News analysis

Run faster, work harder is Klopp's blueprint for Liverpool success

LONDON • Juergen Klopp offered Liverpool his apologies. The visitors from Merseyside had come to Germany under a false pretence and were leaving with their tails between their legs.

"We were the wrong opponent for them," the 39-year-old coach of Mainz said.

That was in August 2006, when Liverpool went to the Rhineland for a pre-season friendly.

Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso et al were expecting a gentle run-out as they built up their fitness before the new English Premier League season. Mainz, drilled to peak fitness and total motivation by Klopp, were the wrong opponents indeed.

He loved the Liverpool team who came so close to the Premier League title under Brendan Rodgers in 2014, not just riding a wave of emotion but also playing with a relentless exuberance that was ultimately their downfall.

They overwhelmed Liverpool, beating them 5-0.

Whether in charge of Mainz, Borussia Dortmund or - barring any late twist in negotiations - Liverpool, Klopp always wants his team to be the wrong opponents.

"If you read interviews with other coaches, you will read the coaches saying that it's not important for them to run more than the other team, that they just want to make it 'the right way'," he told The Times in October 2013.

"But I want to make the right way and run 10km more. If (a match) is close - and it always is at the level we play at - how do you make the difference? In my opinion, you make a difference if you work more than the others. If you watch me during the game, I celebrate when we press the ball and it goes outside of the pitch."

Both in his personality and what he expects of his team, Klopp is about energy, intensity and enthusiasm. He loved the Liverpool team who came so close to the Premier League title under Brendan Rodgers in 2014, not just riding a wave of emotion but also playing with a relentless exuberance that was ultimately their downfall.

The post-Luis Suarez Liverpool team who limped to sixth place in the Premier League last term and had fallen to 10th this season when Rodgers' contract was terminated on Sunday? Not so much, you suspect.

Klopp is expected on Merseyside today to finalise terms of a three-year contract with the Anfield club, before being presented as Liverpool's new manager tomorrow. And the 48-year-old will soon discover a squad who are not, perhaps, ideally suited to the high-tempo football that he likes to play.

For all Suarez's brilliance with the ball at his feet, one of the defining traits of that 2013-14 team was the speed and intensity with which he, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and others pressed the opposition in trying to win the ball back.

That is one of many strange aspects of their recruitment policy in the summer of 2014. With Suarez gone, the infamous transfer committee bought players who lacked either the athleticism (Emre Can, Rickie Lambert) or the tenacity (Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli) to maintain that high-energy approach.

Klopp will be relieved to find that the squad he inherits contain a few box-to-box types, such as Henderson and James Milner, the captain and vice-captain respectively. And he might appreciate what Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno can offer energy-wise from full-back.

Elsewhere, he cannot fail to appreciate the playmaking abilities of Philippe Coutinho - he loves a true No. 10, whether the player is Shinji Kagawa, Mario Goetze or Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

And it is worth noting that, while at Dortmund, he talked up Roberto Firmino, who has started three out of eight Premier League games since his £29 million (S$62.6 million) summer arrival from Hoffenheim.

A strike partnership of Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge might be something that Liverpool's supporters have been dreaming of, in the hope that the pair can stay fit together for more than 45 minutes. But it remains to be seen whether that would be energetic enough for Klopp's taste.

He knows exactly what to expect from English football, though, and he will relish it. What he likes is "fighting football, what we in Germany call 'English' - rainy day, heavy pitch, everybody dirty in the face."

That is what Liverpool became so poor at over the past 12 months. For all Rodgers' references to the "character" of his team, their personality and spirit on the pitch departed with Suarez.

Klopp will endeavour to inject those qualities - and relentless energy - back into the team.

He will want them to become the worst opponents imaginable, rather than the soft touch they have been so often over recent years.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2015, with the headline 'Run faster, work harder is Klopp's blueprint for Liverpool success'. Print Edition | Subscribe