red or dead? | 

Why Jurgen Klopp needs to have the ruthlessness of Alex Ferguson to survive and revive a flagging Liverpool side

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA/Reuters© PA


The question facing Jurgen Klopp is whether five defeats in 17 Premier League games for Liverpool are merely a blip or the end of a cycle for a fine side.

That they have a problem in transition is obvious, given how vulnerable they are when they lose possession: they have conceded 51 clear-cut chances this season – double the number of the five sides above them in the Premier League.

Couple that with the exciting-but-raw Darwin Nunez’s need to increase his chance conversion above 22pc, and the reason they have a fight to make the top four is plain.

The broader issue, however, is not the deficiencies when full-throttle attack morphs into unreliable defence, the fragilities of a once formidable structure exposed in the latest meek defeat at Brentford.

It is the general switch from a side beaten only four times in all competitions last season to one in need of reinvigoration to get back to being title challengers.

Seamless transition is rare. Who in English football, other than Alex Ferguson, has successfully moved from one triumphant era to the next over the past 30 years? Arsene Wenger could not do it, nor could Jose Mourinho and his Chelsea successors. Manchester City have also had to change managers to keep the trophies coming.

Even Ferguson oversaw a short period of regression, suffering a four-year wait from 2003 before he regained the Premier League title.

Unlike Klopp, whose man-management is considered his strongest asset, there were times when it seemed Ferguson revelled in the coldness required to ditch those who decorated the honours board, detaching emotion when telling Paul Ince, Jaap Stam and Roy Keane to leave when they had more to give.

Klopp has not yet had to be so brutal with his title winners, ruthlessness reserved to the formative years of rebuilding with Christian Benteke, Mamadou Sakho, Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius. Those who deliver for him are ushered out of the front door via the red carpet.

​Even those who have barely contributed, such as Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, are expected to end their Liverpool careers when contracts expire at the end of this season.

The latest dilemma surrounds Roberto Firmino. Klopp wants him to stay, although Firmino would have to accept reduced terms in the way James Milner has.

Fabinho, has been way off his usual form. At 29, he is still a saleable asset. Would Klopp choose to cash in to fund the restructuring of his midfield or, as was the case when Jordan Henderson’s deal needed updating and some within the club advised caution, would the manager find it inconceivable to lose one of his most successful players?

History suggests the latter, and Klopp’s decision to use his January resources to sign another attacker in Cody Gakpo rather than a midfielder proves he has faith in his options.

Around Anfield there is an appetite for Klopp to get Liverpool back to what they were upon his arrival, when his side ran harder than any team and hunted in packs.

Yet memories can play tricks. That initial sprint from the blocks was fun but largely unsustainable. Liverpool sneaked into fourth by a point in Klopp’s first full campaign, beaten six times over 38 league games.

A cause for celebration then, but bound to be considered a reflection of decline if it is the best Liverpool can do in 2022-’23.

​Like many great managers, Klopp is learning how there is more understanding when a club undergo a total rebuild after a barren spell.

We all hail the bloodletting of a revolution. The evolution? Not so much.

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