Scott Groom believes that Jurgen Klopp has permanently traded the manic play style he employed last season for the more measured and confident approach to winning games of the current campaign.
On a night where Liverpool needed to pull out all of the stops in order to secure Champions League qualification, many were calling for a return of Jürgen Klopp’s self-coined ‘heavy metal football’ against Napoli at Anfield.
But instead, Liverpool produced a composed, measured and entirely professional performance as they have done all season to see themselves through to the Round of 16 with a 1-0 win under the floodlights on Merseyside.
The performance was something that Reds fans are perhaps still becoming accustomed to, as Klopp’s side has been very gung-ho in recent times, throwing caution to the wind and simply hoping to blow teams away and outscore them, regardless of how many goals they let in at the other end.
But those days seem to be a distant memory now, with Alisson Becker’s goal seeming an impenetrable fortress being kept under lock and key by the Brazilian shot-stopper and his security team of Alexander-Arnold, van Dijk, Gomez and Robertson.
While it was by no means a ‘boring’ performance, it seemed entirely more controlled from Liverpool against Napoli, regardless of the pressure that the night carried with it.
There was never a sense of panic or hurriedness about the team, and instead an overwhelming sense of calmness and security in the fact that the lads truly believed that they would get the job done without throwing the game plan out of the window.
The defence was at its usual solid best, while the maligned midfield selection of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum stamped their authority on Napoli with increasing vigour as the game went on. Their relentless energy and efficient use of the ball provided a perfect platform for Liverpool to build attacks, and the service into the front three was much improved, too.
As for the front three, which was spearheaded by an in-form Mohamed Salah, they were back to their menacing best. Firmino showed signs of his true self with neat touches, impressive work rate and wonderful link-up play lighting up his performance, while Sadio Mané did little wrong – aside from leaving his shooting boots at Melwood.
It was a far cry from performances against Borussia Dortmund in 2016 or Roma in last season’s Champions League semi-final, where as scintillating as Liverpool were in attack, they were susceptible to almost hitting the self-destruct button at times when it came to defending their lead.
Kopites have become used to seeing their side come out of the blocks faster than the speed of light and overwhelm teams for the early periods of games, which typically paid dividends as the Reds would often score a few goals early on and put their opponents right under the cosh.
However, this could quite easily lead to Liverpool becoming open to counter attacks, or simply wearing themselves out a bit in the latter stages of games and leaving themselves vulnerable to conceding late on, such as the Dzeko goal at Anfield which made it 5-2 in the first leg last season.
Fast forward to this season, and you simply cannot see that happening.
There’s an air of confidence and assurance about this Liverpool side that we have not seen for many years.
The attacking pressure and threat are still there with this season’s side, but it’s more measured and composed, waiting patiently for their moment to strike rather than simply bombarding opposition defences with attack after attack.
And they have all of this attacking threat with the assurance that Klopp has been allowed to assemble the personnel he’s clearly wanted for some time to be able to shut teams out and make the Reds a truly daunting opposition for any team in world football to come up against.
Of course, this is not to say that the ‘heavy metal’ style will not return at some point, but Klopp seems to have found a winning formula this season, and long may it continue.