When Jurgen Klopp made his first address to Liverpool fans after his appointment two years ago his message was clear.
“We have to change from doubters to believers,” he told the club’s official television channel before staring straight into camera, pointing his finger for added effect in the direction of those watching, and saying: “Now.”
Klopp will celebrate the second anniversary of his arrival as Brendan Rodgers’ successor with the visit of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United to Anfield on Saturday (12:30 BST kick-off).
Manchester United are emerging as serious Premier League title contenders again under Mourinho, so it will be a perfect measure of Liverpool’s progress under the 50-year-old German, who labelled himself ‘The Normal One’ when asked to make a comparison with the self-styled ‘Special One’ when he walked through the doors of Anfield.
Klopp’s two years in charge are not reflected as a sharp uphill curve by statistics, but there is plenty of evidence – including his stellar work at Borussia Dortmund – that given time and support he will put Liverpool much closer to where they wish to be.
Has Klopp improved Liverpool?
Klopp’s Liverpool, when they get it right, can be an irresistible attacking force. But two years on they are still plagued by many of the inconsistencies that were in place when he arrived.
The defence is still an obvious Achilles heel. There remains uncertainty around the goalkeeping position contested by Simon Mignolet and Klopp’s own signing Loris Karius. And potentially landmark results against clubs they would regard as rivals are offset by disappointments against those lower down the Premier League scale.
The manager’s current win ratio of 50.67% from his first 75 league games – with 38 wins, 22 draws and 15 losses – is actually less than his predecessor Rodgers, who had a 54.67% rate from the same number of games, including 41 wins, 19 draws and 15 defeats.
Rafael Benitez had exactly the same 54.67% ratio as Rodgers from 75 games, while Gerard Houllier’s percentage was lower at 48% once he took sole charge from Roy Evans in November 1998.
Kenny Dalglish had a 42.86% ratio from 56 Premier League games as Liverpool manager while Roy Hodgson ranked at only 35% from 20 games.
Former Liverpool midfield Jan Molby told BBC Sport he regards Klopp’s reign so far as “a qualified success”, but has seen areas of real improvement.
The Dane, who won a league and FA Cup double with the Reds in 1986, said: “I wouldn’t say it has been a resounding success – but when it’s good it’s very, very good.
“When that is the case you get away with it a little bit because, after all, it is what people want to see. Liverpool’s pressing game, when it works, is very, very impressive.
“No-one should kid themselves – that takes hours and hours on the training ground because players have to make decisions. Pressing is very difficult and he has improved that.
“The free-flowing football is also great when it works. He has introduced a whole new concept of how you can play. I’m talking about players like Sadio Mane and Mo Salah.
“It makes Liverpool, when they are at their best, almost impossible to play against.”
Molby added: “Klopp has had a really positive impact. People are generally impressed with the work he has done and I think they are 100% behind him – because history tells you when he gets it right, like he did at Dortmund, the ride he took them on was incredible.
“Liverpool fans know that is a possibility. Everybody is praying it is just a matter of time. People can see that there are things happening. There are things not happening but not everything can be put in place overnight.”
Has Klopp addressed Liverpool’s problems?
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If there is an area of contention and criticism about Klopp’s two years at Anfield, it is that problem areas that existed when he arrived are still in evidence.
Liverpool’s central defence has long been an area of weakness and has been exposed already this season.
Manchester City and Manchester United have each conceded only two goals in their first seven league games and Tottenham just five – Klopp’s side have already shipped 13.
Liverpool’s central defensive permutations – mainly using Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan – have not looked fit for purpose on occasions and makes the failure to push through a summer deal for Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk look even more costly.
Van Dijk was desperate to move to Liverpool only for the move to be shelved amid allegations of an illegal approach to the player.
Liverpool may revive the deal in January but must hope it will not prove too expensive.
Klopp also wanted to build a stronger midfield platform by signing RB Leipzig’s Guinea international Naby Keita – but the Bundesliga side refused to sell this season. A deal has now been signed and sealed for the 22-year-old to arrive next summer for a club record fee in the region of £60m.
So, was Klopp right to refuse to drop down his list of targets after Saints stood firm on Van Dijk? And are there other ills that he has not yet cured?
Molby said: “In terms of the problems the club had when he took over, even he would be honest enough to say he maybe hasn’t done enough to put them right.
“Keita is done. The reason they didn’t go and buy another centre-half is they probably still want to go back in for Virgil van Dijk, so you almost have to say that currently the most important players for Liverpool are the ones who are not there yet.
“If they get them you can say you are getting near to the type of players that you want – and you will say Liverpool have to move on, have to move away from the defensive errors, have to become more consistent.”
Klopp has also adopted a goalkeeping policy of using Mignolet in the Premier League and Karius in the Champions League, but Molby believes supporters remain unconvinced.
“The fans have made their minds up – and the fans don’t trust that they are good enough. That in itself is a problem,” said the Dane.
“In terms of defensive players – and we knew it was a problem when Klopp came – he has only paid money for two defenders: Ragnar Klavan and Andrew Robertson.
“Those two wouldn’t feature in what Klopp thinks is Liverpool’s strongest back four.
“I would have still gone for somebody after the Van Dijk deal didn’t happen. I think the shortcomings you leave in your squad at some stage come back and you pay the price.
“Liverpool have a fragile centre-half in Lovren, who has had a lot of injuries. When he doesn’t play, Klavan has to play. He is OK as a stand-in for a couple of games, but the more games he plays the more he gets exposed.
“I know he was expensive, but I think the boy who has gone to Tottenham, Davinson Sanchez, would have been a really interesting one because he fits the profile of the type of player Liverpool scout and look at.”
Klopp’s big successes
Klopp’s sheer force of personality has galvanised Liverpool and recaptured the bond between players and fans. He is intent on playing the all-out attacking football that always plays well to the Anfield gallery.
He has overseen one of the great Anfield moments when Liverpool came from two goals down to pull off a miraculous Europa League quarter-final win against former club Borussia Dortmund in April 2016 – although the final in Basel produced disappointment with defeat by Sevilla.
Most importantly of all – and an item right at the top of his brief when he came in – he brought Champions League football back to Liverpool with a fourth-placed finish at the end of his first full season.
“People are always dreaming of winning the title but I believe the club’s brief is for Jurgen Klopp to make the club competitive in terms of getting into the top four. He has done that,” said Molby.
“Ideally you want to make yourself a regular visitor into the Champions League. This is very difficult with the top six the way it is, but they are competitive again this year.
“The fans enjoy his style. Jurgen Klopp is prepared to take risks. Even when Liverpool were getting played off the pitch by Dortmund they were taking risks and just hoping eventually they would force their way back into the game – and when they did they were an unstoppable force.
“He won’t change and the fans like that. They can see what he is trying to achieve.”
Are Liverpool any closer to the title?
Klopp’s league record against the top flight’s first seven from last season is excellent.
Liverpool have played Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Spurs and Everton 23 times in the league since he arrived and only lost twice, winning 12 and drawing nine.
But the Reds still face an uphill task to end the wait for a title that stretches back to 1990 as, for all the optimism Klopp’s charisma brings, old faults still remain and rivals improve.
Molby says: “I don’t think Liverpool are closer to the title but that is mainly because of what Manchester United and Manchester City are doing. They won’t stand around doing nothing waiting for Liverpool to catch up.
“The two Manchester clubs have done excellent business and for the time being have moved away from Liverpool. That is not going to be permanent because the other four will get after them – but they have moved away and because of that you can’t say Liverpool have moved any nearer.”
A bright future under Klopp?
Klopp proved at Borussia Dortmund he can bring trophies as well as exciting, attacking football. And he has shown enough in two years to suggest he can make Liverpool challengers once more, but improvements are still required, particularly in defence and midfield.
Keita and Van Dijk would seem to be the men earmarked to cure those problems, with Molby adding: “They won’t take care of all the problems but they will be a big help.”
Klopp, who has used 46 different players in the Premier League in two years, is yet to win a trophy but the return to the Champions League is, in the eyes of some, a bigger status symbol than silverware.
“I think there is such a focus on Champions League that top four is enough,” said Molby. “For the fans it’s not, because you watch other teams going to Wembley and winning trophies, but I don’t think Klopp is necessarily under pressure to win a trophy.”
In his two years, the German has convinced Liverpool supporters he shares their ambitions and passion, which for now means he is still regarded by the vast majority with the same affection and optimism that greeted his arrival.
“Liverpool will only make the big improvements by buying better players,” Molby concluded. “But most Liverpool fans believe that in 12 months they will have a top midfield player in Keita and a top centre-half in Van Dijk – that will automatically improve them again.
“Klopp also has the huge personality Liverpool fans like. We live in an era where personalities are so important, so to have a big personality doesn’t hinder him – in fact I think it’s a massive help.”