Basking in the glory of the win over Barcelona, it’s fair to say Jurgen Klopp’s standing has been higher. Victory over Messi and co confirmed the Liverpool manager’s status as one of the best in world football.
Look around Europe’s top five leagues, and there is an argument there is nobody better than he. Pep Guardiola is the obvious rival, He continues to shine with Manchester City and is one of the greatest coaches of his generation. Yet, his team are only one point ahead of Liverpool in the Premier League. They lagged far behind them in the Champions League. Klopp has matched and outperformed Guardiola at times this season. The win over Barcelona was another example of the world-class coach he is.While the German boss’ style may not match up to Guardiola’s aesthetically, there is no denying its brilliance. The heavy metal style that he perfected at Borussia Dortmund and has implemented at Liverpool is a joy to behold. It gets the heart pumping and the blood running. It is the perfect antithesis to the cold, clinical and occasionally boring style that is on offer at the Etihad.
It is also a style that the big teams fail to deal with. City struggled with it last season, and it was the same for Barcelona at Anfield. Liverpool pressed, harried and ran the Catalans into the ground. They covered more ground than them and did so at a ferocious tempo that their opponents could not match. It forced Barca to do things they usually wouldn’t.
Lionel Messi was the most prominent example. Liverpool surrounded him, never allowing the Argentine a moment to think. Whenever he lifted his head, four, five or six red shirts were encircling him, stopping him from doing anything dangerous. It was achieved by Klopp’s design. It was not a one-off either. It’s the same thing they did to Bayern Munich earlier in the competition and Manchester City last year. It is his brand of football, and it is a successful one. The best teams in world football are yet to find a way to deal with it.
Klopp’s excellence goes beyond the tactics and style, though. His development of players is staggering. It happened during his time at Dortmund and has occurred in abundance at Liverpool.
Ask those who know Virgil van Dijk, and they will tell you he was talented but did not see him becoming the player he is now. Under Klopp’s guidance, he has become the best central defender in world football. The same can be said of Andy Robertson. Has £8 million ever been better spent than the Scotland international? Switch to the other flank, and you have the man of the moment, Trent Alexander-Arnold.
The 19-year-old Scouser has developed into one of the most exciting prospects in world football under Klopp’s guidance. He’s a more complete, rounded talent than 90% of the players his age. It is Klopp’s leadership and guiding hand that has taken him to the vital role he currently holds in this side.
Elsewhere across the team, there are other examples of Klopp developing players into huge stars. Fabinho has been gently developed into a leading defensive midfielder. Jordan Henderson is the leader that many at Anfield hoped he would be. Georginio Wijnaldum is now a consistent, box-to-box midfielder and regularly produces, as he did against Barcelona.
The front three are the most prescient example of the point. Sadio Mane has developed into a world-class forward. Nobody questions the idea that Real Madrid would chase his signature. Roberto Firmino is the best false nine in Europe. Mohamed Salah, meanwhile, has taken his game to a whole new level on Merseyside. Even a season in which he has ‘struggled’ still sees him hitting 20 plus goals. There is no player in this current Liverpool squad that has not improved in some way under Klopp.
It is Klopp’s man management that puts him above the rest, though. No manager in world football can instill confidence like the German. He described his team as mental giants in the aftermath of the Barcelona victory, but it is by his hand that they are so strong.
Klopp has instilled a confidence in this team that is evident every time you watch his team. He makes even the most average of players believe that they are world beaters and then watches them perform in that manner. None encapsulate that more than Divock Origi. The Belgian is Liverpool’s fourth or fifth choice striker and one that few would keep at the club should a decision have to be made.
He entered this season low on confidence, suffering after a long-term injury. Yet, by the end of it, he has provided some of the most significant, most important moments of their campaign. Likewise, players such as Wijnaldum were performing Cruyff like turns in the 85th minute of a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona like it was a home fixture against Huddersfield.
Even the crowd buys into this feeling that Klopp builds. In the past Anfield was a nervous, tension-filled stadium. The fan base suffered in the past and were wary of a repeat. Now, like their team, they continuously believe. They expect the late goals and amazing comebacks and are often rewarded for their faith with both. Klopp has built at atmosphere and belief at Liverpool that everyone feeds from. There are few managers capable of that.
Of course, these things mean nothing if you are not winning and Klopp is yet to deliver trophies at Anfield. Those, though, will arrive before too long. This season is unlikely to end with a Premier League, but the Champions League is very much in their grasp.
That would be the first of what is likely to be many for Klopp at Anfield. He has now taken Liverpool to three European finals and shown they are ready to compete with Manchester City for Premier League dominance. This win over Barcelona has only further established him as one of the best managers in world football. Nobody at Liverpool would disagree with that statement, that’s for sure.
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