Jurgen Klopp details the problems that Liverpool have faced this season and why they will emerge stronger for the experience.

ADAM BATE|

JURGEN Klopp looks up and that trademark smile emerges at the merest mention of the corresponding fixture last season. It was July, the final home game of an extended campaign, when Chelsea last visited Anfield. The visitors scored three. Liverpool scored five.

The trophy celebrations followed.

A 30-year wait at an end.

The hope was that Liverpool were just getting started. Klopp had retained a title with Dortmund. This team was at its peak, not past it. There were no signs of complacency. Success had come relatively late to most of the squad. The appetite to sustain it was there.

“Before the season, yes, we knew we were good,” Klopp tells Sky Sports. “That did not mean we were going to win it, but it just increases your responsibility to achieve something.”

Instead, Chelsea return to Anfield on Thursday evening with a different coach and in different circumstances. They are above Liverpool in the table but the more pressing problem for Klopp is that so are four other sides. Everton could overtake them too.

“We are still a good team but a lot of things have happened this season and if you want to win the league in England you have to play a nearly perfect season.

“You can see that now with City. They did not start perfectly but they obviously now are in a mood where it looks like perfection. Results wise, one hundred per cent. Performance wise, not far away. That is the season you have to play to become champions in England.”

It has been far from perfect for Liverpool.

“We started the season pretty well,” Klopp points out. He is right. Three wins out of three before the 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa that looked like an outlier but will now be seen as foreshadowing the troubles to come. At the turn of the year, it was their only defeat.

“We were, for a long time, on top or around the top of the table, scoring goals.”

And then it unravelled.

One defeat at Anfield – Liverpool’s first in almost four years – quickly became two, three, four. The worst run in their own stadium for almost a century. Two months into 2021 and Liverpool have already lost more games than in the previous two years combined.

“The problems that we had, it was always clear that they would become influential if we could not sort it by the players coming back. That is what happened.”

Klopp is referring to the injuries, of course. The defensive crisis that has robbed them of their three specialist centre-backs, the team’s foundation, for much of the season.

When Fabinho and Ben Davies were out recently, Liverpool found themselves without not just the emergency cover at centre-back but the emergency cover for the emergency cover.

One week later, Jordan Henderson limped off in the derby.

“Most of the problems are as a result of the injury situation,” says Klopp. “This year we have faced completely new problems. I have never in my life – and I have been doing the job for 20 years – had to change the last line every week.

“I am a much better manager this season than I was before because usually you are not having to think about these things but now I am having to think about them constantly.

“We had a situation on Friday night. We trained all week, or the few days that we had to train, with one specific line-up and then overnight we had to change it completely. That is another big thing to do that is common in football but we have had it plenty of times.

“People might say that is an excuse. I could not care less, to be honest. We do not use it as an excuse but if you ask me the question then it is the explanation for why things changed.”

That explanation can be succinct: Liverpool lost all their defenders and started losing games. But it can also be lengthy and complex. The subtle changes to the team necessitated by the injuries to Virgil van Dijk and the rest have had repercussions all over the pitch.

“We are all detail fanatics and it is very important that the little things work really well because then they become really influential on the bigger picture,” Klopp explains.

“Very often, that means the way you defend. You work on it but you do not change it too much because defending is something where stability is really important. And we have had to change our defence way too often to have any kind of stability, that is the truth.

“We can still defend in a game but the way that we have to adapt is changing the whole balance of the team. That sounds really football-specific but someone who is in it and has done the job would tell you that it is true. That has been a massive challenge.

“Particularly when you are constantly facing top-class teams. It is not just that you are having to adapt to something, it is that the other teams do not have to adapt and can just play on a good day their best football and on another day their second-best football.

“Still, for a while, we got the results we wanted. But then we started playing not that well any more because now we had to put more focus on protecting our offensive situations.

“That cost us fluency and fluidity offensively. At that point, we realised that we were not creating as much any more, but we were still scoring goals. Then, we were not creating enough, only a few chances, and we were not scoring goals either.

“That is when the results go and you find that the train you want to be on is – if not gone – already far away.

“Now, we are playing good football again. We create chances but we don’t score. So we have had pretty much all of the problems that you can have in football in one season.”

Klopp laughs at the thought of it.

“I am not angry about it or whatever, I am 53 years old. I have had different moments in my life. Wonderful moments, lesser moments. It is just a football problem.

“Dealing with frustration, dealing with failures, you can learn so much in these moments, it is unbelievable. That is what we will do.

“It helps you in life.”

Klopp has made adjustments. Tweaks that were in evidence in the win over Sheffield United. But there has been nothing too drastic, the shape remaining broadly familiar despite the personnel changes.

Perhaps it is harder for a coach who has had such success to overhaul the approach. Harder still at a football club expected to carry the game to opponents even when confidence has been hit.

“We cannot fight like another team who fights to stay in the league by sitting deep and defending so that a clean sheet is pretty much safe and if we get one chance or a set-piece we score with it. That would be great but that is not the way that we can fight.

“We have to fight it in a different way. We have to be dominant. If we don’t want the ball, a lot of the other teams don’t want the ball either so the ball stays in the middle and nobody goes for it.

“So we have to be dominant, we have to create, and that is difficult but it is the situation we are in.

“The togetherness is outstanding in the club internally. We are not angry with each other and pointing the finger at each other saying that it is because of you or it is because of you. That is not the case. We are a complete unit, really. One hundred per cent.”

Patience and trust are important messages here but he is aware that some supporters will struggle to be as sanguine as him.

“Not all of our fans will love the situation, I can imagine that. I know the behaviour of football supporters is not all the same, just like we are not all the same. So some of them will not like it.

“But I think we can get them back again.”

His confidence stems from the knowledge that his way works and the belief that it will work again once the key players are fit. In fact, he insists that Liverpool have improved in some aspects, even though the fog of recent results has obscured that progress.

There is the emergence of Curtis Jones, the swift impact made by the effervescent Diogo Jota before his own injury, and the quality that Thiago will undoubtedly bring to a functioning team.

“You cannot change it overnight and say that from now on we are going to smash the whole world again but we will get there again if we stay calm in mind and we use this time to learn.

“A lot of things are really good. Some are even better than they were last year. How we develop our game in little moments, it is just better than it was. Nobody sees them because we don’t get the results. I get that. But there is so much that we have changed and tried to develop that we know will make us stronger in the future.”

The problem is that football is all about results and if these little things that are better than before do not lead to better result then people do not want to hear about them.

“If we are winning 15 or 20 games in a row, people listen to me and say, ‘Oh my god, what kind of genius stuff is he saying.’ When we are not winning games, I can say exactly the same things and people will say, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, just make sure you win the game.’

“I know that, it is absolutely no problem. I am responsible for this, not only now but for the next few years as well. That is why we will not let this time pass without getting a little bit of a benefit out of it. We cannot prove that now because we are still in the situation.

“We will have to prove it a little bit later.”

The turnaround could come quicker than some expect. Victory over Chelsea would lift Liverpool back into the top four with another home game against Fulham at the weekend. For all their problems, even a third European final in four seasons cannot yet be ruled out.

“We will see how it ends up,” adds Klopp. “We know we are still in the Champions League. We know there are a couple of things out there for us to get. But we know too – and we learned it this year – that we cannot take anything for granted.”

(SOURCE: SKYSPORTS)

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