Jurgen Klopp has Liverpool playing his way and re-energised after first year
A year is a long time in football. Exactly 12 months ago on this day, Jurgen Klopp became the 21st full-time manager of Liverpool and inherited a club that appeared to be going nowhere in a hurry. But 61 games later, the Reds now seem to be heading in the right direction, with a clear style under the charismatic German.
Klopp has already guided Liverpool to two cup finals in his relatively short stay on Merseyside, and they now currently sit just two points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City. It appears the Reds will now be competing at the top of the table, as opposed to the depths of sixth to eighth, which had become the standard at Anfield in the past few seasons.
From his very first moment in the job, Klopp had won people over. The supporters bought into him when he declared in his very first interview as manager that the club must change its attitude as a whole from "doubter to believer" and wowed the media at his introductory news conference when he provided them with the memorable "Normal One" sound bite -- in response to Jose Mourinho's self-proclamation as the "Special One" when he was appointed Chelsea manager in 2004.
Anfield is completely behind Klopp and, more importantly, so are his players. After every positive result, it's very clear to see the level of affection between Klopp and his men. Those renowned hugs are an indicator to the level of connection with his squad, and that can go a long way.
However, there is no time for reflection. Klopp has made it clear to the club to not make a big deal of his first anniversary in charge, believing nothing has been achieved yet. There is work still to done.
Played 61 -- won 30, drawn 18 and lost 13
Players in: Marko Grujic, Steven Caulker (loan), Joel Matip, Sadio Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum, Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan, Alex Manninger.
Players out: Christian Benteke, Jordon Ibe, Joe Allen, Martin Skrtel, Luis Alberto, Brad Smith, Joao Carlos Teixeira, Jerome Sinclair, Kolo Toure, Mario Balotelli, Jordan Rossiter, Ryan Kent (loan), Danny Ward (loan), Adam Bogdan (loan), Jon Flanagan (loan), Andre Wisdom (loan), Lazar Markovic (loan).
Liverpool legend Terry McDermott: "I've got absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he is the right man. I just love watching him on the side of the pitch. Some of the time, you're watching him instead of the game because he is so entertaining and so passionate. He's like a Kevin Keegan: He wears his heart on his sleeve. That's what I love about him. He tells people how it is, and I would have loved to have played for him, but I wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of him with those gnashers he's got!
"He's an inspiration to everybody, and he is so positive in everything he does and says. I'm sure the players have improved -- and that's no slight on Brendan Rodgers at all -- by him being strong. He doesn't worry about upsetting anybody. He's been a breath of fresh air for a year now; and hopefully, it will continue for the next five years, because he's box office, no doubt about it."
Liverpool under-23 manager Michael Beale: "He has been hugely supportive. I know that he watches our games, whether he can make it or not. No one at the academy is certainly saying, 'Where's Jurgen?' We know that he's watching every game based on the feedback he gives and the opportunities he gives the players off the back of doing well. His support is not in doubt. The big thing is that he knows all the players. If the manager doesn't, then that tells you where his priorities are. Our manager has been excellent in integrating the players. I certainly wouldn't change my position for any other under-23 coach at the moment."
Gareth Roberts from the popular Liverpool supporters' podcast, The Anfield Wrap: "Every football fan thinks their club is the best, that it can compete and win prizes. If you don't, what's the point? But it's one thing thinking it, and it's another thing believing it. Liverpool haven't always acted -- on and off the pitch -- in a manner befitting the vision of the club that exists in most fans' minds. Small-time thinking, hopeful signings and questionable managerial appointments left a weary fan base that had forgotten how to enjoy it.
"There will always be decisions that attract criticism, but on the manager, Liverpool fans are united. He is the right man. His appointment signaled ambition. In the last 12 months, Klopp has got to work on hearts and minds. Fans and players think differently now. No game holds fear for Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp's Reds can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere. The team will fight. The team is feared. And it's fun again."
Former Borussia Dortmund academy coach Gary Gordon: "He was suited to Liverpool from the beginning. Liverpool is similar to the culture of Borussia Dortmund, and I think it would have been difficult for him going to Manchester United or Chelsea. He couldn't have gone to Bayern Munich; he's not that type of person. He loved Liverpool, anyway, after getting into Anfield for that friendly in 2014; walking through the tunnel, he just loved it.
"He's looked at the players and gone into detail. Once he has sussed out who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, that's when he can start working. It's very similar to what he did at Borussia Dortmund. When he notices a player is going to listen to him and pay attention, then that's when he can make magic happen. It's working now, but he's going to be like, 'How can I build on top of this?' So he's going to maybe look at bringing three or four players who are going to push the potential again."
Best moment: Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund, Europa League quarterfinal second leg on April 14
Against his former side, Klopp said that Liverpool's comeback in the dramatic 4-3 win over Dortmund was the "best half-hour I've had in football." Liverpool progressed to the semifinals of the Europa League, thanks to Dejan Lovren's injury-time header that saw them overcome a three-goal deficit twice on a classic European night at Anfield.
Worst moment: Liverpool vs. Sevilla, Europa League final on May 18
After the dismantling of Manchester United, the heroics against Dortmund and the turnaround over Villarreal on the road to the final, it seemed destined that Liverpool would round off Klopp's first season in charge with a European honour.
It looked on course, up until the referee's whistle at the start the second half in Basel. Daniel Sturridge had put Liverpool 1-0 up in the 35th minute at St. Jakob-Park, but Kevin Gameiro equalised just 17 seconds after the restart, before Koke netted a brace to secure the Spanish side's third consecutive triumph in the tournament and remind Klopp that plenty of work was still required over the summer.
What he said
After Liverpool thrashed Manchester City 3-0 at Anfield back in March, Klopp only needed to use one word in his postmatch TV interview to describe his side's display:
"The best word I can say to describe this is: Boom!"
The Klopp effect
Liverpool are playing how he wants them to
Klopp once, and later regretted, referred to his style as "heavy-metal football," in terms of the intensity he likes his teams play with. Similar to his Borussia Dortmund side, Liverpool are an absolute monster when out of possession and are lightning on the counterattack. Opponents are not given a moment's peace when on the ball, with Klopp's front line the catalyst for his high-pressing system. And when they do manage to suffocate the opposing team into submitting possession, Liverpool look to break fast and punish hard.
It hasn't all been successful during Klopp's first year in charge. His teams have been known to struggle to create opportunities in the final third against teams who like to sit deep and get men behind the ball. But, the result at Burnley in August aside, Klopp looks to have used his first preseason at Anfield to come up with ways to counter this.
Liverpool have scored 26 goals in all competitions already this season. Klopp is forceful in his desire that as many of his players get in the penalty area as quickly as possible. It's appearing to work, given 10 different players have found the back of the net already this campaign.
The owners are back on board
Sources told ESPN FC in June that interest in the club by Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), was beginning to wane during the end of Brendan Rodgers' era, amid speculation of a possible takeover. However, FSG's commitment to Liverpool has been reignited since the acquisition of Klopp, with the American owners believing success is on its way under the German.
This summer saw FSG tie down Klopp for the foreseeable future by handing him a new six-year contract, just nine months after arriving on Merseyside.
Liverpool recently opened the new Main Stand, which has taken Anfield's capacity to more than 54,000, with chairman Tom Werner insisting the redevelopment will help close the gap on their rivals. With an improved stadium -- thus greater revenue generated -- and one of the best managers in the world secured, it's clear to see why FSG are invested again.
Youngsters have a real chance
When Klopp went down to Liverpool's academy in Kirkby to watch the under-18s play just a day after being introduced as manager, the signs were hugely promising that he would take a keen interest in the younger players at the club. Credited with bringing through the likes of Mario Gotze, Kevin Grosskreutz and Marcel Schmelzer at Borussia Dortmund, the Reds boss has given plenty of youngsters at Liverpool the opportunity to prove their worth in the first team.
Eight youngsters have made their Liverpool debuts since Klopp has taken charge, with Klopp placing regular faith in the likes of Sheyi Ojo and Cameron Brannagan. Ovie Ejaria was the latest young player to make his first appearance for the club when he came on against Derby County in the EFL Cup last month, and he certainly won't be the last.
Klopp decided not to overhaul the academy setup when he took over, believing the calibre of players emerging from it underlined why no overwhelming changes were necessary.
Klopp has Anfield in the palm of his hand
Klopp is usually very reluctant to generate headlines in news conferences and interviews, and he uses his opportunity in front of the media as a direct conduit to Liverpool's supporters. Ahead of home games, Klopp will speak at Melwood expressing his desire for those inside Anfield to ensure a positive atmosphere is created on matchdays.
It's a method that works, with Klopp acting as the composer to the Anfield choir. He regularly gestures toward the Kop in order for them to increase the decibel levels. He told the fans after this season's game against Leicester City to not sing his name while the contest is yet to be settled, and they duly obliged.
Shortly after taking over, Klopp was puzzled as to why so many fans were leaving prior to the full-time whistle when Liverpool were beaten 2-1 by Crystal Palace. That guilt trip worked too, with very few empty seats being visible during play at Anfield now.
Glenn is ESPN FC's Liverpool correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter: @GlennPrice94.