09 October 2017

Two Years of Jürgen Klopp

Yesterday marked two years since Jürgen Klopp became Liverpool's manager. Jürgen Klopp. It's still hard to believe sometimes.

And it's been a wild two years.

A rebuild, rebirth, renaissance after the nadir in 2014-15. 3-1 Chelsea and 4-1 City little more than a month after Klopp's appointment; 4-3, 3-1, and 4-0 Arsenal; 4-0 in his first Merseyside Derby; multiple three-, four-, and five-goal wins. Two cup finals in his first season. Champions League qualification for only the second time in eight years in his second season.

There has been player development: Coutinho and Firmino are now bonafide stars; Henderson, Lallana, and Can have all improved as well. There have been clever transfer purchases: Mané and Salah are phenomenal, even at the costs, while Matip and Wijnaldum look decent deals as well. There has been youth development: Alexander-Arnold, Woodburn, and Gomez; Solanke, Grujic, Robertson, and Origi are a stage older but will continue to progress; even Emre Can's still only 23.

Liverpool have a young squad but Liverpool also have a settled squad.

And when Liverpool are fun, they're really damned fun. When they're not, welp.

Yes, there have also been issues. You know the issues. The issues are even more suffocating after the month we've seen. We'll talk more about the issues.

After this last month, you will probably not be surprised to learn that Klopp's most common scoreline has been 1-1, with 15 in all competitions and 10 in the league. Next most frequent has been 1-0 – yes, Liverpool can grind out games every now and then – with 13 in all competitions and eight in the league – followed by 2-1 (ten in all competitions; seven in the league), 2-2 (8; 6), and 0-0 (8; 4).

I don't have the stats for the entire Premier League, but I suspect this isn't uncommon. They are, after all, fairly common scorelines. And none of those most common scorelines end in a Liverpool loss.

Good. That's how it should be. Even more impressive is the fact that Liverpool have scored at least three goals in 30 of Klopp's 111 matches – 27%. It's happened in 23 of 75 in the Premier League – 30.7%.

Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool are good at the goals.

Again, Coutinho and Firmino have become fully-fledged superstars. Sadio Mané has less than a full season worth of games due to injury, international absences, and suspension, and already has 16 goals, all in the Premier League. Mo Salah, who's played just 11 games, is already joint-ninth top scorer since Klopp became manager. Liverpool have seen 29 different goal-scorers over the last two years, although only 17 are still with the club (with Origi and Ojo out on loan, futures to be determined).

Goals are good, and goals usually haven't been the problem for Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool – this last month, and last winter last season not withstanding.

So, how have Klopp's two years compared to managers past?

Gulp. That goals against average, especially in the league. Otherwise known as that 'the same struggles in defense, especially against set plays and teams you expect to beat, for two years now.' That 'great at limiting shots, awful at limiting good shots and goals.' That 'yep, you didn't buy a center-back this summer and the internet is still angry.' That 'nate is tired of repeating himself on the internet; I don't know how to keep rephrasing these things.'

Also, that points-per-game average, which is lower than I'd have guessed, and surprisingly less than both Rodgers and Benitez.

There are, unsurprisingly, a plethora of caveats.

Both Klopp and Houllier took over mid-season, which makes a difference, and had much more difficult rebuilds. Rodgers' first season wasn't great, but then 2013-14 happened. And then 2014-15 happened. And then 2015-16 started. That ship ran around and sank quickly. You ain't gonna get me to say anything bad about Rafa Benitez but hoooo boy that first league campaign had a good deal of hot garbage. And the league is vastly, vastly more difficult now than it was for Benitez or Houllier – the bottom teams are richer, and the top teams are really, really richer.

But Benitez had won the Champions League – if slightly flukey – and FA Cup by the end of his first two seasons, and his sides played 11 more games over two years than Klopp's "overwhelming" fixture list. Rodgers guided Liverpool to its best season in nearly a decade in his second year, even if it was very much Luis Suarez-led. By the end of 2000-01, Houllier's "third" season after a midseason appointment – the same time frame that Klopp's Liverpool is at right now – Liverpool had won a Cup Treble.


To be fairer, there's also this:

It's too bad that there aren't more Top 6 teams. Because Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool remains superlative against them. And Liverpool remain unbeaten in the Champions League this season, after going a lot farther in the Europa League that we'd any right to expect in Klopp's first season. Klopp's Liverpool are good against good teams and that's good. But a win percentage of just 53% in league matches against clubs outside the top six isn't going to cut it. Beat The Dross, Win The League™.

We know the weaknesses. Unfortunately, and depressingly, they've mostly been the same weaknesses for almost Klopp's entire tenure, at least in defense. The attack's gotten better and continues to get better, even if Liverpool seemingly can't convert a clear-cut chance of late. The defense, yet again, apparently is what it is.

There have been disappointments. There have been stalls and set-backs, last winter most notably, but this last month to a lesser extent. Progress has been slower than we'd like, but there has been progress.

Year Three has been a key year for all of the aforementioned Liverpool managers. Rodgers' Liverpool fell apart in stages, and continued to get worse, and Rodgers rightfully got sacked. Benitez's Liverpool didn't replicate those early cup successes but consolidated their top position in the league – better in 2006-07, better in 2007-08, and should have won the league in 2008-09. Houllier's Liverpool's won the League Cup, FA Cup, UEFA Cup, Charity Shield, and UEFA Super Cup.

Where Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool goes this year – which is still very much up in the air – may well define where Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool career goes.

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