The shine from Jurgen Klopp’s beaming and unrelenting smile appears to be rubbing off on a number of players who are quickly turning their Anfield careers around.
Liverpool’s squad of undeniably elite players are showing glimpses of becoming a Premier League force to be reckoned with once again.
Spanish left back Alberto Moreno is finally improving in a Liverpool shirt having arrived from Sevilla with high expectations. I’m not sure how they define the left back position in Spain but it has taken Moreno a while to realise that it involves defending.
It seems as though Klopp’s pressing style plays to the defender’s strengths, as evidenced by his performance in Liverpool’s 1-4 away win against Manchester City. His work rate was impressive, as was his confidence to defend higher up the pitch and his conviction in tackle when doing so.
He was prepared to leave deeper defensive positions in order to halt City’s players high up the pitch, preventing them from having the opportunities to feed balls in behind the defence. Similarly, his more recent league appearance at Anfield against Swansea highlighted how difficult it now is to get beyond him and how he looks much more focused for longer periods of the game.
Attacking is rarely a problem as far as Moreno is concerned. What leaves Liverpool fans so frustrated is the number of times he gets himself into promising positions only for his final ball to let him down. This is evidenced by the fact he has created 24 chances so far in the league so far and has only made 1 assist. He is second in the list of chances created, losing to James Milner’s 27 while surprisingly beating Philippe Coutinho’s 17. The use of a narrow formation of late provides the full back with space to run into while the work rate of the team ensures he is rarely outnumbered by attackers out wide.
Having said this, the performance against Swansea exposed a lack of trust in Moreno’s reliability going forward as several teammates thought twice when considering whether to give him the ball or not.
He is getting the opportunity to attack more under Klopp with the difference being that he is now showing a greater impetus towards his defensive responsibilities. Moreno clearly isn’t a player that is keen to play by rigid tactics, which is why he has the potential to thrive under a manager who will let him off a leash and encourage him to believe in his own game.
‘Lucas Leiva looks to be on his way out of Liverpool, oh wait, he’s staying’. Lucas Leiva has supposedly been about to leave Liverpool for the past few seasons now. He now poses as an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool setup and looks to have built a strong relationship with the new manager.
It is great to see the Brazilian back to his best, putting in big tackles and offering stability in midfield again. 41 out of 99 tackles completed in the league for the season doesn’t cover him in glory, but it demonstrates just how involved he has been. Similarly to Moreno, he is benefiting from the pressing game Klopp has instructed. That’s not to say Brendan Rodgers didn’t demand the same, it just seems as though the players, Lucas especially, are more motivated to do it under the new boss. He has rediscovered his determination and looks to be embracing a new challenge and practically a fresh start.
Since Klopp arrived, he has been defending in higher positions up the pitch meaning his tackling expertise are stopping attacks early and giving the back four more breathing space than they perhaps had over the first few games of the season. His recent form has meant the likes of James Milner and Emre Can take more note of his position and are more open to pushing forward and supporting attacks.
Speaking of Emre Can, the fellow German relation in the form of Klopp has done the midfielder a world of good. He continues to produce moments of quality that suggest he could go on to become one of the best midfielders in the league. It is just a matter of whether he can begin to dominate games and take responsibility as he is visibly trying so hard to do. His work rate on the pitch can’t be doubted, nor can his energy and desire to win. Likewise, he is growing in confidence and is more prepared to run forward with the ball and contribute to attacks which he is more than capable of doing when you consider his power and eye for a pass.
Liverpool fans appreciate his insistence on trying to play passing football but he just needs to realise when it is the right time to do so. He tops the list of defensive errors made by Liverpool players in the league this season with 5, therefore he must get rid of that side to his game. Most of the errors come from an instinctiveness to try something risky and potentially outstanding with the ball, which can be seen as a positive in terms of him growing as a player.
He look assured in the holding midfield role against Swansea on Sunday having been asked to fill the boots of the suspended Lucas. Liverpool fans are now well aware of his neat touches on the ball and the way he looks to glide across the pitch, but many want to see the aggressive side to his game in order to add a fierce look to the midfield. His presence could be vital in giving opposition midfielders a torrid time.
Of all recent signings, Roberto Firmino is perhaps the one that Liverpool fans want to see succeed. After a slow start to his career on Merseyside, he is beginning to look the real deal and is gradually building an exciting understanding with Brazilian compatriot Philippe Coutinho.
Klopp has shown trust in Firmino by starting him as the tip of a front three in big games away to Chelsea and Manchester City. His movement combined with that of Coutinho and Lallana around him is making him a danger to opposition defences. The lack of knowledge surrounding Firmino is working as a virtue in terms of defences not really knowing what he is all about.
The new manager has given him a lot of confidence as well as the freedom to drift into different positions, ensuring his movements aren’t restricted. The narrow formation is also working wonders for him as it allows for him to make runs in behind as well as coming short to bring others into play. Klopp’s use of Firmino in front of Lallana and Coutinho is helping to take some pressure away from the new man, encouraging him to create and score goals.
He has been guilty of giving away the ball too easily sometimes so far, but he isn’t the only Liverpool player so shouldn’t dwell on the small errors at the moment. He has taken well to the demands of hard work and has shown he has the confidence to try something different with the ball.
For me, Jordan Ibe is one of Liverpool’s most important players and the youngster has a huge admirer in the form of Jurgen Klopp, who appears to have taken him under his wing.
Ibe has bounced back from a nervy start in the league under Brendan Rodgers and is now looking like the versatile winger everyone expected him to become. He by no means shies away from goal scoring positions by hugging the touchline, as evidenced by his bursting run beyond the Swansea defence on Sunday that almost lead to Kyle Bartley scoring an own goal. He looks as though he believes he can beat any defender, which is when he is at his best. His presence in the side has also helped Nathaniel Clynne settle in more with the full back being given numerous invitations to link up with his teammate and even break beyond him.
Not only are Coutinho, Lallana and Firmino competing for the number 10 role- Ibe could well be a contender. At the moment, all he is lacking is a consistent final product, which will come with experience and game time. For 19 years of age, he is showing a maturity in his defensive work and positional play that some experienced players in the side haven’t been able to show. Ibe fits in perfectly with Klopp’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, which is why the boss has taken a liking to the winger.
A moral boost has clearly been the recipe for success for Jordan Ibe, and that has to be put down as expert man management by Klopp.
The proposed ‘family-like’ atmosphere within the squad is gradually becoming evident and increasingly effective.