Klopp the tactician won't be judged vs. Spurs, but as a motivator he will be
There has never been a Premier League managerial appointment surrounded by so much hype. Arsene Wenger offered an air of mystery when joining Arsenal and quotes from Jose Mourinho's first Chelsea news conference are still cited regularly today. But Jurgen Klopp's arrival at Liverpool is off the scale. When thousands of fans are tracking the progress of his flight into the city, there is quite a remarkable sense of excitement.
That excitement doesn't just come from Liverpool fans, either. Large sections of English football fans fell in love with Klopp during Borussia Dortmund's run to the Champions League final two years ago, and he's precisely what the Premier League needs: more animated than Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini; less brash than Louis van Gaal and Mourinho. He is an extremely likeable character and unquestionably a very talented coach, and he is joining a club outside the current top four.
Put simply, success for Klopp will make the Premier League more entertaining. Maybe it already has.
"It's strange at the moment because we haven't even played football, yet," he said this week. "Let's start doing what I'm here for."
Klopp's first Liverpool fixture is the first Premier League fixture of the weekend, the early Saturday kickoff at Tottenham Hotspur. At this stage, he won't have enjoyed enough time to mould his players into his favoured playing style. He has been at the club for a week, of course, and while the timing of the managerial switch was clearly deliberate, in an international break when Klopp would have time to become accustomed to the logistical aspects of his job, it's also problematic. Almost all of Liverpool's first-teamers were away playing internationals this week, and some only resumed training at Melwood on Thursday.
"This is not the time to change so much," Klopp says. "Just to turn the screws a little bit in the right ways." Clicking his fingers, he continued: "Some things you can change like this ... but to get tuned as a team? That takes time."
For all the discussion about Klopp's love of gegenpressing, for example, that style of football isn't just about energy, it's about individual decision-making, cohesion and organisation. Attempting to create a heavy pressing side from the outset could prove disastrous, especially against opposition who like playing in that type of match.
Indeed, one of the many fascinating aspects about this weekend's fixture is the fact Spurs are probably the most Klopp-esque side in the Premier League. They're a young and energetic team who remain extremely compact, with forwards starting the defensive pressure and defenders starting attacking moves. They are an unfussy, efficient football side, and in good form; although only a point ahead of Liverpool in the table, they are unbeaten in the league since the opening day defeat at Old Trafford.
Mauricio Pochettino's methods became ingrained in the Spurs side relatively quickly last season, although he was hampered by the fact he wasn't initially able to recruit many of his own players. Klopp is similarly handicapped.
More than two months away from the January transfer window opening -- when it's traditionally difficult to land top-quality players anyway -- Klopp is forced to cope with his current squad. And it's not a particularly healthy squad, either, especially after the devastating double injury blow of Danny Ings and Joe Gomez both being ruled out for the season. With Roberto Firmino, Christian Benteke and Jordan Henderson all unavailable this weekend, it's difficult to see many genuine decisions to make in defence or the final third.
The main question is about Klopp's midfield combination. Lucas Leiva, James Milner and Emre Can will probably be battling for two midfield slots, and the manager's combination in this zone will say much about his intentions for the game. Traditionally, Klopp likes mobile, forward-thinking players who can advance the ball and play a positive pass, and for all Lucas' qualities, he's a different type of midfielder entirely.
Can, Milner and the injured Henderson are more-typical Klopp central midfielders. Will he immediately use two of them or the safety-first option of Lucas against a talented technical side with a gifted playmaker in Christian Eriksen?
Klopp will be fully aware of Tottenham's own selection problems, however. Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb are injured, while Eric Dier is suspended, having collected five bookings already this season. Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele will probably be the Spurs' midfield combination, but it remains to be seen whether they have the defensive discipline to protect the back line. Pochettino will preach the importance of remaining compact more than ever, fearing Philippe Coutinho finding too much space between the lines.
The Brazilian might be Liverpool's key player for the rest of the campaign. After making an excellent initial impact in the Premier League, excelling with his pinpoint through balls, he has somewhat stagnated in the past 12 months. His place in last season's PFA Team of the Year was hugely flattering, and he has generally provided moments rather than helping to put his side on the front foot. If the Brazilian gets on board with Klopp's approach, a more energetic, involved Coutinho would be terrifying for opponents; he could, essentially, play the role Shinji Kagawa perfected at Dortmund.
The major winners, though, will be the dynamic players in Liverpool's squad. Gomez's injury means Alberto Moreno will surely be first-choice left-back for the rest of the campaign, and he could be the perfect player to epitomise Klopp's demands for high-intensity football. Dortmund excelled on the counterattack in his two title-winning season with rapid transitions when winning the ball in deep positions, and Moreno's goal in this fixture last season, a 3-0 victory, shows what a brilliant ball-carrier he can be.
Jordon Ibe could also thrive, because while the likes of Firmino, Coutinho and Adam Lallana can play wide, few other players at Liverpool offer Ibe's touchline-hugging, direct style. Players who can get up and down the pitch repeatedly are extremely useful to Klopp, and that will apply to the likes of Henderson and Milner in more-central positions, too.
More than anything involving shape or style, though, the most fascinating aspect of Liverpool's performance at White Hart Lane will be their attitude, work rate and level of determination. It will be too early to judge Klopp's preferred tactical style, but we will learn much about his motivational skills.
"We have to run and fight together," Klopp said this week. "I want to see more bravery, more fun in their eyes. I want to see that they like what they do."
Under Klopp, that shouldn't be a problem.