Liverpool are one of a few that can be called a football elite, a club steeped in history having won a monumental 5 European Cups, 18 League titles, 7 F.A cups and a record 8 League cups. In 2016, Forbes ranked Liverpool as the 8th most valuable club in the world at $1.5b, they truly are a force in world football.
However Liverpool haven’t won the league in 26 years and have even allowed Man United, one of their fiercest rivals to overtake them in league titles won, United now holding 20. A team that should be at the pinnacle of the sport have huffed and puffed during the Premier League era but ultimately never really competed long enough to be seen as real title contenders.
When Brendan Rodgers was appointed in June 2012 many believed he could return Liverpool to top of the table in the Premier League once again, following an impressive spell at Swansea. Things didn’t start that well for Rodgers finishing his maiden season in 7th place, just once place higher than Kenny Dalglish finished the season prior.
It was the 2013/14 season where the Rodgers appointment seemed to all come together, Liverpool looked very strong indeed. They played some impressive attacking football due primarily to the aptly named ‘triple S’ in Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge. A run of 11 wins in a row saw Liverpool 5 points clear at the top of the league with just 3 games to go. But of course we all know what happened next, as the infamous Steven Gerrard slip started the nosedive that was Liverpool’s season handing the league title to Man City. Whilst Liverpool know they threw the league away that season, they did finish having scored 101 goals, the 3rd highest in Premier League History and Rodgers won the LMA Manager of the year award the first Liverpool manager to win the prize in its 20 year history.
So it was a season to build on for Liverpool, but that didn’t materialise. The summer transfer window came and went with Liverpool losing prize asset and serial biter Luis Suarez to Barcelona. The impact of this was for all to see with Liverpool finishing in 6th place that season.
Early in the 2015/16 season, following just 1 win in the last 9 matches, a 1-1 draw against Merseyside rivals Everton was the straw that broke the owners back with Rodgers leaving his post just an hour after the final whistle.
It was a time for the Liverpool hierarchy to make a statement, and that they did. They introduced arguably one of the brightest managers in Europe, the eccentric and enigmatic Jürgen Klopp.
Since Joining Liverpool the media have salivated at Klopp’s presence on the touchline, his unconventional press conferences and general demeanour. But now a year in the job has past, has he actually done any better than Brendan Rodgers or has his personality out foxed the media, pundits and fans into believing he is better than he really is?
Having taken charge of Liverpool during last season, it was still early enough for him to have near enough a full term with Liverpool albeit with an inherited squad. After a relatively slow start, the season will be remembered as a success. Although not fruitful in terms of honours, Liverpool played some really good football, Coutinho thrust himself forward as a real star. Klopp even guided Liverpool to 2 cup finals, losing on penalties to Man City in the League cup and to Sevilla in the Europa League final.
With a full summer transfer window and pre-season under his belt, Liverpool entered the season without the ‘burden’ of Europa league football which will allow his team to get more rest between matches, but also work more on tactics with the team.
One of the most obvious changes since Klopp took charge of Liverpool is the amount of energy the team plays with. His style in one sense is similar to that of Rodgers who believes in the high pressing game as opposed to deep back lines, but you could argue Klopp’s Liverpool seem better at playing that way compared to Rodgers team. This could all be tracked back to better and more insightful training and preparation methods with the team being fitter over 90 minutes. In fact this season in the Premier league, Liverpool have covered the most area showing what a hard working team Klopp has produced. This also shows that he fully has the dressing room with each player willing to put a shift in and work very hard for the cause. He expects hard work and so far that’s what he’s got.
Liverpool this season have also had the most shots per game, the most chances created and the most sprints completed per game. He has instilled a cavalier approach to the Premier League which has seen benefits in terms of attacking intent currently joint top on goals scored with leaders Man City. It does however mean that Liverpool concede too many goals, having conceded 10 goals so far this season (after 7 games). Liverpool have conceded the most amount of goals from any team in the current top 10 in the league.
For Liverpool to mount a serious challenge this season they will need to tighten up at the back as the famous Sir Alex Ferguson quotes goes “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.”
But how does Klopp’s first year compare to Rodgers reign?
Ultimately, Brendan Rodgers finished his Liverpool tenure with a 50% win rate which is actually higher than Klopp (only just) at 49%. These stats are very comparable, but when you consider Rodgers managed more than 100 games extra compared to Klopp (at time of writing) it seems even more impressive that he has a better win ratio over such a longer time period.
It has to be said however that Klopp does have a better loss ratio with 21% compared to Rodgers 25% a sign that whilst he hasn’t quite mastered the art of winning more, he tends not to lose as many. The additional point here and there, turning a loss into a draw can often be the difference of 1 or 2 positions over the entire league season.
The headline stats so far have shown that they two managers were relatively comparable but when you dig a little deeper into the style of football what other conclusions can be drawn?
Liverpool under Klopp have had a pass completion rate of 80%, this is below Rodgers last full season at 83% and substantially below Rodgers best season (2013/14) at 85%.
Goals scored per game under Klopp is also below the Rodgers 2013/14 season where Liverpool averaged 2.66 goals per game. However in Rodgers ill-fated final full season in which Suarez left, Liverpool averaged only 1.37 goals per game. This season the in league has seen Liverpool improve to average 2.57 goals per game, close to the impressive 2013/14 season under Rodgers. It must be considered however that we are currently only 7 games in this season (at time of writing) so only time will tell if Klopp’s Liverpool can keep this high goal scoring rate up across the season.
As previously mentioned, Liverpool’s attacking aptitude can be easily seen and backed up by the stats. Liverpool so far this season are creating more chances per game then over the past 4 seasons at 15.9, 3 chances per game more than in the 2013/14 season.
They are also having more shots per game with 19.3 shots, 2 more per game than in the 2013/14 season in which they scored 101 league goals so the early signs this season are very good for the Reds.
It seems Liverpool are perhaps just missing a top striker with a shot accuracy of 36% compared to 40% in the 2013/14 season. Sturridge of course can be that striker they need, however his injury problems are always a concern.
Defensively compared to Rodgers, Klopp needs to improve. Currently this season, Liverpool have conceded 1.43 goals per game in the league, their worst record over the past 4 seasons. They also have 5% lower tackle success rate.
I think a year in to Klopp’s reign as Liverpool manager, the stats show that actually Liverpool haven’t actually been much better off under than under Brendan Rodgers.
One thing Klopp has brought to the team though, something which can’t be measured in statistics is belief. He has a key characteristic of self-belief and you can tell this exudes throughout the side, which can be seen by the open way they attack. A team playing without such belief would not be so offensive as Liverpool are. But the belief Klopp brings goes further than the team, it’s something that can be felt around the Liverpool fans. They firmly believe that they can mix it up at the top of the Premier League this season, if not actually win. The fact that they are not in European competition can add to this confidence.
It is with that we see the potential Klopp brings, after all he has only had a year in the job and one summer transfer window. The early signs seen this season show great potential for Liverpool as now they have a manager who himself believes he is up there with Guardiola, Mourinho and Ancelotti. He believes he will succeed as he did at Dortmund winning consecutives league titles between 2010 and 2012.
Love him or hate him, Jürgen Klopp does brighten up the Premier League with his irrational touchline antics and comical press conferences. But he adds more than just personality, he is a very good young manager at a club that just seems to fit.
In a League that now boasts some of the top managers in the world, Liverpool are now part of that club rather than chasing behind the pack.
Whilst statistically, his first year in charge shows very little sign of improvement than under Rodgers, the potential and excitement his team is playing with show all the signs that replacing Rodgers with Klopp was the correct decision.
Liverpool will have a say in how the top 4 finishes this season in one way or another and Liverpool look like going from strength to strength which is another contributing factor as to why this could be one of the most interesting Premier League seasons ever.
By Michael Thatcher