“Being stubborn can be a good thing. Being stubborn can be a bad thing. It just depends on how you use it.”
– Willie Aames
Jurgen Klopp rose to prominence because he was stubborn.
He’s not unique in that sense because it’s a trait many of the top managers in world football have. They back themselves. He had an idea and he’s spent years adapting it to make it as close to perfection as possible because inevitably having to evolve it to keep up with the times.
To be successful you need to have self-confidence. You need to believe in yourself and your ideas and you need, sometimes, to be stubborn. There will be bumps on the road. A 4-0 loss may see you under increased pressure from fans and the media about why the system/idea you’re trying to bring to life is flawed. But you ignore them because you know in your mind that there will be teething problems but in the long-term it will pay dividends.
However, what really makes a top manager a world class one is the fact they know when to give up and try a different approach because sometimes you need to do just that. You need to admit defeat and have a rethink.
Liverpool find themselves in a bit of a predicament, partly because of Klopp’s stubbornness. They are in a battle for a top four finish in possibly the most competitive season in the Premier League’s history and Klopp’s refusal to bring in defensive reinforcements and call time on Dejan Lovren’s career as a Liverpool starter could see them lose out on a place in Europe’s elite competition.
Speaking after the defeat to Swansea the German manager had a lot to say. He cited the fact that it’s January and it’s difficult to negotiate with clubs who want to keep hold of their players as the reason no new faces have arrived at Melwood, and that it’s easier to do so in the summer.
While he has a point, if you’re targeting important first-team players of clubs who are still in Europe then it’s going to be difficult to convince them to part ways but when do Liverpool target those sorts of players anyway? And why, if he knew Liverpool needed upgrades in that area, did it not happen in the summer?
Liverpool's Defensive Woes Under Klopp
The Reds’ defence has been a glaring issue for the best part of a decade now. It looked as though Klopp would address the problem in the summer when he sold Martin Skrtel and signed in Joel Matip. It was an upgrade. Liverpool were then continuously linked to the likes of Niklas Sule and Jonathan Tah but it was Ragnar Klavan who arrived. The defence, individually at least, had improved.
But then the whole Mamadou Sakho incident happened and he was banished from the first-team and the club looked to sell him despite making no attempt to bring in a replacement, not publicly anyway. It meant Liverpool went into the season with Matip, Lovren, Klavan and Lucas as their centre-back options.
The squad has improved defensively. It’s all about having a proactive system which looks to protect the defence and stop attacks before they become dangerous. When it works Liverpool look resilient and solid but when that breaks down, and it does, the individuals are exposed and they look out of their depth.
The manager is a believer that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts and we’ve seen that this season but then at the same time no system is foolproof and sometimes you will have to rely on the parts. If they aren’t good enough you’re going to have problems.
Whether it’s actual ability or just concentration levels, Liverpool’s defenders are lacking something and it’s cost them as they’ve slid down the table. They now sit in fourth position after just two wins in their last five Premier League matches, and are just four points Manchester United who sit in sixth.
Liverpool are on course, at their current rate per game, to finish the season having conceded 47 goals. The benchmark for a top four finish tends to be 40 goals or fewer.
In their 22 games so far they have conceded 27 goals which doesn’t sound bad, but when you consider Manchester United, Spurs, Manchester City, Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal only scored six goals in the seven games against Klopp’s men it means they’ve conceded 21 in 15 games against mid-to-lower-table teams.
In dropped points against Bournemouth, West Ham United, Burnley, Sunderland and Swansea, Liverpool conceded 13 goals – two of those teams are currently sat in the bottom four. Klopp’s team, despite their dominance in most matches, look brittle when put under a little pressure and Lovren is a culprit for this due to the fact he’s one of the few constants in the defence.
Lovren regularly divides opinion but fan of his or not, can you really rely on him? Is he consistent enough to really deliver for a team with Champions League aspirations?
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
This may come across poorly given how much Liverpool have improved under the former BVB manager but did Klopp back his own coaching ability a little too much? Did he feel he could turn Dejan Lovren into a more consistent defender instead of just going out and spending £20/30million on a new centre-back? There are boundaries to what he can achieve and there are limitations to every player’s game.
The likes of James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana have all improved under his guidance but let’s not forget he changed their positions in order for them to flourish.
Henderson went from a box-to-box midfielder to a more withdrawn role which makes use of his engine and his ability on the ball. Lallana went from an attacking midfielder to a box-to-box role and has thrived. Milner disappointed in central midfield and often used to leave gaps that couldn’t be plugged but is now one of the most consistent left-backs in the league ideally suited to the Liverpool system. He made the most of their strengths.
He can’t exactly do that with Lovren now can he if defending is supposed to be his strength? It’s deja-vu with Dejan practically every few weeks because there will be moments of madness which just makes you think it’s Martin Skrtel wearing a wig.
There’s not really an excuse not to bring in a defender this January. Not if Klopp and the recruitment team really wanted one. Bayern Munich signed Niklas Sule for a reported €25million.
Virgil Van Dijk is available for anywhere between £40-50million. Jonathan Tah, Antonio Rudiger, Benedikt Howedes, Kostas Manolas all could have been convinced to join Klopp’s project and it’s not as though Liverpool are short of money so what’s stopping them from going out and investing in a defender who, when the system fails and they’re exposed, can stand up, pass the test and almost single-handedly secure the points?