverpool future where Jürgen Klopp’s name rolls off the tongue alongside the club's greats but it’s early days yet for “the project.” Liverpool aren’t actually back. We’re coming up. Still in transition in many ways. Still lopsided in others. But time is on the manager’s side. He arrived to right the ship and was promised the time in which to do it. He’s our guy. Go ahead and do a little dance.

While I would love a great big thing of silverware this season, I'm also prepared for a multi-year plan to unfold methodically over time and to the tune of it’s own prerogative. They work, strategize, decide. I watch, follow, support. And what I’m seeing is progress. Steady, ever-so-upwards progress, transforming Liverpool into a team that knows how to compete at the top level. That will come. It is not the team we’ve seen and it likely wouldn't be the team even with Van Dijk and Keita. Because it’s not just which players are on the pitch and how the manager uses them and what’s the job to do. A team that knows how to compete at the top level is disciplined, consistent, and is capable of achieving perfection against top-level opposition. I believe in Klopp because I believe he is building a team that will know this, it just might take a little longer and require a few different faces. Happy to win the league anytime, though.

I think Klopp is an awesome manager but he would be even better if he followed my Twitter suggestions from time to time.

In all seriousness, I think it’s been apparent for a long time now that with Klopp, what you see is what you get. As others have articulated more clearly, this means taking the bad with the good. In many ways, despite the insistence on the “Normal One” persona, Klopp is something of a man of extremes. There is that intense, deeply personal faith in certain individual players that can sometimes squeeze that little bit extra out. But there is also a fiery devotion to the collective that leaves little room for those who may not express that same devotion—we may never know if Mamadou Sakho falls into that latter category but it’s certainly looking that way.

Going into this season, everyone has been worried about transfers, and here again Klopp doesn’t do half-measures. There are players Klopp clearly has his mind set on, and the club has thrown its weight around in support of the manager’s vision. But will they pay a price if that vision turns out to be tunnel vision? A few prolonged absences here and there could have a cascading effect on the rest of the roster, especially for a squad with Liverpool’s depth concerns. It happened last year, so let’s hope it doesn’t happen again this time.

I’m excited about Klopp in a way that I haven’t felt about a manager in a while. We’re back in Europe, we had a respectable finish last season, and there’s a heady optimism floating around that there hasn’t been in ages. All that being said, I do think that this season will be much more a test of Klopp’s idiosyncrasies and how well they work for Liverpool, especially if we don’t sign any other players in this transfer window. I absolutely think Klopp can make a smaller squad work for him, but the point remains that there is absolutely no need to. FSG have shown this summer that they’re more than happy to fling ridiculous sums of money around. It seems a shame, with that and the Champions League on offer, that we’d miss out on the chance to build the kind of deeper squad that might stave off the injury curse for a few extra months because Klopp wouldn’t settle for second best.

Still, if we’re throwing quotes around, I’m going to go with David Copperfield: “Mr. Klopp has his faults, but I never will desert Mr. Klopp.” Not any time soon, at least.

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