Liverpool Football Club have not had the best few weeks. This October, Jurgen Klopp will have been at the helm two years, and in that time have they really progressed that much?
When Brendan Rodgers was sacked as Liverpool manager in October 2015, almost every Liverpool fan would have picked Jurgen Klopp as their man to replace him. When he arrived at Anfield, he was a dream come true, a breath of fresh air, and much was expected of him. "Give him time, not his team yet," seemed to be the words on the lips of many as they stuttered through the 15-16 season with the occasional breathtaking heavy-metal football performance. But now, after 2 years, and 4 transfer windows, it is time that Klopp takes some flack for a still under performing, inconsistent team.
Klopp will argue that he tried to fix this problem last season by bringing in Loris Karius. Karius though has been far from successful since he arrived. He is reminiscent of David De Gea in his first season or so at United-- nervy, and not used to the physicality of the Premier League, but clearly talented. He may still come good, but to do so he needs an extended run in the team to get acclimated. That would inevitably come with some growing pains for Karius and Liverpool alike but may serve both better in the long run. What we do know for sure is that Simon Mignolet is nowhere near good enough. He is capable of the occasional brilliant stop, but he is not even in the top 10 keepers in the Premier League. If Klopp is not prepared to play Karius in the first team to bed him in, it is baffling why he has not sent him out on loan to gain experience in the English game. Sitting on the Anfield bench for the Premier League matches is going to do Karius no good, and as long as Mignolet is between the sticks they will continue to leak goals.
Klopp knows he has an issue at center back, as Liverpool pursued Virgil Van Dijk all summer and before. But even if Van Dijk had arrived, Liverpool would still have major problems at the back. Alexander-Arnold has started the season brightly, but he is young, and not the finished article yet. Matip is a great defender, and Robertson looks like he could be a good signing, but Lovren, Klavan, Clyne, and Moreno are woeful. The concerning thing is that we are still seeing the same types of issues with the Liverpool back line that were present even at the end of Rodgers' tenure-- they are so vulnerable from set pieces, and seem to always be conceding sloppy goals culminating from a litany of defensive lapses in concentration and mistakes against lesser opposition. In his two years at Anfield, Klopp has done nothing to rectify those problems.
This one is not entirely Klopp's fault, but Liverpool have never really replaced Xabi Alonso. Not since the brilliant Spaniard have Liverpool had someone consistently capable of sitting slightly deeper and protecting the back 4. Emre Can and Gini Wijanldum are great players, and with the addition of Naby Keita next summer, their midfield will certainly improve. But they are still missing a top quality defensive midfielder who can give their creative players the license to get forward and be dangerous. I have a feeling a Nemanja Matic-esque player would transform Liverpool in the same way that Matic's arrival at United has transformed them from a constipated, dull, fruitless team, to a team that has often looked like it can score at will. Liverpool have so much quality going forward-- Coutinho, Mane, Firmino, Sturridge (when fit), and Lallana are all capable of the absolute sublime, as they have shown in a handful of breathtaking performances under Klopp. Now, the manager just needs to find the missing piece to set his incredibly dynamic front line free on a consistent basis.
Think of the great title winning captains... Keane, Vieira, Terry. They were all inspirational leaders capable of grabbing games by the scruff of the neck and dragging their teams across the finish line. Henderson is a solid Premier League player without a doubt, but he has left a little to be desired when asked to perform at the highest of levels in the Champions League and on the international stage with England, and too often disappears in matches. Would he get into the starting 11 at Chelsea, United, City, Arsenal, Tottenham or any of the top teams on the continent? I think not. Will he even get in the starting 11 at Liverpool next season with the arrival of Keita? Questionable. Klopp needs to find a truly inspirational leader-- his heartbeat on the pitch. For so long Liverpool relied on Gerrard to come up with that little something extra to get them out of a sticky situation or to fly into a tackle and get the rest of the team fired up. Despite always giving 110%, Henderson isn't the caliber of player or leader that Liverpool need to fire them to the title.
There is no doubt that Klopp is an extremely likable character. The fans love him, the players love him, and by all accounts the Liverpool board room love him too. That is not for nothing, but it will be interesting to see if Klopp starts to feel the pressure if these issues continue to persist and this season ends trophyless and with something of a whimper like the last few have. His relationship with all factions of the club means that he will be given more time than others may have, but managers are always judged on results. As things stand after his first two years in charge, the results have not been consistently good enough.