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How can Klopp 'reinvent' Liverpool? Bank on Darwin, trust in Thiago and bruise some Anfield egos

12:29 BST 08/09/2022
Klopp Alexander-Arnold Van Dijk Salah Liverpool
The Reds boss hinted at big changes following the embarrassing defeat to Napoli...

It was a moment of brutal honesty, from a manager at a loss to explain what he had just seen from his team.

Jurgen Klopp had already been over to apologise to the Liverpool supporters - and rightly so - by the time he was grabbed by BT Sport for his post-match interview at Napoli’s Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

His face said it all. It’s not often that Klopp has to analyse a defeat - this was only the fourth Liverpool have suffered in 2022 - but he could offer no defence for this one, a 4-1 loss which represents the Reds’ worst in European competition since 1966.

“It’s tough to take,” began Klopp, but it was what he went on to say which offered the greatest insight into his mindset right now.

"It looks a little bit like we have to reinvent ourselves,” he said before adding that Wolves, Liverpool’s next opponents, “probably cannot stop laughing” ahead of their trip to Anfield this weekend.

“They will say - and I would say - it's a perfect moment (to play Liverpool),” he concluded. “We have to try to find a setup to be much better in pretty much everything."

Those are damning words, as is the fact that Klopp was asked, in his post-match press conference, whether he fears the sack at Anfield. He doesn’t, and nor should he. We’ve seen some strange decisions in football, but that would be the strangest of them all. It won’t happen.

That’s not to say that things don’t need to improve. They do, and quickly. Less than four months ago, Liverpool were on the cusp of greatness. They were 15 minutes away from nicking the Premier League title and only a Thibaut Courtois masterclass away from becoming European champions. They were the team everybody feared, the one they all (begrudgingly) admired; relentless, brilliant, utterly in sync and convinced of their style and talent. They are none of those things right now.

The ‘reinvention’ Klopp speaks of needs to start right away, but what will it involve? GOAL takes a look...

  • Liverpool 2022-23

    Bruise some egos

    For all the talk of new signings and of adaptation processes, it is Liverpool’s most established players who have struggled most this season.

    Virgil van Dijk, for example, looks a shadow of the man which has dominated the Reds’ backline since his arrival in 2018, while his full-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson, have been worryingly subdued and far too easy to bypass defensively.

    Fabinho has looked fatigued and overworked in midfield, while Mohamed Salah’s frustration is growing with each game. The Egyptian hasn’t scored in four now, and was taken off with nearly half an hour left in Naples.

    On the opening weekend at Fulham, Klopp questioned his players’ “attitude”, suggesting he had seen signs of complacency or a lack of mental preparation. He could have said the same after the defeat to Manchester United, and certainly after Wednesday night’s game. 

    “We are not robots,” said Van Dijk following the win over Newcastle last week, and that’s fair enough, but Liverpool has been a team that has prided itself on its mentality, and has had a lot of praise in that regard. Right now, they are falling short in that department, and it may require some harsh truths from the manager and his staff to snap them out of their slumber.

  • Virgil van Dijk Victor Osimhen Liverpool Napoli 2022-23

    Run harder, run smarter

    And what about the physical side of the game? Liverpool haven’t just looked jaded mentally this season, they’ve also looked like a side whose legs have gone.

    In all eight of their games, they have been second-best in terms of distance covered, while in six of them they have managed fewer sprints than their opponents. And considering they have conceded the first goal in all but one of those matches, that has to be a worry.

    With injuries having bitten hard in the early weeks of the season, Klopp has tried to protect the condition of certain players. Fabinho was left out at Manchester United, for example, Robertson was on the bench at Everton and Alexander-Arnold has twice been taken off with 20 minutes or more remaining. 

    But all three look leggy right now, and Liverpool are missing the snap and intensity of recent seasons. They are running less, but they are also running less smart too. The press is not there, and they are far, far easier to penetrate as a result.

    Running stats alone do not tell you everything, of course, but what they tell us about the Reds this season is concerning, to say the least.

  • Roberto Firmino Liverpool 2022

    Changing the shape

    Has the time finally come for Klopp to abandon the 4-3-3 formation to which he has been wedded for so long?

    In terms of the ‘reinvention’ he spoke of, a change in system would appear the most obvious step, and perhaps the most logical too.

    At Everton, Liverpool’s best and most dangerous work came when Roberto Firmino was introduced as a No.10 behind Darwin Nunez, and a 4-2-3-1 shape could well be the blueprint for the Reds as they look to get themselves back on their feet.

    Firmino’s pressing, his smartness and his ability to connect the game with neat movement and one and two-touch football, means he could be vital in the coming weeks, while the return of Thiago Alcantara, and the deadline-day arrival of Arthur Melo, means Klopp finally has experienced options should he wish to revert to a two-man central midfield.

  • Thiago Alcantara Liverpool 2022-23

    Let Thiago show the way

    “Until Thiago entered the pitch, I cannot remember a counter–pressing situation,” said Klopp after the Napoli game, a damning indictment of his starting midfield, who he said were “far too wide, far too often.”

    The Spaniard’s return from injury could not come at a better time for Liverpool, and they will be praying that the 31-year-old stays fit between now and the World Cup. If he does, then things should improve quickly.

    Thiago is the Reds midfielder who can both set and change the rhythm of the game, the one who feeds the forward players most regularly and most accurately. He is also, at his best, an elite reader of the game defensively, picking up second balls, keeping his side on the front foot and ensuring the threat of the counter-attack is greatly diminished.

    He’s also a winner, with every medal in the game in his collection. Liverpool must use his skills, his experience and his confidence to guide them out of this maze.

    First and foremost, though, they need him to stay healthy.

  • Darwin Nunez Liverpool 2022-23

    Bank on Darwin

    After a mixed start to life in England, it’s time for Darwin Nunez to get down to business.

    The Uruguayan was left out of the starting XI in Naples, but he must start against Wolves and, however he performs, against Ajax at Anfield next Tuesday too.

    Nunez was signed, at great expense, to help bring about an evolution in Liverpool’s style of play, and while it is fair to expect a certain period of adaptation, especially from a player who is still only 23, the best way to integrate him is through playing him. 

    He might not yet be as polished as Erling Haaland or Harry Kane, and his team-mates may still be figuring out how best to use his skills, but Nunez is the No.9 Liverpool have chosen, and he should be given as much time on the pitch as possible to start picking up momentum in a red shirt.

  • Jurgen Klopp Liverpool 2021-22

    Retain some perspective and remember who you are

    It can be tempting, in times like this, to panic, to look for magic solutions, and to believe that only radical changes can fix things.

    Liverpool won’t do that. It isn’t the club’s way and it isn’t Klopp’s. They’re struggling at the moment, but they know who they are and they believe in their ways, even if they know that improvement is needed in just about all areas.

    A sense of perspective is never a bad thing, and it is worth pointing out that the defeat to Napoli, as bad as it was, was only the fourth Liverpool have suffered in 2022, and that even when they were flying, in 2018 and 2019, they came unstuck on the same ground.

    It should also be said that it’s better to have a crisis in August and September than in April and May. Liverpool are, for all their issues, only six points off the top of the Premier League, and only five behind Manchester City. 

    Even Pep Guardiola's side have dropped points and shipped goals, by the way. Chelsea have just sacked their manager, Manchester United are still adapting to their new one and while Arsenal and Tottenham have made good starts to the campaign, both have shown themselves capable of collapse in the past. Form is temporary, and Liverpool must believe the class of their squad, and their manager, is permanent.

    The situation, as Klopp says, could be a lot better, but it only takes a couple of results to change the mood, and the table.

    And if any team has proven itself adept at emerging stronger from a dip in form in recent years, it’s Liverpool.