1. Klopp can coach a defence
Liverpool conceded 23 goals in the first half of last season – considerably more than Manchester City (12), Tottenham (18), Manchester United (14), Chelsea (14) and even Burnley (15). Some feared that, while Klopp could coach his team to attack, he couldn’t do the same at the other end.
That criticism is no longer valid, however: the Reds’ backline has been breached just seven times in their first 19 matches of 2018/19. They are on course to concede just 14 goals this term, which would beat Chelsea’s record of 15 in 2004/05.
The signings of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson have helped to shore up a previously fragile defence, but Klopp had already made improvements to the team’s structure before the duo arrived. Liverpool now have a solidity about them which has been absent since Rafael Benitez’s best years at Anfield.
2. There’s life after Buvac
When Zeljko Buvac left Liverpool in April, many fans feared the worst. It was suggested that the Serbian, who had worked alongside Klopp since 2001, was the man who implemented the Reds’ pressing game and it was expected that his departure would bring about a downturn in performances.
Yet after a slower and more pragmatic start to the season, Liverpool have scored 16 goals in their last five league games and have now drawn level with Manchester City in the goal difference stakes. A key appointment made by Klopp in the summer was that of Dutch coach Pepijn Lijnders – formerly a youth and then first-team development coach at Melwood – who has effectively replaced Buvac as the German’s right-hand man.
3. Salah’s no one-season wonder
When Mohamed Salah hit an incredible 44 goals in his debut campaign at Anfield, it led to inevitable questions about whether the Egyptian would be able to repeat the feat in 2018/19. A slow start to his second season led to some dismissing him as a one-season wonder, but he’s now back to his goalscoring best with 15 so far in all competitions.
In the Premier League, Salah has scored 12 goals and provided six assists, despite a change in role that has shifted him to a more central position. Now he’s fully recovered from that shoulder injury, expect Salah to score at least another 15 goals in the second half of the season.
4. Medicals matter
The Champions League final defeat was the lowlight of 2018 for Liverpool, but apart from that there was only one disappointment for the Reds: their failure to sign Nabil Fekir from Lyon in the summer.
The French attacking midfielder was seen as the ideal No.10 in Klopp’s 4-2-3-1 system. He had all but completed his move to Anfield before the World Cup, but concerns over a pre-existing knee injury ultimately scuppered the move. Klopp has responded by deploying Roberto Firmino in the withdrawn role he previously fulfilled at Hoffenheim.
5. There’s a plan
It’s clear that there’s now a strategic plan at Anfield running right through the club. Klopp trusts in sporting director Michael Edwards, admitting that he and his scouting team pushed for signings such as Salah.
A year ago Liverpool acquired Virgil van Dijk, showing a willingness to stick to a long-term plan having failed to land the Dutchman in the summer. “You have to be aligned, everybody has to understand their role,” CEO Peter Moore told FourFourTwo.