It tells you a lot about modern football – and even more about the modern Liverpool – that this article is even being written. A top level manager is about to be praised for his common sense, a common sense which has been blowing through Merseyside like the freshest breath of air.
Jurgen Klopp has overseen three draws and two wins ever since Brendan Rodgers was sacked after drawing with Everton a month and a day ago, but there is so, so much more to it than that.
Liverpool knew that they were becoming the envy of many by appointing a manager universally adored across the football world for his relaxed demeanour, his quotable press conferences and, most importantly of all, his tactics, but what they wouldn’t have known was that he would also come to resemble the perfect counter-balance for events at Anfield. Everything is suddenly, remarkably, making sense.
It’s all a bit weird, really.
Liverpool fans are used to seeing their club in the headlines for some sort of ownership row affecting its very future, or a manager backed into a corner and making tactical tweaks until he can spin his way out of it, or a star player (and his agent) burning his bridges until he found one which took him to a more lucrative destination. Yet now instead of a soap opera, Liverpool are on their way to becoming a critically-acclaimed drama. It’s a bit like when you wake up expecting a hangover only to find out that you haven’t got one.
For historical context, it was a year ago yesterday that Rodgers fielded a weakened team against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu – alienating Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and others to virtually sacrifice the game.
Liverpool lost 1-0 – although Rodgers praised them afterwards – and then, with the big names restored, lost 2-1 at home to Chelsea the following Saturday.
The latter months of Rodgers’ reign were full of stuff like that, but 12 months on, Klopp has taken a full-strength squad to Russia for tonight’s Europa League clash with Rubin Kazan. That same full-strength squad will then return to Liverpool to prepare for Sunday’s clash with Crystal Palace. All of your players being available for all of your games – it’s a radical concept, but it might just catch on.
Of course these are early days, and Klopp’s relentless style will catch up with his players eventually, but there are other decisions which the German is making which just seem to be the correct ones.
In fairness, Gerrard’s return to the club from Los Angeles during the MLS off-season was being mentioned before he’d even left, but this week Klopp was quick to stress that this will be for training purposes only – and rightly so. He’ll be a great asset to have around the place.
On the pitch, and after the draw with Southampton last month, Klopp spoke of how his players needed to realise that it wasn’t ‘the end of the world’ when Sadio Mane equalised for Saints four minutes from time, as such an emotional reaction was making the prospect of scoring a late winner unlikely. Again, sensible.
Against Chelsea on Saturday, and when sensing that the time was right to kill off their beleaguered hosts, the German decided to withdraw James Milner – a player seemingly promised the earth when signed by Rodgers – in order to bring on Christian Benteke.
Surely the easier option would have been to replace one of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino or Adam Lallana, but common sense dictated that they should all be on the pitch for a better chance of scoring a goal. Or two goals, as it turned out.
In analysing that game for Four Four Two, the tactics expert Michael Cox pointed out that in terms of the numbers of tackles made, interceptions and ball recoveries, Liverpool’s display at Stamford Bridge wasn’t too far removed from the draw at Everton in Rodgers’ final game. Crucially, though, it was the areas of the pitch in which these actions were taking place which made the difference – the infamous Gegenpressing coming to the fore as Liverpool won the ball back in dangerous areas.
And again, there is something so sensible about winning the ball from vulnerable opponents high up the pitch, with Cox citing an old Klopp quote in that piece which goes: ‘The best moment to win the ball is immediately after your team just lost it. The opponent is still looking for orientation where to pass the ball.’ Sense. Just outright common sense.
It still might not prove enough, of course.
Klopp has entered a league flush with financial superpowers, with only a few spots available to him which would constitute a successful season, and – as is increasingly the case – Liverpool’s fate is still going to depend on the underperformance of others.
But in ushering in a radical, almost forgotten era of sensibility, the new Reds manager is giving his side the best chance possible of achieving that success.
The sense of sense is rife at Liverpool, and it might stop feeling so weird soon.
Read more from Mark Jones