Liverpool 2016-17: The season so far
Liverpool currently sit in second place in the Premier League, but what has propelled the Merseysiders into this lofty position? Jürgen Klopp’s coaching influence is validated in the results achieved so far this season. Poor results against Bournemouth, Burnley, and Manchester United at home stand out as negatives in an otherwise successful first half of the season.
Borussia Dortmund can testify to the influence the gregarious coach brings to a club. Similar to Liverpool, Dortmund were a sleeping giant when Klopp took over. The former FSV Mainz 05 defender guided Dortmund out from a decade in the wilderness to win two Bundesliga titles and a German Cup, as well as reaching the Champions League final. Liverpool, on Klopp’s arrival, were in a similar position: a traditional powerhouse club with a glorious history that had fallen into habitual underachievement in the Premier League.
Perhaps more than any tactics or transfer dealings, Klopp has instilled a renewed focus for hard work at Anfield. Training intensified, and Liverpool now look to be one of the fittest teams in Europe. The German is a very loyal coach, often praising his team even in difficult games such as the draw against Manchester United at home. Players flock to that kind of attitude and former playing misfits like Adam Lallana look to be flourishing under Klopp’s guidance.
Another pointer to the renewed focus was the no-nonsense approach to Mamadou Sakho. Klopp, for his own officially undisclosed reasons has decided that the French international is too disruptive and has ostracised Sakho pending a potential transfer out. A marker to other players was laid down and it will be interesting to see how Klopp deals with Roberto Firmino pending the outcome of his drink-driving case.
The coaching staff at Liverpool are now stacked with personnel who have won things in the game. Zeljko Buvac and Peter Krawietz both played integral parts in Klopp’s successful Dortmund teams. The unheralded coup of the summer in regards to incomings at Anfield was the capture of Andreas Kornmayer. The German fitness and conditioning coach’s arrival from Bayern Munich has seen a marked improvement in the overall fitness of the current Liverpool team. Klopp has assembled a staff of winners and will be determined to achieve more success through his current playing squad.
Anfield buzzed with activity during the close season. Outgoings of experienced but surplus to requirement players like Joe Allen, Christian Benteke, Mario Balotelli and Martin Škrtel were skillfully negotiated. Of the incoming players, the most significant impacts have come from a forward in Sadio Mané and a centre-back in Joël Matip.
Jet-heeled and tactically astute, the Senegalese forward has revelled playing in the gegenpressing system favoured by Klopp. Given licence to interchange with the other forwards, Mané has improved his finishing ratio and provides a fantastic option on the fast counter when Liverpool regain possession near their own box. Fast becoming undroppable, he will be sorely missed in January when he goes on international hiatus.
Elegant in possession and a calming influence at the heart of the defence, Matip so far has to be one of the best free transfers in Liverpool’s history. The giant defender poses an aerial threat at both ends of the pitch, something the Reds have missed since the days of Sami Hyypiä. His injury just prior to the Bournemouth game and the subsequent defensive collapse indicates that his quality is missed when he’s not available to start.
January Transfer Window
Incoming transfers in January carry a greater risk than in the close season. Players signed during the summer break have the benefit of a full pre-season with their new teams; Andy Carroll famously flopped as a January transfer for the Reds, although Luis Suarez and Javier Mascherano were both major successes.
Klopp must look to bring Dimitri Payet to Anfield. The French midfield maestro would make strong competition as a playmaker for Coutinho. The former Marseille player would also bring a new attribute to the side with his consistent genius from set pieces, something that Liverpool currently don’t possess consistently.
Liverpool have been among the attacking superstars of this Premier League season so far. The Reds have blitzed teams at times with some high scoring. Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi and Philippe Coutinho have all been performing exceptionally. Daniel Sturridge, once fully match sharp, will add a killer goal poacher to the Liverpool attacking machine either as a starter or an impact substitution. In midfield the energy levels, work-rate and fitness of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can has dominated in many games.
Defensively there is room for improvement, especially in the goalkeeping position. The outfield defenders have performed well, with a special mention of distinction to James Milner for transitioning to left-back with ease. Nathaniel Clyne is defensively consistent and Dejan Lovren is improved alongside Matip.
Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet, on the other hand, have both flattered to deceive. Mignolet has had a few seasons now to convince and still hasn’t won over many critics. Karius has time to grow and improve, but it would be prudent to get an experienced goalkeeper like Joe Hart in to mentor him.
Early positive results away to perennial top four chasing clubs bodes well for the second half of the season. Recent wins against Manchester City and Everton were massive hurdles successfully navigated by the Reds.
Sadio Mané’s absence is a huge loss. The current squad has quality but not depth, and needs additions in January. A purchase of a flair player like Dimitri Payet could be the x- factor Liverpool needs to boost their second half of the season top four chase.
Overall, Liverpool are in a great position to finish in the Champions League places. The Reds also have a viable shot to pressure Chelsea all the way for the title.