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It’s been a slow burner but Jürgen Klopp has managed to change an entire fanbase from doubters into believers, just as he said he would on his first day in charge of Liverpool.
Not only that, though, the charismatic German also convinced the players to buy into this, eventually turning them into mentality monsters.
Speaking after he was officially unveiled as the man to succeed Brendan Rodgers, Klopp implied belief in that Liverpool team was lacking: “At this moment all the LFC family is a little bit too nervous, a little bit too pessimistic, a little bit too much in doubt,” he said.
“They all celebrate the game and there is a fantastic atmosphere in the stadium, but they don’t believe at the moment. They only see five years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago. History is great but only to remember. Now we have the possibility to write a new story if we want. But we have to clear a few things and maybe we can do this and be as successful as we can be.”
During his first campaign in charge, the players and fans had moments of shared belief – the memorable turnaround at Anfield against Borussia Dortmund perhaps the standout. But, eventually, they’d be brought back down to earth with a bump.
Fans would get nervy and this atmosphere would translate onto the pitch. Leads were lost and points were dropped. It was a vicious circle, one that was near impossible to break. The doubt would linger until the Reds did something to prove the odd moment was the start of something, and not just a one-off.
The second season of Klopp’s reign showed more signs of progress but there was still a brittleness to the squad and to the fan’s confidence. Liverpool went on an 11-match unbeaten streak between August and November only to lose it when Bournemouth came from 3-1 down to snatch a 4-3 victory.
The Reds won four of the next seven but in the three games they failed to pick up all three points in, they surrendered leads in. After draws to Manchester United and Sunderland, Liverpool lost to Swansea City at Anfield. Hull City humbled them following a draw with Chelsea and Leicester City romped to a 3-1 win a fortnight after Klopp’s men managed to defeat top-four rivals Spurs.
For a two-month spell, performances were very Jekyll and Hyde. However, eight wins from the final 12 games of the season ensured they pipped Arsenal to fourth spot by a single point. It was by no means pretty, with the Reds eking out single goal wins over Stoke City, West Brom and Watford. But they did enough to keep destiny in their own hands. A sign of change.
The 2017/18 campaign kicked off with Liverpool looking like their early 2016/17 self. The Reds were scoring goals but also happened to be conceding them. They lacked resilience and didn’t have the mental fortitude to see out games. Fans fed off this uncertainty and at times it resulted in a very surreal atmosphere.
The Reds saw leads against Watford, Sevilla (twice) and Arsenal evaporate. The tide slowly started to turn after the 4-1 loss to Spurs, however, with Klopp adopting more of a defensive approach at times. Virgil van Dijk’s arrival aided this but the side was still partial to a brainfart.
They allowed Manchester City to recover from being 4-1 down to make a nervy 4-3 finish. Spurs salvaged a point at Anfield despite twice trailing. Roma scored six across two legs in a Champions League semi-final. But these capitulations were few and far between.
Last season was different altogether. Of course, Liverpool lost the odd lead but there weren’t any collapses like in previous campaigns. Their heaviest defeat was at the hands of Barcelona in what could be described as the most even 3-0 loss in history.
The return leg saw Anfield play host to one of the greatest comebacks in football history. Klopp revealed what he said in the build-up to that match: “We have to play without two of the best strikers in the world. The world outside is saying it is not possible. And let’s be honest, it’s probably impossible. But because it’s you? Because it’s you, we have a chance.”
He didn’t eulogise over what happened in Istanbul all those years back. For the first time in a long time, a Liverpool manager had something other than the 2005 Champions League triumph to talk about. This group of players had appeared in a European Cup final. They’d weathered storms. They’d added an edge to their mentality. They no longer lacked that big-game experience. This squad has self-belief and they’re backed by supporters who believe in them.
It’s a perfect storm and one of the many reasons they don’t know when they’re beaten. It’s often overlooked that ahead of the Barca game, Liverpool went to St James’ Park and snatched a late winner in difficult circumstances to keep their title hopes alive. In previous years, that match would’ve ended in a draw. Just as the 4-3 win over Crystal Palace in January would have and the 3-1 win against Southampton in April.
The Reds have won 40 of their last 49 Premier League matches, and they’ve come from behind in their last three to claim seven points in total.
This process started back in 2015. These mentality monsters have been developed over time. Liverpool fans went from fearing the worst to expecting maximum points in every single game.