CHAMPIONS LEAGUE: Acid Test For Klopp’s Liverpool
WHEN Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool in October 2015, he made a promise: “If we sit here in four years, I think we (will) win one title,” he said.
Next month will mark the second anniversary of Klopp’s appointment, the halfway point of that four-year cycle.
There has undoubtedly been progress in that time; a team who were 10th in the Premier League when he arrived finished fourth last season.
Whether they are significantly closer to winning a major trophy is more open to debate.
Liverpool reached two finals in Klopp’s first seven months as manager, losing on penalties to Manchester City in the League Cup at Wembley, and suffering a more decisive 3-1 defeat by Sevilla in the Europa League in Basel.
That European adventure was an unexpected bonus.
Expectations at Anfield are higher now, but Liverpool look far from a complete team as they prepare to face Sevilla once more, this time in the Champions League.
The best and worst of the 2017 Liverpool were shown when they beat Hoffenheim in last month’s play-off to reach the Champions League group stage.
Klopp’s side showed an attacking verve that could threaten the best in Europe.
Close-season signing Mohamed Salah has formed a quick understanding with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Salah and Firmino both scored in the home leg, while Mane was heavily involved in two of the goals.
It is a wealth of attacking talent, and they still have Philippe Coutinho to come back following his failed attempt to engineer a move to Barcelona.
Defensively, though, Liverpool were weak in both legs against Hoffenheim; they could easily have conceded more than three goals in the tie.
Liverpool were defensively suspect last season, and those difficulties have continued into the new campaign.
‘Like a wounded animal’
Klopp signed Loris Karius from Mainz to be his first-choice goalkeeper, then dropped him midway through last season.
Ragnar Klavan, another Klopp buy, from Augsburg, replaced Lovren for last Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing at Manchester City.
However, the extent of the defeat should be put into the context that they had matched City and were trailing 1-0 when Mane was sent off.
“We have to take the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s game, and how we played before the international break, and take it into the next game,” said goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
“Of course, we can’t neglect the performance after that, but we have another game in midweek when we can prove ourselves.”
At times, it feels as if Klopp has spent two years, and a lot of money, recreating the Liverpool team who almost won the Premier League under Rodgers four seasons ago.
They are thrilling going forward, an accident waiting to happen defensively. The question is whether Sevilla are ready to punish them.
Much has changed at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium since Unai Emery guided them to a third successive Europa League title with victory over Liverpool two seasons ago.
Emery went to Paris Saint-Germain, and his successor Jorge Sampaoli left at the end of last season for the Argentina job.
Eduardo Berizzo arrived in May from Celta Vigo and has spent heavily, bringing in Colombian forward Luis Muriel from Sampdoria and Nolito from Manchester City to supplement last season’s top scorer Wissam Ben Yedder.
Midfielder Ever Benega has returned from Inter Milan, with departing centre-back Adil Rami replaced by Dane Simon Kjaer.
The creativity of Pablo Sarabia and Joaquin Correa remained, helping Sevilla make a strong start in La Liga, garnering seven points from three matches.
Berizzo, though, is wary.
“Liverpool are a great team and Saturday’s defeat doesn’t take anything away from them,” he said. “Moreover, they’ll be like a wounded animal.”