Regulars at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground talk about the big, booming laugh that announces that Jürgen Klopp is in the building. They tell you also, though, that Melwood can be a quieter, more business-like place after the German stopped the practice of players’ friends hanging about in the reception at the end of training, waiting to give lifts.
Loud and quiet at the same time: it captures how things have been at Anfield during the 143 days since Klopp’s appointment, and explains why predicting Liverpool’s fate in this afternoon’s Capital One Cup final against Manchester City is anything but straightforward.
There have been days of the heavy-metal football that Klopp famously cherishes – witness the brilliant 4-1 win at City in November – yet also afternoons when Liverpool fans have been stunned into silence by how bad their team can be, such as the 2-0 defeat at Newcastle United in their very next away League fixture. They even qualified for today’s final on the night of Stoke City’s first Anfield victory in 55 years.
Kolo Touré has a nice way of summing up this inconsistency as he reflects on the Reds’ undulating fortunes. “When you have a new teacher you will do what you want one time but the next time you may do another thing,” says the Liverpool defender, who, if selected, will come up against his brother Yaya on the Wembley turf. “If we do it very well sometimes, some other times we don’t do it as well as he wants us to.”
According to Touré, the biggest change at Liverpool under Klopp has been “the attitude of the players”. With his charisma and winning mentality, the 48-year-old has got more out of them than Brendan Rodgers, his predecessor, was managing. He has brought unity, too, to a hitherto fractious fan base.
Klopp’s big wish, of course, is to instil an effective counter-pressing game whereby – as Touré explains – “as soon as [Liverpool] lose the ball they have four, five seconds just to get the ball back”. The task is clear; what Klopp is working out is which players are up to it.
He did not pick an unchanged lineup as Liverpool manager until this month, but some things are already evident. Last month’s move for central defender Joël Matip, who will join in the summer from Schalke, was the first step towards rebuilding his defence.
Upfield, Roberto Firmino and Emre Can look two obvious beneficiaries of his arrival, if only for the simple reason he is playing them in their preferred positions. The same cannot be said of Christian Benteke. The Belgian looked the £32.5m striker he became when helping Aston Villa beat Liverpool on their last Wembley trip, in last April’s FA Cup semi-final. Today he will be lucky to get out of his tracksuit given Divock Origi came off the bench ahead of him in both of Liverpool’s Europa League games against Augsburg.
“He is our friend but he is not our best friend” is how Benteke has described Klopp, and Daniel Sturridge knows this too after the German’s hints of exasperation over the striker’s unavailability a month into his tenure. In this context, it is a pity for both manager and player that Danny Ings was struck down by an anterior cruciate ligament injury in Klopp’s first week.
One face in the crowd for Thursday’s 1-0 second-leg victory over Augsburg was Karl-Heinz Riedle, the former Germany striker who played for Liverpool from 1997-99.
Reflecting on Klopp’s mixed start, Riedle cited injury problems – “his type of play starts from the back [but] he is always changing the defence” – and the lack of time to work with his players. “It is hard with a game every three days. In between you can only do rest sessions, so it is quite hard to get his type of play in the mind of the players.”
Riedle will not be the only German watching today’s match with interest. After Klopp gave a press briefing in his native language ahead of the first leg against Augsburg, over a dozen reporters from Germany travelled to Merseyside. The message Klopp gave them was that he has a big job to do and it will take time. The resulting cover story in Kicker magazine brought their best-selling issue this year.
Jörg Jakob, editor of Kicker, offers a perspective on how it is not just Klopp changing Liverpool, but Liverpool changing Klopp. “Even more than in Dortmund he plays and works with the media,” says Jakob. “It is just a feeling but I think he prepares even more.”
In Germany, Klopp was obliged to do far more one-on-one interviews than he faces at Anfield but when he does speak, he has the art of finding something new to say every time – which is another change from Rodgers.
As for the possibilities that today’s showpiece holds, winning Liverpool’s eighth League Cup in 2012 changed little for Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s erstwhile blond talisman. If Klopp could get his hands on the trophy, though, it is tempting to think the bounce would be longer-lasting. Touré, who won City’s first trophy of their new era at Wembley back in 2011, certainly thinks so: “To win on Sunday is going to be massive for him.”