Shrewd Klopp turning Liverpool into EPL title contenders
LIVERPOOL, England (AP):
It's a year since Juergen Klopp breezed into English football as the new manager of Liverpool, and the bespectacled, fun-loving German has established himself as the most charismatic coach in the Premier League.
He's proving to be the shrewdest, too.
In a summer transfer window of record spending by English top-flight clubs that topped one billion pounds (now US$1.2 billion) for the first time, Liverpool returned a profit - reportedly between £10-£15 million - as Klopp juggled his squad with mostly lower-profile recruits.
Fears that Liverpool would be left behind by their big-spending rivals have proved unfounded: The strategy has worked out just fine.
Klopp's team has had the toughest schedule of anyone in the league after seven games but is currently fourth in the standings, two points off first-place Manchester City. The Reds have taken a total of seven points from away games against Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea, thrashed champions Leicester 4-1 and are the joint leading scorers with 18 goals.
That start to the season compares favourably to that of Manchester United, who visit Anfield on Monday for what traditionally is the biggest game on the English calendar between the two most decorated teams in the country.
United had the second-biggest net spend (an estimated $170 million) of any English club in the transfer window under new coach Jose Mourinho, taking a Galactico-style approach to its signings by bringing in Paul Pogba for a world-record fee and superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
United are three points behind Liverpool in seventh place, despite having had easier-looking fixtures.
Klopp spoke yesterday of the "world-class players" that Mourinho has brought in, but without a sense of jealousy.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
Quite simply, he's happy with what he's got.
"It's not a competition. It's not that you win the league before the season," Klopp said at Liverpool's Melwood training ground. "You have a team without spending money and you have a team with spending a lot of money. Everybody has their own possibilities, their own ideas.
"We did what we did because we thought it's the right thing, for us."
Monday will mark a year since Klopp took charge of his first Liverpool match - a 0-0 draw at Tottenham - and he's quickly stamped his mark on the team.
Liverpool have a defined style of play, the high-energy counterpressing game long favoured by Klopp and carried over from his time in Germany with Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. He spoke effusively of the performance of his "wild boys" after Liverpool beat Hull 5-1 in the last match at Anfield, led by the energetic and nimble forward trio of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane.
It's in this regard that Liverpool are way ahead of United, who are still searching for an identity in the early months of Mourinho's reign. Mourinho has repeatedly said it would take time for the methods of his predecessor, Louis van Gaal, to be completely erased.
After winning their first three games, United won only one of their next four.
"What I heard is that you think we are in a good moment and they (United) are not in a good moment," Klopp said in a news conference. "I can't see the big difference with three points. They have big quality in their team and we have to respect this but, of course, it's Anfield. We have to show this. I'm hoping for the best atmosphere. It will help."
The home "atmosphere" helped last season, when Liverpool overwhelmed Van Gaal's United in a 2-0 win at Anfield in the Europa League's round of 16.
"Creating a special atmosphere is important," Klopp said. "That's the challenge for us - take the special thing about this game, then (add it to) our usual and normal style."
For his part, Mourinho was terse in his assessment of both Liverpool's title credentials and Klopp's influence at Anfield.
"You have to ask them; they are a good team," Mourinho said.
When asked about Klopp's impact, Mourinho replied simply: "I've not much to say."