With February looming and the Premier League title race heating up, the news no one wanted to hear broke: after eight and a half years, Jürgen Klopp is leaving Liverpool. In less than four months, he will be gone. But how will Klopp be remembered and was it the right time to announce his departure?
Sure, the first question might be rhetorical, a bit silly even. Should they somehow manage to lose every single remaining match this season, Klopp will still be remembered a hero for bringing success back to a club longing for it. A tally of seven trophies – and counting, too – might not seem like much, but for Liverpool and the fans, Klopp is larger than life.
The German did not take over an established team ready to compete for titles. Of the 2015/16 squad, only three players – Jordan Henderson, James Milner, and Roberto Firmino – could be considered as cornerstones of their later success. In 2020, Klopp ended Liverpool’s 30-year wait for the Premier League crown. They played in three Champions League finals. The way he handled himself made it all the more enjoyable.
In any other era, this Liverpool team would have won a lot more. It is a pity that they had to compete domestically with the ruthless Manchester City, who have won five out of the last six Premier League titles, and in Europe, against one of the most successful Real Madrid sides ever. But in a way, it makes all the accomplishments even more special. Nothing could be taken for granted.
Should they win some of their remaining games over the next four months, even a quadruple of the Premier League (first place after 21 games), Europa League (Round of 16 secured), FA Cup (4th round), and League Cup (final against Chelsea) could still be on the cards. More importantly: after a disappointing 2022/23 season, Klopp has reshaped the squad. They are in a good place going forward.
What about the timing?
This is not your everyday manager-leaves-club routine. Although Klopp’s influence on Liverpool might not have been as extensive, it merits a comparison with Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. No one else in the modern era of English football comes quite as close.
When Ferguson retired in 2012, he did so in May only after leading the team to the Premier League trophy. Ferguson hand-picked David Moyes to be his successor, but the new manager lasted just ten months of his six-year contract. The fact that United is yet to recover speaks volumes.
But Ferguson had first planned to retire ten years earlier, announcing it before the season, in the summer of 2001. By Christmas, United was ninth in the table and the Scot made a sudden u-turn, claiming that the players were absentminded. “The biggest mistake of my career,” Ferguson said about the retirement plan later.
Klopp insists he will not help pick his successor or reconsider. In four months, he will leave. There will be no emotional speech like in “The Wolf Of Wall Street” (I could easily imagine Jose Mourinho doing that, word for word) whatever happens. But should Liverpool’s results now derail, should they end the season empty-handed, the link to Klopp leaving will be made without much thought.
Who will win the Premier League?
The Europa League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup are all respectable trophies, but Liverpool fans would absolutely love the Premier League. If they could pick just one, there would be no question; even if it would come down to the Premier League or the other three, the answer would still be the same. This is the target.
When their 30-year wait came to an end in 2020, the players could not share their happiness with the fans and vice versa. The stands were empty due to Covid-19. A generation of fans are still waiting to celebrate properly.
The good news is that after 21 games, everything is in their own hands. Liverpool leads the table with 48 points, with Man City their closest challengers five points back (and with a game in hand) – if they win every single game between now and May, it is done. They have done it before: in 2019, Liverpool put together winning streaks of 18 and 17 games.
And yet Opta says that Liverpool (38.6% to finish first) are not the favourites over Man City (57.5%). With the treatment room filling up, it will be a difficult task for Liverpool. Talismanic forward Mohamed Salah will not be back for at least a few weeks, with both first-choice wing-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson also still sidelined. So are Thiago, Dominik Szoboszlai, and Kostas Tsimikas.
How about the competition?
Four other teams are given a chance by Opta to win the Premier League. Manchester City (57.5%) remain the favourites to retain the trophy for a fourth successive season. In each of the last three seasons, a convincing run in the second half of the season was key – and with Erling Haaland soon back from injury, there might be no stopping Pep Guardiola’s troops once again.
Arsenal (2.9%) are currently level with City (having played a game more) and were considered a serious challenger in December before their 2023 ended in successive defeats to West Ham and Fulham. They are definitely thereabout, but City and Liverpool rarely stutter like that; Arsenal might get their best shot when Pep Guardiola, rather sooner than later, calls it a day at City and there will be a power vacuum.
No one quite expected to see Aston Villa (1%) flying this high by January, but is it a surprise? In the 2023 calendar year, they were second to City only (85 points to 93; Liverpool and Arsenal finished on 81). Level with Arsenal at the moment, they should realistically aim for a top-four finish, but their last two-goal win came in early November. It remains to be seen how long they can sustain grinding out results.
Eight points off Liverpool are Tottenham (0.1%), who are making progress under head coach Ange Postecoglou (and without Harry Kane). They are not expected to be title contenders this season, but disrupting the upper four and trying to keep up with local rivals Arsenal? Why not.
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- February 4th, Arsenal – Liverpool
- March 9th, Liverpool – Manchester City
- March 9th, Aston Villa – Tottenham
- March 30th, Manchester City – Arsenal
- April 13th, Arsenal – Aston Villa
- April 20th, Tottenham – Manchester City
- April 27th, Tottenham – Arsenal
- May 4th, Liverpool – Tottenham
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Liverpool and Klopp have battled the Manchester City juggernaut for the better part of the decade, so it is only suitable that City boss Pep Guardiola paid his tributes to Klopp before another epic fight for the Premier League title.
“I will sleep better. The days before playing against Liverpool were almost a nightmare. Of course, he will be missed. I was shocked, like everyone, by the news. I felt a part of Man City would be lost,” Guardiola admitted.
“We cannot define our period here together without him and Liverpool; it is impossible. They have been our biggest rivals, and personally, he has been my biggest rival. I wish him all the best.”