Déjà Vu: Klopp’s Liverpool Are Awfully Similar To The One He Inherited Two Years Ago

Alex Caple

The October international break signals a milestone at Anfield: It’s two years since Jurgen Klopp arrived to revolutionise the club. Time has passed and players have changed – but it doesn’t totally feel that way. If something more needs to be done, why exactly hasn’t it happened yet?

Kenny Dalglish left Liverpool in 2012 after a season where Liverpool looked decent enough defensively but blunt up top – enter Brendan Rodgers, with his combined Guardiola/Brent philosophy for attacking football, to rectify that. Three years of every brand of attacking football under the sun followed before Jurgen Klopp arrived to save the day.

Klopp was brought in to establish the true philosophy and style of play that Liverpool had sorely lacked under Rodgers – effectively just hoping for a refined version of what they had, with a manager who they could build everything around. Two years later and Klopp has achieved that, undoubtedly; Liverpool have a philosophy and a style of play that is plain for everyone to see. The problem is that if you watch one Liverpool game, you have it figured out.

Liverpool are not only remarkably similar to how they were two years ago when Klopp first took over, but you also get that same feeling of déjà vu on a week to week basis. The way to stop them was unfortunately figured out around last December and it’s left them looking the same week on week: the opposition will sit deep, stifle Liverpool’s creativity and hope to hit them on the break after a comical defensive mishap – maybe Coutinho will score a worldie.

This has become a real pattern, and one that sees each section of Liverpool’s team come under pressure. The defence is comically bad, the midfield offers little (average tends to be the usual slur), and the attack is blunt. There are obviously a ton of factors that have led to all of it, but number one has to be that every single team that plays Liverpool knows full well how each section will operate.

Now there are some teams who absolutely go out there, play the same way, and take teams apart – only those teams usually haven’t been figured out a while ago. It’s easy to think back to last season when Antonio Conte, deciding that his side was just too easily dealt with, switched to his preferred three-at-the-back system and promptly won the league.

Is it that simple at Liverpool? Of course not – this is a squad that has clearly been built to play a certain system – but there should be enough about it to try a new shape at least. What there isn’t, however, is anyone to help out the defence.

It wasn’t exactly a secret that Liverpool wanted Virgil van Dijk in the summer, even if it turned out that they very much should have kept it one. The belief that they shouldn’t settle for second best meant that the club allegedly didn’t even attempt to sign a different centre-back, and that is in some ways an admirable, understandable philosophy. This seems to ask a question though: If Liverpool are readily admitting that they wish to strengthen their defence (and at a world record cost, if the reports were to be believed) but can’t sign the centre back they wanted, why didn’t they do it another way?

The one method of defence at Liverpool is their press. When it works, it’s phenomenal, when it doesn’t, it’s embarrassing. There is no defensive midfielder (Jordan Henderson, the deepest midfielder, often finds himself the furthest forward pressing), and the full-backs push right up the pitch, frequently leaving Liverpool with just two players doing anything resembling structured defending – the centre-backs. There’s an admittance that they need better in simply wanting to spend £70million on van Dijk, and in not doing anything, aren’t Liverpool willfully going into a season with what they know is a sub-standard defence?

Have a sitting midfielder, pull your full-backs back, use three centre-backs – surely something else should be done? Liverpool can defend, and Klopp knows how: you don’t go undefeated against the rest of the top six last season if you don’t. Their last six games at the back end of the season saw five clean sheets out of six – they can do it, but seemingly not with the average game.

The shaky defence and blunt attack clearly put immense pressure on each other, and a midfield that doesn’t adequately support either doesn’t help matters. It’s no surprise that both look poor at the moment, and naturally, both appear to be slumping more than coming out of it.

Liverpool have gone into this season playing a system that came unstuck at the start of the year, with a defence that they know is shaky – why is it the same every week? Right now it’s easy for Liverpool to cry out for something more pragmatic – something the manager they just faced happens to be known for.

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