“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.”
Liverpool’s season has changed in the blink of an eye. A week is a long time in football and there has been no better illustration of that than in the sea change of emotions and expectations at Anfield. The lethargy and inertia of the latter-day Brendan Rodgers era has been swept away and replaced by the unbridled optimism that the beaming presence of Jurgen Klopp can only inspire.
From a predictable, mentally fragile side that looked to be meandering through footballing purgatory, the mood has changed with ringing endorsements from a who’s who of German football illuminati from Franz Beckenbauer to Jogi Low.
“When the manager told me I could go to Fulham it was a bit of a shock at first. What he said came as a sort of bolt from the blue.
“I worked really hard to come to a club like Liverpool and I didn’t want to leave in a hurry. I want to stay at Liverpool for as long as I can.”
Speaking ahead of the Reds’ trip to face Anzhi Makhachkala in November 2012, Jordan Henderson is still waiting for his first Premier League start under Brendan Rodgers.
He’s made only four substitute appearances in the league, but has been a virtual ever-present in the Europa League. Barely two months earlier he was on the verge of being farmed out to Fulham, a pawn in the club’s efforts to sign Clint Dempsey.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s a bit surreal and it hasn’t really hit me yet. But I’m buzzing and just excited to get started. The club has got great history, it’s a great club, and one that I’ve always been following from when I was young. The style of football and the top players… it was somewhere that I wanted to get better and learn, and play good football. It was an easy decision.”
It’s fair to say Joe Gomez is champing at the bit. A year on from winning the European Under-17 Championship in Malta – earning a place in the team of the tournament – and after 24 first-team appearances for Charlton Athletic last season, the 18-year-old has signed a five-year deal at Liverpool.
It’s quite the rise for a player who made his under-18s debut at only 13, and his professional one just last August. On the back of a fairytale ascent over the last year, it would be tempting to see the teenager’s move to Brendan Rodgers’ Reds as the next step in his unstoppable career progression.
But it’s never quite as straightforward as that. Leaving home at 18 is always a daunting prospect, not least adjusting to the move from south-east London to Merseyside. Then there’s the added pressure that comes with joining a side of Liverpool’s stature, in the knowledge that they’ve fought off Arsenal and Manchester United for your services. More than that, Gomez has the weight of recent history against him.
September 13, 2014. Four games into the new season and Liverpool find themselves in a familiar position, trailing at home to Aston Villa. An hour gone and the toothless Reds are directionless, purposeless and lacking in attacking penetration. It’s the first signs of the trouble ahead, the death of last season’s direct football that reaped 101 goals, 52 of them shared between the absent strikeforce of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Brendan Rodgers shuffles his pack, replacing summer signing Adam Lallana with the 19-year-old Raheem Sterling. Fresh from an impressive end to the season, a strong showing at the World Cup and a dazzling performance at White Hart Lane before the international break, the young prodigy is set to continue his upward trajectory, and Anfield is ready and expectant. As he enters the pitch the roar is deafening and the young England international is awarded a standing ovation; this is the Kop anointing its new hero.
It was a great show of faith for a teenager, but an awful amount of pressure to heap on the shoulders of one so young. This season Sterling has played like that pressure has weighed him down, too much for someone so young to bear such responsibility. His form has deteriorated as the season has gone on, yet he has started more games than any outfield other than Jordan Henderson.
When people think back to the events at half-time in the bowels of the Ataturk Stadium on May 25, 2005, it’s tempting to envisage a portly Spaniard channeling his inner-Churchillian rhetoric, arms flailing in a pique of tub thumping and rabble rousing.
It’s an interesting dynamic of the British perception of sporting comebacks that it was assumed what he said, rather than what he did, was the decisive factor in pulling Liverpool back from three goals down against Milan.
Ten years have passed and accounts of that half-time team-talk from Rafa Benitez still differ to this day. Jamie Carragher emphasised the speed and calmness at which he explained the tactical changes, the introduction of Didi Hamann and the shift to three at the back, but that he was so flustered he nearly sent the team back out with 12 players. Scott Carson said it was quiet, that Benitez told them to play for pride.
The former Valencia boss remembers it differently in his 2012 book, Champions League Dreams: “We have nothing to lose. If we can relax, we can get a goal. And if we get the first goal, we can come back into the game. We have to fight. We owe something to the supporters. Don’t let your heads drop.
“I felt I had to change it because we have to find solutions throughout the squad to be better. I said to Simon that it’s for an indefinite period.”
Those were the words of Brendan Rodgers in December after Simon Mignolet was dropped for Liverpool’s visit to Old Trafford. It represented the culmination of a catastrophic run of form for the Belgian No.2, who’d been dubbed “worse than Dracula” by club legend Bruce Grobbelaar. The Transylvanian vampire at least came out of his coffin – Mignolet stayed rooted to his goal-line.
Thankfully for the Belgian, his replacement was Brad Jones, a 33-year-old reserve goalkeeper who’s made only 109 league appearances in his 13 seasons as a professional footballer. The Australian conceded five goals from nine shots on target in the club’s next two league fixtures, before a thigh injury sustained at Burnley on Boxing Day cut short his sojourn in the first team, granting Mignolet a stay of execution.
Since completing 75 minutes at Turf Moor, Mignolet has conceded only 12 times in 15 league games, keeping nine clean sheets – including a club record six consecutive shutouts on the road.