Is football being unfair to Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool?
Image: Ruaraidh Gillies, CC BY-SA 2.0
After three-and-half years in the Anfield dugout and coming close to winning the league title, Liverpool was languishing in mid-table in the Premier League. It was time for a change for a club that has been a winner both on the domestic front and on the continent. That was in October 2015, and the man saddled with the responsibility to take the club forward was Jurgen Klopp. First, the German tactician had to rebuild the squad, especially after the departure of star players like Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively.
Klopp had to start from the ground up to compete with the big guns. And so he brought in the likes of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. In fact, apart from the team captain Jordan Henderson and his assistant James Milner, all other regular starters for Liverpool these days were brought to Merseyside by Klopp. The Reds now reflect the manager's style and philosophy playing some scintillating football.
With 91 points collected from 36 league matches, Liverpool is placed second on the league table. Pep Guardiola's Manchester City leads the way having amassed 92 from the same number of games. For the Reds, picking up another six points without winning the league will be history-making. Unfortunately, no one wants to make history as a loser. What's more, when the team has excelled in almost every area needed, it becomes harder to take.
At the moment, the top goalscorer in the division is in Liverpool. So is the goalkeeper with the most clean sheets. Add to that the PFA Player of the Year. The team leads Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham who sits in third by as much as 21 points. Man City won the league title last term with a 19-point gap. In fact, the Anfield side has tasted defeat in the league just once all season. That is silverware winning form. Yet the Reds still trail City in the title race. Coming up short at the end of the campaign will add to a long list of capitulations for both manager and club.
Prior to joining Liverpool, Klopp had faced heartbreaking disappointment with Borussia Dortmund. The German contested four cup finals as a manager with the Bundesliga side but only tasted success in the very first one. It was a 5-2 victory over Dortmund's bitter rivals Bayern Munich in the 2012 German Cup final. But it was a different story in the next three successive finals the team reached.
Starting from the 2013 Champions League final, Bayern got sweet revenge with a 2-1 victory over Klopp's Dortmund. But the Bavarians didn't stop there claiming another 2-0 victory in the 2014 DFB-Pokal final. The treble of losses was completed with another DFB-Pokal final defeat to Wolfsburg. A certain Kevin De Bruyne was on the score sheet for Die Wolfe in a 3-1 triumph. Klopp had had enough. He left Westfalenstadion that summer only to surface at Anfield later in October.
Unfortunately, the disappointment also made the trip to England. Just four months into his reign at Anfield, Klopp had a chance to open a new chapter as Liverpool reached the League Cup final. Facing Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City whom Liverpool had trashed 4-1 in a previous Premier League encounter made the Reds favourites in the eyes of many. But after playing out a 1-1 draw in regulation time, the Merseysiders lost 3-1 on penalties.
The next opportunity came in the Europa League final in 2016. Facing Unai Emery's Sevilla, again Liverpool was considered favourites by many. But after taking an early lead in the game, the English side collapsed in the second half allowing Sevilla to equalise and go ahead to win the game 3-1. The same scoreline against Spanish giants Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final completed another treble of losses in major finals. That's six in a row!
And now, at a time when the team is playing some of its best football in years, there's a serious danger of not reaching another final at all. It's almost unbelievable that a team will so dominate a game like Liverpool did against Barcelona on Wednesday and still end up losing 3-0.
From possession to goal attempts and all, the English side had the upper hand. But some Lionel Messi magic and what seems like bad luck means Klopp's men not only conceded several goals but failed to score even once. The lack of a crucial away goal means the tie is all but over. That may be the case as well with the Premier League title race. The Sky Blues just need to win their two remaining games to be crowned champions again. And that's not beyond Guardiola's men. That will leave the Reds empty-handed for yet another campaign.
Has football been unfair to Jurgen Klopp and his teams, then? It sure looks like it.