After what has been unanimously labelled as the worst January for Liverpool in recent memory by fans, you’d be forgiven for buying into the overbearing pessimism that currently surrounds the club. After all, one win from nine (that win against Plymouth in the FA Cup being made redundant after the defeat to Wolves) is hardly the form of the Liverpool pre-2017.
As the curtain was drawn on the year 2016 the Reds were sitting pretty, 2nd in the league, a League Cup semi-final on the cards and what was ostensibly a free pass into the FA Cup fourth round as Plymouth Argyle were set to come to town. Things were looking so good no one expected things to go so horribly wrong over the course of 31 days, and that’s why this stumble has felt more like a season ending fall.
From being in contention for a potential treble, to being out of both cup competitions and 10 points off the top of the league, Liverpool have faltered and fans have reacted by building bomb shelters as if it were the end of the world. Spoiler alert: it isn’t.
When Jürgen Klopp took charge of Liverpool in October 2015 the delirium and positivity surrounding the club was palpable, we finally have this world class manager to bring back the glory days that have long since passed.
The German takes a team that wasn’t of his own creation and breathes new life into it, Klopp has us believing we’re invincible. A few additions in the 2016 summer transfer window and we look to be the most exciting team in England.
And then things come to a crawl, we lose games and drop points and all of a sudden Klopp isn’t the man for the job. “He’s a fraud” “He can’t hack it in England” “Klopp out”. All this I’ve seen and heard after one month of poor form.
In reality, Liverpool aren’t doing too bad in the grand scheme of things, 46 points after 23 games is Liverpool’s joint-second best points tally since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 (our best being 48 points in the 2008/09 season). In contrast to this, at the same stage last season we had a meagre 34 points to our name.
A 12 point improvement in the space of a year is nothing to be sniffed at, and the progress that has been made under Klopp is already massively noticeable, yet some are unsatisfied and are wanting more.
The expectations on Klopp’s shoulders upon his arrival at Anfield were that he’d deliver Liverpool their 19th league title, bringing back the success of the 70’s and 80’s and make the Merseyside outfit a footballing powerhouse once more, akin to what he achieved during his time with Borussia Dortmund.
You hear of Klopp’s wild success at Dortmund, how he built a side that knocked Bayern Munich off the top of the German football hierarchy and thus many expected him to bring that success with him to Liverpool.
Football fans have romanticised Klopp’s achievements at Dortmund to such a degree that it seems no one either acknowledges or remembers his first two years at the Westfalendstadion. In his first season in charge of Dortmund (2008/09), the Black and Yellows finished 5th, in 2009/10 they finished 6th. And while that was a huge step forward for a team who had finished 13th in the year previous to Klopp’s appointment, it wasn’t until his third season in charge that Dortmund would claim the Bundesliga title.
And logically, you have to realise that Liverpool are still undergoing that same transition period that Dortmund underwent. Barring a few additions, we are still the same Liverpool side that Brendan Rodgers assembled during his tenure in the Anfield hot seat.
People want the success but they don’t want the process, and unfortunately for those people, that’s what Klopp is all about. He’s not like the Mourinhos of the world who have built their legacy off the back of a blank chequebook, who throw a team of 11 £50 million players together, hoping something sticks. Klopp is a man that knows what he needs to achieve his goals and isn’t afraid of being patient and waiting a few years to do it.
This season Klopp has got Liverpool playing some exciting, tremendously attractive football and, when on form, the Reds are capable of playing Barcelona off the park.
And perhaps that’s why this sudden dip in form has been such a hard pill to swallow. But when you look at Klopp’s track record (and moreover the team he has at his disposal), relative to his previous clubs and our squads ability, we have been overachieving this season.
When I say this I try to look at things rationally, and while some of our performances these past few months have been a thing of beauty, there’s still a long way to go.
Squad depth is something Liverpool have lacked for years now and it has been what’s cost so many points of late. Take Manchester City for example, they make their substitutions, take off Aguero, Sterling and De Bruyne and bring on Gabriel Jesus, Silva and Fernandinho. Squad depth.
On the other hand, when Liverpool play and things don’t go their way you look to the bench and think of who can come on and make an impact. Divock Origi is perhaps the best and only real option to make an impact of an ailing performance.
It’s clear signings have to be made, and as the January transfer window has come and gone and no new players have be acquired fans are vexed as to why steps haven’t been taken to strengthen the squad.
But Klopp is a man of great nous and acumen, the fact that he has neglected to sign players this past month is not due to his ignorance or unwillingness to accept his current squad isn’t strong enough. Rather it is because he feels there is no one available to him that would make a valuable addition to the side.
The German’s prime targets will remain unavailable until the summer time, and so that is how long fans will be made to wait until they may welcome a fresh face onto the pitch at Anfield. The strengthening of Liverpool’s current squad is an inevitability, it’s only a question of who will be recruited and when.
Until then the current squad will have to suffice, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even now Liverpool sit in the top four of the Premier League even after a month of little joy.
But even throughout the remainder of this season things look certain to improve, thanks in no small part to the return of Sadio Mané from the African Cup of Nations. With the return of the Senegalese frontman, Liverpool can restore their preferred front three of Coutinho, Firmino and Mané and with that the goals will soon be flowing once more.
Not only does the return of Mané allow Klopp to play his first string set of attackers for the first time since late October, but it also allows Adam Lallana to return to a deeper midfield role, where the England player of the year can have a greater influence on games.
Moreover, with Gini Wijnaldum constantly improving and cementing himself as a top quality midfielder, the creative outlet in the Liverpool midfield (not to mention the passing prowess of Jordan Henderson) should be enough to see the Reds sustain their title as the highest scoring side in the Premier League.
All told it’s not all doom and gloom at Liverpool, suffering through sickening lows (akin to that of this past January) is par for the course as a Liverpool fan, but it’s the dizzying highs that make it worthwhile. While there’s no guarantee of silverware this year for the Reds, it is coming at some point, and when it does the month of January 2017 won’t even be given a second thought.