So far Jurgen Klopp would seem to be the toast of the town on Merseyside. In the pubs, bars and cafes around the city centre the red half of Liverpool speak of his coming as if he was the messiah, the man who will save them from midtable obscurity after the growing misery and frustration under Brendan Rodgers. And to give him due credit, performances and results have generally been impressive. In his opening game away at Tottenham they gave him something to work with, putting in an incredibly hard-working performance to come away with a 0-0 draw, and in the last two games two wins have come – at home against Bournemouth in the cup and then the extremely impressive away win against Chelsea on Saturday. It would therefore seem churlish and pessimistic to suggest that this high-intensity, quick pressing style he’s implemented will not necessarily work with his playing squad, but that is what I am about to do.
Firstly, Liverpool do not have as good a squad as Borussia Dortmund did when Klopp was at his best, and that is a fact. The team they have at the moment would, at a push maybe, finish fourth in the Premier League, as opposed to Dortmund who won the Bundesliga twice in a row. Liverpool do not have as good a defence, their midfield is unfinished and incomplete in terms of personnel and formation, while the forward line is thin on the ground, as well as rather injury prone. Dortmund had a squad that not only proved capable of overhauling Bayern Munich (who have just about every advantage conceivable in the German title race), they then went and did it again the following season. While Liverpool are of course aiming to get to that position in the Premier League, they have not done so yet. Although they are good players, Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge are certainly not on the level of Robert Lewandowski, while neither central defender in their best XI is on the level of Mats Hummels. Also, their attacking midfielders are certainly not as capable as Mario Gotze or Marco Reus – who were all around during Dortmund’s period of dominating the German game.
As well as this, I am not convinced that the Anfield side necessarily have the right sort of players to attempt this type of extreme high-intensity game. Klopp’s central philosophy is one of extremely fast-paced counter attacking, where defence becomes attack as soon as the ball is won back after total, all-out pressing. Neither Benteke or Sturridge strike me as the sort of forwards who want to be doing just as much outside the box as in it, with the latter (who probably could perform the role well), needs to be constantly on his guard against aggravating yet another injury. The midfield is not necessarily set up for it either, with neither Jordan Henderson (when he gets back to full fitness) or Lucas necessarily the quickest of players. And this is not the sort of style of play that can be taught quickly, it really needs a season or more to get all the players singing off the same hymn sheet and knowing what roles to adopt when specific players have the ball.
Lastly, Klopp has to take into account that the English league operates at a much higher physical intensity than the German league. The Bundesliga operates at an extremely high level and is chock full of quality, but for bruising physical encounters we must look no further than the Premier League. When players are being battered from pillar to post, it can be hard for them to summon the necessary energy that Klopp’s inimitable style ‘Gegenpressing’ demands. As well as this, it must be remembered that Germany has a winter break, allowing players to have a short space of relaxation and recovery after the gruelling first half of the season. Liverpool will not have that luxury, and bearing in mind they also have the Europa League, Klopp must be extremely careful not to run his squad into the ground.
In essence I fear that Klopp will have to wait at least two transfer windows before being able to implement the sort of style that won him so many plaudits at Dortmund. If he tries to consistently do it this season, it could lead to big problems at Anfield.