Can Klopp's Liverpool do it?
We sat down with Danny Gallagher (@Danny7Gallagher) to discuss all things Liverpool.....
First of all, what were your thoughts on the draw? Can Liverpool go all the whilst maintaining a title challenge?
On paper Liverpool have come away with a superb draw, given some of the teams left in the competition. Porto was the one everyone wanted, Ajax at second pick. The young Dutch side are in a good moment right now though, so the Reds have got the ideal scenario. That said - this is a side who were utterly humiliated in their own back yard last season and had to resort to going to Anfield merely to save face. They’ll want revenge for that. While their squad may still be no match, I certainly would not expect the same naivety. For Liverpool, the Champions League helps maintain vital momentum, despite the added strain it puts on the muscles. Big European nights are fuel to this club, and the squad is now such that both European and domestic assaults should carry to the end.
Liverpool are now firmly back amongst Europe’s elite. They were miles off before Klopp arrived. Sum up how the German has brought Liverpool to this stage and how you see his performance as manager of Liverpool these past few years?
The importance of Klopp coming in lay in the mentality. Liverpool knew they were getting an elite manager, but the hierarchy were also enchanted by his expectancy to be back among the big boys. Many say Klopp is adept at working with the lower budgets, though this was scoffed at in the summer when Liverpool spent big. The truth is, it was needed - to add the specks of gold dust to Klopp’s already grandiose creation. What it comes down to is his management of the players and getting everyone singing from the same hymn sheets. Few managers do it quite like he does, and now this side is completely in his image.
Will Liverpool’s wait for a title end this season? Can they sustain consistent title challenges in the next few years or do you believe this is “the” year?
It’s the killer question, and so much is yet to be determined. In terms of the holding-of-destiny, it’s Manchester City’s to lose… but so much could happen in these remaining games. A single point margin is nothing, as the Reds found out. They know, on their day, they can beat whatever is put in front of them. It’s a case of managing all those external factors. Klopp is no stranger to this, encountering multiple similarities when pulling off the shock of modern German football and toppling Bayern with a team of kids. It’s important to see the building blocks and how they’re coming together - for Liverpool this season is an enhancement of the last. The next should follow suit… the only players who will be leaving Anfield in the summer are to be those who cannot get game time. Incomers will only make the squad stronger.
How much of an affect has Van Dijk had at the club? Where do you rank him in comparison to the Liverpool’s past centre half greats?
It’s no longer hyperbole when it comes to Virgil van Dijk, he has quite literally changed everything. Rivals fans sneered that it was a classic case of overly excited Liverpool fans rallying around their big buy… but to go from last season’s often shambolic defensive displays to the best in the country… that’s just not something from the ordinary. Jamie Carragher answered the question well recently when he said Virgil has everything necessary to enter Hansen and Lawrenson territory. Ron Yeats is, of course, the benchmark, but the Dutchman is coming for them all.
Sadio Mane stepped up again for the Reds this past week, has he got the credit he deserves this season?
Among the fan-base Mane is endlessly receiving credit. He’s adored on Merseyside, but now the wider footballing world are taking notice. He’s becoming prolific beyond reason and stepping up to the plate in the biggest of matches. He’s softly spoken and keeps himself to himself, but you’d struggle to find bigger spirit in the game.
One player who perhaps hasn’t reached the heights is Naby Keita. Where do you see his future? What does he need to do to earn the manager’s trust?
Naby Keita is quite obviously a supremely talented footballer. I think many repeatedly forget how young he is, with his only prior elite level experience being a brief spell in the German top flight. His prolonged arrival didn’t help matters, but Keita is a project Klopp was desperate to start working upon. It will click, no question.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to return to first team action. How integral could he be in the run-in? Will he go straight into the team?
The Ox gave so much to Liverpool last season, and his evident improvement week on week was so endearing. I feel he can offer for what remains of the campaign, for sure, but the pressure isn’t necessary. Liverpool are rosy right now, they’re not crying out for a saviour. On a personal level I’ve been desperate to see him return, but if he can’t dazzle between now and May, no problem. Full fitness is paramount. He has a huge future.
Finally, could you predict how Liverpool’s season will end? If they weren’t to win the league or the champions league, can the season still be deemed a success?
Predictions are often futile, but what does matter is this team have the spirit, talent and capacity to sustain their title challenge and fight for a place in Madrid. Back-to-back Champions League finals would be dreamland stuff, but they will fight for that, no doubt. Should they fall short on both - it comes down to personal value and opinion if an individual deems that a failure. Of course, it will be ‘trophyless Jurgen Klopp’ once more… but this season is a direct result of last year’s dizzying highs. The road to Kiev provided this momentum, as did some astute signings. Whether Liverpool win anything or nothing this season, the level will still raise for the next.