How Jurgen Klopp harnessed the strongest squad in Liverpool’s history

The manager has used his squad like a master tactician to stay in the hunt for an unprecedented quadruple

Tony Evans
Tuesday 03 May 2022 07:40
Comments
<p>Jurgen Klopp leads his squad out to training</p>

Jurgen Klopp leads his squad out to training

A lot can change between August and May. Nine months ago pundits, supporters and opponents were questioning the strength of Jurgen Klopp’s squad and wondering whether Liverpool had the depth to go head-to-head with Manchester City over 38 games.

Tonight the 54-year-old takes his team to Villarreal for the second leg of a Champions League semi-final with a 2-0 lead and the ability to shuffle his side with an eye to the battle for the Premier League. He has arguably the most formidable group of players in Europe.

Klopp’s first XI has been an impressive unit for the past four years. For much of that time the dropoff was pronounced when senior players were ruled out and needed to be replaced. Rotation felt more like roulette. A series of injuries last season caused chaos for the team.

Even going into this campaign, there was little sense that Klopp had so many options. In the opening game against Chelsea – the European champions – the Liverpool manager picked Harvey Elliott to start in midfield. The selection of an 18-year-old for such an important game in the wake of Georginio Wijnaldum’s departure for Paris Saint-Germain told its own story. Thiago Alcantara and Naby Keita were on the bench, seemingly confirming the notion held by some that neither midfielder was a perfect fit for the side.

That was a premature assessment of Thiago, whose first season on Merseyside was bedevilled by injuries, illness and lockdowns. Mohamed Salah has quite rightly been named footballer of the year but a compelling case can be made for Thiago being Anfield’s most influential operator over the past months.

Keita is different. He has been a frustratingly slow burn. For almost four years he showed glimpses of his class but lacked consistency. He struggled to come to terms with the physicality of the Premier League but, finally, he has found a groove. On the form he showed in the 1-0 victory over Newcastle United on Saturday, Keita could join Thiago as one of Klopp’s go-to midfielders for the foreseeable future. His pressing, energy and desire to get forward add an extra dimension to the team when he is close to his best.

So many of the squad have grown in stature. Not only has the recruitment been clever and pragmatic during the Klopp era, but the manager and his coaching staff have ensured the players are capable of carrying out the team’s relentless style. Many of them are adaptable enough to shift position if necessary.

Kopites feel pretty secure when Caoimhin Kelleher has to fill in for Alisson Becker. Kostas Tsimikas can be relied upon when Andy Robertson needs a rest. What has happened across the rest of the defence is remarkable, given last season’s travails.

Joe Gomez came back tentatively from a serious knee injury and has increasingly emerged not just as an option at centre half but an impressive replacement for Trent Alexander-Arnold at full back. Joel Matip has been robust in the centre of defence and Ibrahima Konate’s development means that the team could cope even if Virgil van Dijk was sidelined. It is a far cry from January last year when Liverpool were reduced to panic buying two central defenders as the transfer window closed, an act that had more to do with appeasing fan anger than improving the side.

Luis Diaz and Ibrahima Konate have both impressed since arriving at Anfield

That was a low point in Anfield’s recent transfer strategy. A year on things were back on track with Luis Diaz’s arrival. The Colombian has slotted in perfectly, adding power and goals to a forward line that was already the envy of Europe.

The only two senior players who have not quite stepped up to the challenge are Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Takumi Minamino. Neither has had the impact of their colleagues – compare their contribution to Divock Origi’s. Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular, will need to look for redemption elsewhere.

Back in August, Liverpool supporters were hoping that this would be the season that Curtis Jones blossomed into a regular starter. The evolution of the squad means that the 21-year-old no longer has to be rushed along. Like Elliott, he can develop at a more natural pace.

Klopp has a wide range of alternatives going into El Madrigal tonight. He can mix and match and send out a team that would worry any opposition, even if he chooses to rest players who he would not have dared to leave out a year ago. The pool of first-teamers has grown considerably.

He will need everyone to be at their best this month but he has the strongest squad in Anfield’s history at his fingertips. The Liverpool manager is using it like a master tactician in his quest for the quadruple.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in