Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool showed flashes of quality last season, but the challenge is to sustain it in 2016/17. Adam Bate examines the reasons for optimism and why that defeat to Burnley will have been such a blow to the German coach…
Liverpool's trip to Tottenham on Sunday is a rerun of Jurgen Klopp's first game in charge. In a keenly fought goalless draw, Klopp's Liverpool became the first team to outrun Spurs last season - an early indication of how the new coach would look to implement his own style.
Sturridge scores twice in rout
Liverpool eased past Burton Albion in the EFL Cup with a 5-0 away win.
He had the plan but what is still debatable is whether or not he has the players. What Klopp certainly didn't have last season was time. More matches meant fewer training sessions and Klopp frequently had the air of a man bemused by his own team's schedule.
A fortnight after taking charge of his first Liverpool fixture, he'd already seen his side play five games in three different competitions. They were still unbeaten but that couldn't last. Being freed from the demands of Europe this term was a source of real optimism.
By Klopp's calculations, 20 fewer games means 50 more sessions available. "We have to use that time and we will do," he said, quoted in the Liverpool Echo. "We believe in training, I have always said that. This time is not for a holiday. It is to get each little advantage you can in a season."
The early signs were good. Liverpool ran four kilometres more than any other Premier League team on the opening weekend at Arsenal. Their intensity stood out as they made 75 more sprints too - 15 per cent more than anyone else. Most importantly, they won.
Premier League tracking stats - 2016/17
|Man City||228.7km||Man City||1110|
Liverpool are still top for distance covered and sprints after the second round of games, now topping the table for touches of the ball and total shots too after dominating Burnley last weekend. But excitement understandably dissipated given the 2-0 defeat at Turf Moor.
It was a setback, and while there's a sense in which many Liverpool supporters had come to expect it given their recent habit of following good results with bad, Klopp appeared particularly frustrated. "These mistakes shouldn't happen anymore," he said afterwards.
Klopp sweats on Can injury
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp hopes an ankle injury sustained by Emre Can at Burton isn't serious.
Of course, it's not easy playing the Klopp way and injuries were an issue once more. Klopp could not call upon Emre Can or Lucas Leiva to start, Mamadou Sakho is still out and Sadio Mane was missing as well. These problems have been a feature of Klopp's reign so far.
Undoubtedly exacerbated by having to contest no fewer than 63 matches last term, Liverpool suffered a league-high 20 hamstring injuries and endured more lay-offs in excess of 14 days than all but relegated Newcastle. It's indicative of the strain put on the players.
Liverpool had 35 separate injuries keeping players out for a fortnight or more last season. Only Newcastle had more. [Source: Physio Room]
Injuries are often used an excuse by managers but nobody should doubt the significance of keeping players fit. For example, for the second season in a row, the team that lost the fewest days to injury won the Premier League. The concern is that the coach is culpable.
"I remember Klopp taking over at Liverpool last October and he tried to immediately impose his high-pressing style which he used at Borussia Dortmund," Frank de Boer told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "It resulted in several injuries, nine in fact. Sometimes it is better to slow down."
Klopp's approach requires rest, recuperation and training ground work. Perhaps it's no coincidence that his first title with Dortmund came when the club were knocked out of the German Cup to third tier opponents by October and out of Europe at the group stage too.
As might be expected from a team that relies on engaging opponents with real pace and purpose, there's good evidence to suggest that when Klopp has a full week in which to prepare his players, Liverpool can be a very different proposition.
Liverpool's game preparation
|In 2015/16||Won||Drawn||Lost||Loss %||Avge position of opp|
|Four days or less||10||6||7||30%||11.7|
|Five days or more||3||3||1||14%||6.6|
While Liverpool lost 30 per cent of the Premier League games they played within four days of the previous fixture last season, they lost only one of the seven matches (14 per cent) in which the team had more than four days in which to prepare for the game.
That result was the shock defeat at Watford in which Klopp accused his team of having "lost their mind" and hoped it'd remain "the most disappointing moment in my whole Liverpool FC life". Aside from that day at Vicarage Road, when time was on their side the Reds shone.
Live Premier League
There were six such games and five of them were against the top four. Liverpool beat both Leicester and Manchester City, the latter emphatically, while drawing twice against Tottenham and once against Arsenal. The other was a 6-0 demolition of Aston Villa.
That's why the Burnley loss will have been such a blow. For with only one midweek Premier League game prior to the turn of the year and no European football at Anfield, the chance is there to play the Klopp way in earnest. Hope remains that it could yet take Liverpool far.