Dileep Premchandran column: Under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool are beginning to believe
Anfield club's performances against Chelsea (3-1 victory) and Manchester City (4-1 win) have raised expectations of Merseyside outfit to levels not seen since striker Luis Suarez left for Barcelona in 2014
Jurgen Klopp never claimed to be the messiah, though his exhortation to fans soon after he was appointed, "to believe", has certainly led to him being viewed in that light by a section of Liverpool fans.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. Pic/Getty Images
Brendan Rodgers, who was sacked in October, talked a good game and, for an exhilarating five-month period in early 2014, briefly had Liverpool marrying performance with hype. But he also spent too much of his time in charge indulging in the clichés that generally identify those not entirely convinced about what they're doing.
Klopp, though English isn't his first language, steers well clear of clichés. When Liverpool lost 2-0 at Newcastle last weekend — they did have a perfectly legal goal from Alberto Moreno wrongly ruled out for offside — he preferred to focus on his side's shortcomings rather than hide behind excuses.
Still miles to go
In some ways, that loss and the drab draw away to Sion in the Europa League on Thursday were ideal for the Klopp project. After the euphoria created by the thrashings of Chelsea (3-1) and Manchester City (4-1) in the league, and Southampton (6-1) in the League Cup — all of them away from home — even the broadsheets were suggesting that a title tilt might be possible for a rejuvenated squad.
But Klopp is well aware of just how far from being a finished product Liverpool are. So much of the creative burden is on Philippe Coutinho, a rumoured target for Barcelona in January, and Daniel Sturridge's persistent injury woes make it easy to forget just what a goalscoring talent he is. The defence has shored up under Klopp, but Christian Benteke's unease with the formations that the manager tends to favour have meant that goals haven't come easily at home, especially when teams set up to deny Liverpool space.
What has been heartening is the renaissance of those players that looked lost and dispirited in the final months under Rodgers. Moreno has had an excellent spell at left-back, while Nathaniel Clyne has started to show on the opposite flank just why Rodgers paid so much money for him. Dejan Lovren no longer looks like a central-defensive accident waiting to happen, and Emre Can has been played in his best position at the base of midfield.
With the Christmas period coming up, a run of games that can define a club's season, the Benteke conundrum will be near the top of the issues for Klopp to solve. When Liverpool were at their best, away to City, they played with a fluid front three. Roberto Firmino was at the apex, but Coutinho and Adam Lallana drifted in frequently. Benteke is nowhere near as mobile, and is best suited for a system that favours width rather than swift, intricate passing.
That said, he does possess a deft touch, and an excellent eye for goal. He also offers Liverpool a physical option that the other forwards don't. Divock Origi, his fellow Belgian, comes close, but he's still another season away from being a consistent threat. Despite constant speculation linking him to Dortmund players like Marco Reus, Klopp has repeated that he's more than happy to give chances to those in the squad as opposed to investing heavily in January. Whether that's true or not will depend largely on how Liverpool fare in December.
"I didn't hear anybody on this side of the table talking about it," he said sharply when asked to reassess the team's title hopes after the Newcastle defeat. "I have no problem with anything you might talk about, but please don't ask me now about this. "I didn't say before we were title contenders, so why I should say now that we're not?"
But whatever he does say, the performances against Chelsea and City have raised expectations to levels not seen since Luis Suarez left for Barcelona in 2014. By May 2016, when the season ends, it would have been 26 years since Liverpool's last championship — the same barren period Manchester United endured between 1967 and 1993.
There were a couple of false dawns under Roy Evans and Rafael Benitez, but the straight-talking and affable Klopp — The Normal One — offers the promise of good times that may just be there to stay.
Dileep Premachandran is Wisden India's editor-in-chief, and has also loved the Beautiful Game since he watched the Brazilians of 1982.