Sports from the Basement

Klopp Is Ready For The Kop

This is probably the 100th time you’ve seen some amalgamation of the last name of new Liverpool FC head coach Jurgen Klopp and the word Kop, referring to the most rabid section of Liverpool fans in Anfield’s Spion Kop.  After Brendan Rodgers was given his walking orders, the consensus became that free agent coach Klopp would be the next man to take the helm of the Reds.  When the conjecture became a reality, speculation began as to how Klopp would bring his system that produced spectacular results for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga to Merseyside.  Klopp has said all the right things in the media thus far as the international break gave him a longer than normal timetable to integrate his football beliefs into the fabric of this Liverpool side.  “The Normal One” gets his first test this Saturday as him and his men travel to the always hostile White Hart Lane for the early start of the day against Tottenham Hotspur.  Liverpool has had an up and down first couple months, but Klopp is more than ready to put that in the past.

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Klopp will be tested right away as he heads into the clash with Spurs down several key figures from the early goings of Liverpool’s season.  Forward Danny Ings and defender Joe Gomez both will miss the remainder of the 2015-16 season with ACL injuries.  Ings tore his in his first training session back with the team following international duty with the England senior team.  Gomez’s blow came in action for the England U-21’s 10 minutes from the end of their game Tuesday night against Kazakhstan.  With Christian Benteke, Jordan Henderson, and Roberto Firmino still nursing in-season knocks and Jon Flanagan not yet recovered from his knee injury a year ago, the German head man has his work cut out for him with the razor thin squad Rodgers left behind.

If there is any man to make the most out of what he has at his disposal though, it’s Jurgen Klopp.  Klopp’s system relies heavily on pressing and making the most out of other team’s mistakes.  Liverpool tried to fit many a square peg into round holes in Rodgers’ ball retention style gameplan as many a Red often finds themselves losing the ball.  Klopp will breath new life into the spine of the squad from Daniel Sturridge up front, Philippe Coutinho and Emre Can in midfield, and the defensive pairing centrally of Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho.  All you would have to do is look to Dortmund for proof and inspiration for his potential effect for Liverpool.

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Daniel Sturridge has been a man lost up front for Liverpool since the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona.  Injuries have plagued him more than anything, but a lack of consistency in the deployment of attackers under Rodgers left Sturridge overwhelmed many a time trying to make goals out of nothing.  He had developed a burgeoning partnership with Danny Ings in recent weeks, but the injury bug has now transferred to Sturridge’s partner rather than himself.  But if you want a Sturridge renaissance, there isn’t a better artist to do so than Klopp.  He took Robert Lewandowski, a player much less heralded than Sturridge in his youth, from Lech Poznan in Poland and turned him into one of the most dangerous strikers the game has to offer at the moment.  Even Lewandowski himself believes that Klopp is at the perfect club to mold in the image of he created at both Mainz and Dortmund.

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Philippe Coutinho has earned the nickname “The Little Magician” for his strokes of brilliance in the final third.  Overall though he was underwhelming in Rodgers’ 3-4-3, 3-4-1-2, or any other configuration for that matter, as he wasn’t a particularly adept retainer of possession.  He’ll get more freedom to do what he does best under Klopp.  One of Klopp’s former men, Shinji Kagawa, was routinely played in a role where he would be least effective upon his transfer to Manchester United.  It wasn’t until he returned to Dortmund that the Japan international began to look himself again.  While Coutinho had success the past few years since his transfer from Inter Milan, his talents have been underutilized as he’s been asked to wear so many different hats in the Liverpool midfield.  Klopp will end that nonsense and give Coutinho the chance to even further wow the Kop faithful as a true #10, even if that expedites his exit from Anfield.

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The player that may benefit the most from Klopp’s arrival is Emre Can.  Since the German international made his way to the Premier League from Klopp’s stomping ground of the Bundesliga, Can has had his moments in the sun.  However, he’s had just as many in the dark as Rodgers routinely played him everywhere across the backline and midfield, sometimes changing his role twice or thrice in a single match.  Used effectively as a central or holding midfielder internationally, Can struggled for form domestically with all the positional swapping.  Klopp had a player of Can’s ilk and age at Dortmund in Ilkay Gundogan.  Similarly to Can, Gundogan had an identity crisis before Klopp’s arrival bouncing between the flanks and attacking midfield to little avail at Nurenberg.  Klopp made him the coveted talent he is today by giving him the role of center midfield, in a holding capacity, but also allowing him the freedom to get forward when the opportunity presented itself.  He can do the same for Can, giving himself a hell of an asset in a depleted midfield instead of a liability in defense.

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Speaking of defense, Liverpool’s biggest weakness at this point are the men directly in front of keeper Simon Mignolet.  Mamadou Sakho will be asked to play the Mats Hummels role on the left side of the midfield, and is probably the least in need of Klopp’s attention.  Though he isn’t as calm on the ball as the German international, Sakho is very keen to feed the full backs up the sideline or dribble the ball far enough to feed the first line of the midfield.  Very rarely does Sakho just heap the ball forward with no direction or reason.  On the other side, the duo of Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure are probably the players in most need of a bit of Klopp fairy dust.  Skrtel is routinely caught out of position leading to wayward tackles, passes, and flailing fouls way too close to the box.  Toure is better at holding his ground, but at this stage of his career doesn’t have the speed or leaping ability to fully handle the big bodies firing it at looping crosses, corners, and other set pieces.  The loss of Gomez and the injury/ineffectiveness of Dejan Lovren is going to have to make fine cuisine out of TV dinners with these two.  But just take to heart the fact that Dortmund went from conceding 62 goals the season before Klopp’s arrival to just 37.  The man knows how to make the pieces fit.

All in all, Liverpool fans have every reason to be excited about Jurgen Klopp and the positivity and change he’ll bring to a team in desperate need of both.  There will be some early growing pains as he navigates both the Europa League and the Premiership with a skeleton crew, but there is no reason to not have faith in the Normal One.  He is more than ready for the challenge and is Liverpool’s best chance at returning to the elite of European football, a tier that this club deserves to be in.

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