Charged with the Herculean – and perhaps Sisyphean – task of restoring Liverpool to their glory days and creating new ones, highly regarded Jurgen Klopp makes his managerial debut for the Reds on Saturday at White Hart Lane, where his rebuild will begin against Tottenham Hotspur with serious injuries already mounting.
The 48-year-old cut short his self-imposed sabbatical to take over one of the world’s most treasured franchises, where the failure to win a Premier League title since its 1992 inception continues to be the bane of Reds supporters.
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The regression from runners-up in 2013-14 – when Liverpool controlled their destiny – to sixth last season to their current spot of 10th under Brendan Rodgers only exacerbated the fan base further. It’s in some ways no great surprise they find themselves there after talisman Steven Gerrard departed for the United States and prolific goal-scorers Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling left for perennial Champions League pastures Barcelona and Manchester City, respectively.
And as Liverpool lost their on-field identity – winning only one of six league matches (1-3-2) after claiming the maximum six points from the first two – Rodgers eventually lost his job following a 1-1 draw at Everton in the latest Merseyside derby Oct. 4.
Into Anfield’s cauldron enters Klopp, the embodiment of the modern manager who also is the antithesis of the image Liverpool have cultivated over the decades with predecessors Bill Shankly, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish and Rafa Benitez. The strikingly hip figure in the coaches’ box in terms of sartorial splendor subscribes to a playing style of near-manic pressing and aggressiveness, which brought him and Borussia Dortmund from European obscurity to a pair of Bundesliga titles and the Champions League final in 2013.
"I am excited by the challenge we face and eager to start the job and begin implementing our ideas and ways of working with this team," he told Liverpool’s official website last week when hired. "Winning is important but so is how you win and play the game. I believe in a playing philosophy that is very emotional, very fast and very strong. My teams must play at full throttle and take it to the limit every single game.
"It is important to have a playing philosophy that reflects your own mentality, reflects the club and gives you a clear direction to follow. Tactical of course, but tactical with a big heart."
At issue for Klopp is whether Liverpool (3-3-2) currently have the personnel to be successful with his style and if the team will be active during the January transfer window. The team’s ownership group takes a committee approach in targeting players they think will be successful at Anfield, something Klopp seems content with after saying "for me it is enough that I have the first and the last word," last week.
The current on-field product has muddled along for nearly a month – unbeaten in their last six matches in all competitions (1-5-0) – but failing to produce more than one goal in 10 of their 11 matches all season while falling short of asserting themselves in Europa League play and scrapping through their League Cup match on penalties.
Scoring concerns could reach new levels with the news of Danny Ings suffering a season-ending ACL injury in training Wednesday, essentially ending the 23-year-old forward’s chances to play in next summer’s European Championship. It’s the second ACL Klopp has dealt with in a week on the job after left back Joe Gomez went down in England’s U-21 match Tuesday, and Liverpool are already without Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino for the short term.
The mood at Melwood Park had until the last few days been upbeat while Klopp put the Reds through their paces for the first time, and his message appears to be quickly hitting home.
"He seems to be very passionate – he likes to put in everything that he has and he asks the players for the same. Be very intense, be aggressive with yourself," midfielder Lucas Leiva said. "It’s a fresh start for every player. His CV is amazing. If we have the same success that Dortmund had when he was there, everyone will be happy. That’s why we’re positive about it."
Spurs, long considered the league’s other star-crossed franchise given their identical Premier League title drought, enter this match a point and two places above the Reds in the table. The London side are unbeaten in their last seven (3-4-0) in league play after a season-opening defeat at Manchester United and salvaged a point before the break with their 2-2 draw at Swansea City on Oct. 4.
Christian Eriksen bagged a brace for Tottenham, who had their England- and Belgium-based players shine during the final matchdays of European qualifying. Harry Kane assisted on Ross Barkley’s goal in England’s 3-0 win at Lithuania, and teenage midfielder Dele Alli saw action in both matches as a substitute for his first senior caps. Compatriots Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Nacer Chadli all contributed to Belgium wrapping up qualification for the Euros for the first time since 1984, having participated as hosts in 2000.
"It’s very good for Belgium that there are a lot of players playing in the Premier League, not only in the division but also at the biggest clubs in the league," Alderweireld told Spurs’ official website. "It’s nice to have friends at Tottenham and Belgium as well."
Liverpool did the double over Spurs last season, including a 3-2 win in the corresponding White Hart Lane fixture as Mario Balotelli netted the winner in the 83rd minute. The Reds have won five straight league matches by a combined 18-4 scoreline, but the departed trio of Gerrard, Suarez and Sterling accounted for nine of those goals.