Part 1: Four Seasons Under Jürgen Klopp
With Liverpool winning a sixth European Cup and earning 97 points in the league, the club end the season back on their perch amongst England and Europe’s elite. As such, it feels almost silly to only talk about how 2018-19 went. This past wonderful season, though, was a culmination of four years of Jürgen Klopp at the club, and so we wanted to find out a little more about how the writers of TLO felt about the journey to get to here.
As far as the controllables go, all you can really do is step back and appreciate what this team—this group of players under this manager—achieved in 2018-19. Their 97 points in the league were more than any previous runner-up. They were also more than any English club has managed in a season they won the Champions League. Sure, it hurt to miss out on the league, but with the league season a few weeks removed and a sixth European Cup in the bag, all I really feel now is proud.
It was a hell of a season. More than that, for so many of the players and this manager, it’s been a hell of a journey from October of 2015 to get to where we are today, which is where I always hoped Klopp would be able to bring the club but—if I’m being completely honest—I was never 100% certain he could. Not because I didn’t believe he was a great manager, but simply because at the time he took over it felt as though Liverpool had maybe missed their chance and been left behind a little bit.
Now, they feel anything but left behind, and so much of that is thanks to Klopp—for how he’s made the fans believe and the players believe and how he’s always found ways to get more out of what he has than perhaps any other Liverpool manager could have. He hasn’t done it alone, but it’s hard to imagine Liverpool getting here without him.
Has any manager ever had such a swift, positive, and all-encompassing impact as Jurgen Klopp when he walked into Liverpool Football Club? The change in performance didn’t come right away, but certainly the change in the feeling around the club was immediate—even when things aren’t perfect, it’s hard to wallow and complain with a personality like Klopp’s leading the way.
I think the place where we’ve seen the biggest difference in the club with Klopp is in terms of recruitment and transfers. Even the players who haven’t worked out haven’t been terrible, and the ones that have worked out have been unbelievable. I mean, Andy Robertson may be the best deal any club in the world has made in recent years.
As for this season, it feels like a culmination of several years of patient planning. There was always a strategy in everything Klopp did, you could see it from the very beginning. I felt, back in August, that this had to be the season when something good happened. All the pieces seemed to finally be comming together. It was like one of those videos on YouTube of street artists swirling paint here and there on the canvass, and then suddenly one final touch makes the whole picture coalesce and it’s a gorgeous constellation or cityscape.
That’s how last summer felt to me. Picking up Alisson and Fabinho and Keita and even Shaqiri were like those last finishing touches. This season we saw Klopp’s vision, and now going forward, now it’s going to be about about perfecting it.
There are a lot of fans of other clubs casting a jealous eye in our direction, and particularly at Klopp. Of course, they don’t really want the “long-term planning Klopp” and taking four years to get to somewhere, they want “winning big things Klopp” right out of the gate, but you can’t have the second without the first.
It’s hard to be anything but impressed with how far we’ve come, and perhaps the most impressive part of it all has been the steady and undeniable improvement, year after year.
But I’ll admit it, I didn’t think we would be back competing for leagues and Champions Leagues (plural)! Not even in four years, which is basically for-ev-er in the football world. It seemed like too tough of a hill to climb, and like Liverpool didn’t have the resources to really do it. I’m so glad I was wrong.
Who doesn’t love Klopp? That’s not a rhetorical question, that’s a real question. Who doesn’t love him? Come here and tell me why. Joking (not joking) aside, he has rightfully become a cult hero for the club, and it’s been the product of some incredible tactical planning. There have been games where we question line-ups or substitutions, but for the most part, he’s proven that we can sit back and trust him.
It’s been a long four seasons, but the team under Klopp has just kept getting better and better. I can’t wait for the next three (and hopefully more after that).
Aside from quite literally like four games, I’m not sure how things could’ve gone better since Klopp’s been at the club—and three of those games are the lost finals. But even then, Liverpool were underdogs in all of them. Then, the one other game is the one game against Manchester City this season.
Other than that, everything’s been gravy. Sure, there’s been a few frustrating draws and losses along the way, particularly early on in Klopp’s tenure, but I can hardly hold those against him. Can you?
Can you believe? Why, yes yes I can, because that’s what Klopp has turned us into, just like he said he would. Believers.
We basically smashed it this past year. City being this good right now is an unavoidable problem we just have to put up with, but otherwise, it’s hard to argue Liverpool didn’t totally maximise their resources this season. You can’t ask for much more of a manager than turning Divock Origi into someone who scores vital goals that win you the Champions League.
When you look back at Klopp’s team selections from 2015-16, the side is virtually unrecognisable. In that year, it felt so exciting just to make a run to the final of the Europa League. The following season, we were celebrating finishing fourth. It’s just a straight line of improving every year, and I’m only a tiny bit concerned about the prospect of it slowing down.
Klopp’s team has converted sports fans into Liverpool fans here where I live in the American South, and watching that, the excitement that Klopp and Salah and Van Dijk and the boys have inspired in my little neck of Earth 4,000 miles from Anfield has been wild. People I know who have only ever had a highlights-level interest in football are now coming at me wide-eyed with emotion because of what this team has done.
But it’s not just about a comeback or a final, it’s the story of Liverpool. The story of the last two seasons. The potential, the letdowns, the fight, and now victory. Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool have aroused the world. And if that sounds like a lurid metaphor, so be it.
This season was the perfect and deserved ending to a journey for Liverpool Football Club, the project under Klopp specifically, and for Klopp himself. The first thing is that—at the risk of repeating myself too often—as a Child of the Hodgepocalypse, all along I’ve somehow still felt we were ahead of schedule. Don’t get me wrong, I love the results, but like a lot of people I just didn’t think we’d get this far this fast.
We were staring at administration and, potentially, relegation. Our squad had Christian Poulsen and Paul Kochesky and Joe Cole getting big minutes. There was no way we were gonna get out of that hole.
Then we began the long trudge back up the mountain, but it always came with setbacks. King Kenny wins the League Cup then everything falls apart. Brendan figures out a way to get both Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez to click at the same time and then the Uruguayan bites and finagles his way off to Barcelona just in time for the wheels to come flying off again. It was always two steps forward, and at least a step—and often two—back.
But the progression under Klopp has been incredibly linear. We’ve improved yearly in terms of our point total in the league and the style of play has improved from when he took over, too. Our quality has gotten so good that most of the players he inherited (farewell, Daniel Sturridge) have been relegated to fringe players. We have real depth and quality in the starting XI now.
So while us hoisting the Champions League trophy isn’t necessarily a surprise given where we started it is, I feel that it paradoxically is. Because I’m not sure I quite believed we were this close until we were going it, but now that we are here I’m going to try to enjoy it.