A defiant Jurgen Klopp has given himself every reason to be optimistic when he comes back to his Liverpool squad next season.
After the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic, it is understandable that many in football will see the season break as a chance to take stock, and prepare for life as normal. Vaccines will be administered, players can travel to see their families, and footballers can crowd around one another in Ayia Napa and be sick, should it take their fancy.
It would be unfair to be especially harsh on any side that has struggled with the campaign’s demands, but for much of the season, Liverpool were disappointing. There was the freak, heavy loss to Aston Villa early on, and countless underwhelming and shoddy displays in the league. Roy Keane was justified, if provocative, when he labelled the side as ‘bad champions’, but as Keane would be more than content to give himself a dressing down when required - indeed he probably does every night after brushing his teeth - you can't begrudge his opinion.
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In March this year, with Champions League football for next season looking in doubt, Klopp’s agent told the German press that the manager was ‘not finished’ at Liverpool and intended to stick out his contract. That recalled Klopp’s own words in July 2020, when he said:
“It is a really nice story the boys have written over the years but it is not finished yet – we decide when it is finished.

Georginio Wijnaldum hugs Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool v Crystal Palace, Premier League, Anfield, Liverpool, May23, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

“I want to see us fighting for whatever the next trophy is, fighting on the pitch and enjoying the hard work and as long as we do that we have a good chance.
First thing, as always, is to be a team no one wants to play against. I think we are like this but we can be more uncomfortable.
Klopp, then, thought his side could improve, even with a difficult transfer window ahead of them, just as it was for every other side. Diogo Jota arrived and proceeded to get injured, and that was more or less the same for everyone who stepped into the Liverpool dressing room.
There have been season ending injuries for Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, problems for Joel Matip, Fabinho, Ben Davies and more. It is a club responsibility to keep its players fit, of course. It is not merely a case of bad luck. Perhaps one can question if Klopp’s physical demands on players, such as Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, inflicts a mental as well as physical fatigue that makes downturns in form inevitable. But just as the key core of his Dortmund side eventually recovered after he had departed, so have Liverpool found their way back to winning ways.
As Klopp pointed out, his team have put on an exceptional run. Since their defeat at home to Fulham in early March, Liverpool have not lost a league game. Their refusal to roll over is perhaps best demonstrated by their Brazilian ‘keeper Alisson Becker deciding it was time to add a fierce glancing header to his highlights reel against West Brom in a vital, late victory.

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They were helped, of course, by United’s decision to essentially duck out of their contest, but they can only play the teams put in front of them. And often they have had to do that without half of their first team.
As Klopp said after the game, the team have thrived under pressure: "I'm so proud of what they've done the last 10 or 15 games and the reaction of the team in bad times. Eight wins out of 10, two draws, that's impressive.”
The mental resolve to not give up without their captain, and of their front trio to play through their poor form and back to a goalscoring threat, suggests there is much to work with over the summer.
Of course, there is no guarantee that this Liverpool side will ever hit the heights of their back-to-back Champions League and then Premier League titles, but given 2020 ended with some demanding the departure of Klopp, he has shown that he deserves his place at Anfield for some time yet.
Players will need to be added, and established relationships on and off the pitch will have to be fundamentally changed or expunged. That is never easy, but the very best managers can use creative destruction to produce something better than what came before. There is a reason now for optimism that Klopp can do just that next season.
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