Jack Hallows details how Liverpool’s 4-1 hammering at the hands of Tottenham back in October became a blessing in disguise for Jürgen Klopp.
Think back to October.
Despite emphatically qualifying for the Champions League by thumping Hoffenheim, the club’s supporter base was in a panicked state of disarray after what can only be described as a ‘schooling’ at the hands of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham.
The Reds arrived at Wembley in eighth place on the table having won just three of their previous eight Premier League fixtures. They’d only lost once – the 5-0 hammering at the hands of Manchester City – but draws with Watford, Burnley and Newcastle had seen that section of the Liverpool fanbase come out in full force – especially on Twitter.
90 minutes later and things had only gotten worse. A Dejan Lovren meltdown allowed Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son to put the London club 2-0 up and while Mohamed Salah pulled one back on the counter attack, the players on the field had already lost their heads.
Those were just three of the kinder words used to describe the Reds in the aftermath of the result as Liverpool’s fanbase seemed to just cave in on itself. There were a bizarre minority calling for Klopp’s head while others desperately tried to find a way to blame our ownership.
The manager and his players, however, responded in the best way possible. Klopp himself has said that he and the players “blamed themselves” after the resounding defeat and that they had a choice to make; let it derail their season, or “strike back.”
They chose to strike back.
A mature 3-0 victory over Huddersfield followed six days later with a noticeable change made to the Reds’ 4-3-3 system. This change was further evident when Maribor visited Anfield in the following mid-week Champions League fixture that finished with the same scoreline.
Over the months that followed between these fixtures and the Reds’ next Premier League loss – not until January 22nd, away to Swansea – it became evident that Klopp’s tactical outlook had shifted.
Where the German had previously seemed keen to keep his system, tactics and line-ups rigid – trusting in his players to get the job done whenever called upon – it now seemed the focus was on playing for the occasion, rotating where needed and using unpredictability as just as much a weapon as the players he had on the pitch.
Now, we can nitpick about what exactly it was that Klopp changed until the cows come home but the important thing to note is this… it bloody well worked.
In the 29 Premier League fixtures that followed the 4-1 humbling at Wembley, Liverpool took the second most points (62), won the third most games (18) and lost the second least (3). They also scored an incredible 70 goals, second only to Manchester City’s 74 in that same time and get this; they conceded the least, letting the ball hit the back of their net just 22 times and managing a goal difference of +48.
Their Champions League results followed the same trajectory.
For a side that had won just one of its three games in the competition proper by that point, the Reds were suddenly kicked into top gear.
Their final three group fixtures saw them score 13 goals, taking 7 points from 9 before they blew FC Porto away in the Round of 16 first leg so convincingly that the second leg of the tie felt more of a formality than a competitive fixture.
A quarter-final date with Manchester City followed and despite the overwhelming assumption that this signalled the end of Liverpool’s European run, the Reds unleashed a devastating three goal blitz on Guardiola’s men during the first half hour at Anfield that they never recovered from.
Klopp’s men had silenced the rest of the footballing community and the sneers of rival fans claiming Liverpool had no business among Europe’s elite were suddenly asking: “surely they can’t get to Kiev… Can they?!”
A 13 goal thriller with AS Roma showcased the best and worst of Klopp’s Liverpool across 180 minutes in the semi-final but it didn’t matter. The decisive goal was Liverpool’s and the 7-6 aggregate scoreline meant that it would be our Reds who would line up in the Ukraine against perhaps the most elite unit in European knockout football over recent seasons: Real Madrid.
It seems incredible to think that what felt like one of the lowest days of Jürgen Klopp’s career on Merseyside to date, has ended up as the catalyst for our 2017/18 campaign’s revival.
It just goes to show where a little bit of patience and faith gets you.