Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall looks in detail at Jurgen Klopp’s final season at Borussia Dortmund and finds some startling similarities to this season at Anfield.
Like all Liverpool fans at the moment, I’m looking for answers, understanding and explaining.
After the insipid 2-0 loss at Hull made it five defeats, four draws and a win at Plymouth in our opening 10 games of 2017, I spent Saturday evening and parts of Sunday trawling through social media. The negativity was understandably brutal.
On Monday morning, with my brain still trying to make sense of it all, I did some research of my own. I ended up on Bundesliga.com, looking at an article entitled “Jurgen Klopp: The Dortmund years”.
This wasn’t some make-me-feel-better exercise to remind myself how good our manager is. And that’s why I skipped through the first six chapters – ‘Dortmund revitalised’, ‘A force to be reckoned with’, ‘Bundesliga champions’, ‘Double winners’, ‘Champions League finalists’ and ‘Runners-up again’.
I knew enough about those. I’d read the words and re-watched the clips when the joyous announcement came that the German super-coach was heading to Anfield.
No, I was interested only in his farewell season. The one where, to start with, everything went horribly, horribly wrong.
At the time (late 2014), I recall just thinking it was strange that a team this good could be languishing at the foot of the table but didn’t really give it much more attention when Dortmund recovered to finish seventh and qualify for the Europa League.
Looking back at it now though makes me very uneasy. The story playing out has some eerie and uncomfortable similarities.
The chapter in question is called ‘A season of two halves’ and here’s a few excerpts:
“The first (half of the season) was the club’s worst in 30 years. Far from challenging for the title, they spiralled from one loss to the next.
“Despite continued support from their massive army of fans, Dortmund were soon floundering at the bottom.
“Gone was the turbo-charged pressing football; in its place, sheer perplexity and a mounting loss count.”
A glum Klopp is interviewed against a backdrop of mountains (presumably metaphorical ones which need climbing) and says: “We need to set a realistic target. Right now that means getting out of 17th place and avoiding relegation. I don’t mind when exactly we do it and I’m confident that we will.”
Watching it and seeing how this season is unfolding, it feels like Klopp is the main character in an American boxset series which jumps back and forward in time. One that could give me nightmares as I wake up in a cold sweat after being tortured by images of his many teeth and manic laugh.
To keep the suspense going and the drama high in ‘Klopp’, the plot lurches from explosive giddy highs to nightmare lows and back again.
Well, we Liverpool fans know exactly which chapter we’re watching at the moment.
I’m now trying to work out if I feel better or worse that it’s happened to him before so recently.
It has to be a big concern that a previous high-flying team of his could implode so spectacularly. Then again, it’s reassuring to know that his Dortmund side of 2014/15 recovered in the second half of the season to finish seventh. Klopp, on first glance, did find some answers.
The obvious plot twist in our case is that we’ve had the good half and now the bad is unfolding.
A season in three parts?
The hope must be that this is a season in three parts. The ‘good, the bad and the win ugly’ perhaps? Or maybe somehow Klopp engineers a return to the thrilling months of August to December when, at one point, we topped the table and many said this was the year.
The reason mooted on the Bundesliga piece for Dortmund’s horror run was “an extensive injury list and below-par World Cup heroes”. Germany had been crowned champions earlier that summer.
The causes of the turnaround aren’t really explained although some of the returning feel-good factor is put down to Marco Reus signing a lengthy contract extension in February. Philippe Coutinho doing the same for LFC hasn’t exactly had the same effect for us – so far at least.
It would be convenient to think that everything clicked after the Winter Break but when Dortmund returned from the six-week rest they opened up the second half of the season with a 0-0 draw and a 1-0 home defeat.
The turning point came on February 7 as a 3-0 victory at Freiburg sparked a run of five wins in six games.
After that they won five, drew three and lost three of their final 11 Bundesliga games which, it has to be said, is hardly earth-shattering.
Did Klopp realise Bundesliga teams had worked him out?
And so I’m left with this thought…
Was Klopp’s desire to seek out a new challenge partly fuelled by the fact that he knew Bundesliga teams had worked him out – the accusation he faces in England despite this being his first full season in charge?
I’ll happily concede this is paranoia but that’s what this run of form has done to me!
From a more level-headed perspective, perhaps our season is just a classic case of expectations being raised and the comedown kicking in hard due to a collective realisation from fans and players alike that such inflated hopes were false.
After all, we have the fifth biggest wage bill, the fifth highest turnover and were sixth favourites to win the Premier League when the season started.
Despite the rollercoaster, had a Liverpool fan just returned from a trip to space, would they actually be quite pleased that a top-four finish remains, on paper, a very realistic target?
One undeniable fact is that this current squad needs heavy investment in the summer but that’s a debate for another time.
For now, Klopp has to work with what he’s got and find some answers. Quickly!
Make or break time
The fixture list is an intriguing one as it could be viewed in two ways. Three of the next five opponents are Spurs (h), Arsenal (h) and Man City (a). That could be scary but given our unbeaten record against the big teams, it’s surely no bad thing.
That five-match run is completed by an away trip to a Leicester side in even greater freefall than we are and a home match with Burnley whose away record is Won 0, Drawn 1, Lost 10.
Do these five games provide the canvas on which Klopp paints his revival? Or will it be one daubed in foul-mouthed graffiti, bemoaning a season that has collapsed beyond all belief?