Jurgen Klopp may prove to be an upgrade on Brendan Rodgers, but nobody should be surprised by Liverpool’s early struggles under the German.
Christian Benteke’s header looked set to earn Klopp his first win as Liverpool manager in his third game in charge against Southampton on Sunday, but Sadio Mane scored a late equaliser for the visitors on what proved to be another frustrating afternoon for the Merseysiders.
Klopp has quickly won Messiah-like status among both fans and the media since taking over at Anfield – I praised him myself for his sensible team selection in his opening game at Tottenham last weekend – but anyone expecting an instant turnaround in the Reds’ performances and results would have been left disappointed by their showing in the 1-1 Europa League draw against Rubin Kazan on Thursday, when Klopp named a strong side.
Liverpool followed it up with another underwhelming performance against Southampton as they drew a fifth successive game and for the eighth time in nine, but Klopp’s failure to instantly ignite the team’s season should come as no surprise.
Although no great fan of Rodgers, I wrote on three separate occasions before his sacking that the knives had come out for him far too early following a disappointing start to the season. With Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard becoming the latest players to leave Anfield over the summer – 12 months after Luis Suarez joined Barcelona – and Daniel Sturridge’s balsa wood frame once again proving problematic, it was inevitable that it would take some time for Liverpool to hit top form.
They made some sensible signings over the summer, capturing four proven Premier League performers in the shape of Danny Ings, James Milner, Nathaniel Clyne and Christian Benteke, but it requires time to players to settle into new surroundings regardless of where they have come from.
It was therefore always going to be hard for Klopp to oversee an immediate improvement, but the former Borussia Dortmund boss has also been unable to lift the injury curse that has struck the club so far this season. Ings and another summer signing, Joe Gomez, were added to the lengthy list of absentees ahead of Klopp’s first game in charge, with Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Sturridge and Benteke also missing that game.
Benteke made his return as a substitute against Kazan but, presumably still lacking fitness, again started on the bench against Saints. His stand-in, 20-year-old Divock Origi, managed only 12 touches in the first half before being replaced by his Belgium team-mate.
Firmino was also only fit enough to appear as a subtitute, with Lovren, Henderson and Sturridge again forced to watch from the stands. The likelihood is that at least the latter two will be regular starters under Klopp once fit again.
Klopp is clearly an impressive coach, whose methods Liverpool’s American owners believe can lead the current squad to a Champions League place this season. Time will tell whether their confidence in the squad is justified – there were still some less than impressive moments in defence, not least when allowing Saints to get to the ball three times to score – but what has quickly become clear is that Klopp is no more of a miracle worker than Rodgers was.
Until Liverpool are able to field their strongest line-up, gegenpressing, four at the back and square pegs in square holes can only take them so far. Players, not tactics, are the most crucial aspect to any football match – and currently Liverpool simply can’t get enough good ones out on the pitch.