Tthree points ahead, three goals scored in every Premier League home game, a 100% record in all competitions at Anfield, a run through the Europa League group stage and some brilliant individuals; it’s fair to say that Liverpool have exceeded pre-season expectations of a new-look team. It is not unreasonable of Jürgen Klopp to expect much more as the season progresses, however.
“You saw so many teams here growing in the direction we wanted and all of them improved step by step or the manager had to leave,” Klopp said of the demands of his particular job. “We will try together to improve step by step and show our true colors more often.”
The 243rd edition of English football’s most played derby presents an ideal opportunity for Liverpool to grant Klopp’s request given the one-sided nature of the match on his watch, regardless of another early kick-off after a truce international which disrupted the preparations. Klopp has lost one of his 17 meetings with Everton, Liverpool one of the last 23 Premier League meetings at Anfield and one of the last 25 league derbies home or away.
Liverpool’s defensive concerns, heightened by the loss of Andy Robertson for three months to a shoulder injury, are offset by the visitors’ problems in front of goal. A 3-0 defeat to Bournemouth last time out was just the eighth time Everton have scored more than once in a Premier League match in the last 12 months. However, Everton’s overall improvement in performances, coupled with three wins in the last four games, has raised Sean Dyche’s hopes of capitalizing on any post-international fatigue in the opposition ranks. Klopp’s compliments towards Dyche and his local rivals were of a backhanded nature.
“Everton are in a good period,” he said. “Burnley, in their best moments (under Dyche), were an extremely difficult team to play against and you can see that again; it’s the same with different players. We have to be ready for second ball battles, runs in behind, compact defense. It will be difficult. Burnley matches have always been difficult. We need to show understanding of football, patience, make appropriate changes and fight the fight.
What Klopp looks for most of all from Liverpool is consistency throughout the 90-plus minutes of a Premier League match. This was achieved in the 3-0 defeat of an in-form Aston Villa early last month, a performance which echoed Liverpool at their best under Klopp, but other highlights even in the victory , were interspersed with errors. The coach believes some instability is inevitable given the rebuilding of the midfield this summer.
“Yes, it is (a factor), but we have also changed a lot between games because of the number of games and we have been interrupted by international breaks twice now,” he said. “If it’s a more stable team, it doesn’t make much difference because we’re a lot more used to each other and that’s not the case yet. As a group we have to become consistent, but we are doing it step by step.
“It wasn’t that long ago that we had the problem of performing at a very high level until we weren’t performing at all; we were leading 1-0 or 2-0 in a match and all of a sudden we found ourselves under pressure. Mad. You had to learn to control the game. That’s all that happens over time – there’s no shortcut to getting there. With the signs we have shown so far, I am completely fine but I don’t know the final destination, I can’t even see it yet, but that’s not a problem because other teams have similar problems. It’s about how quickly we can take the steps and that’s what we work on every day, but the problem now is how could we work from Brighton (where Liverpool drew 2-2 ) ? We had three first-team players, with a goalkeeper, in training until Wednesday. Tomorrow we have to play with what we have done so far but in general we have to gain stability little by little.
He arrives in attack, where Darwin Núñez’s influence has improved considerably since his match-winning appearance for Liverpool’s 10 men at Newcastle. Mohamed Salah has scored or assisted in 14 consecutive Premier League matches and Liverpool could emulate their 1980-81 predecessors by scoring three or more goals in the first four home league matches. Stopping goals has been the problem, with Liverpool conceding first and cheaply on occasion. Klopp insists he hasn’t built another formidable attack at the expense of a resilient defense; it’s just another step Liverpool need to take.
“I like to build a team on the defensive end,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s possible again these days when you’re in the middle of something. Imagine if we kept clean sheets but didn’t create. You have time for these things when you are new (at a club), when things are below average before you arrive and you are 14th. Then everyone is happy when you get results. We are not like that. Our team is not set up like that. We have a really talented group, a creative group in a footballing sense, and we have to use it. But protection must be organized. This is done step by step.
“There are a lot of new things for boys to consider and it takes time. We had a good pre-season and I loved the progress we made there but the rest we learned during the season. During the season you are massively influenced by the results. The difference when you win a match – and it’s not a problem for me – is that I have to make the players aware of what’s still wrong. It’s a different feeling if you lose or draw. It’s been two weeks since we played a football match together so it’s no longer possible to work while watching the Brighton match. We need to make sure we’re ready for this one.
After the trials at Tottenham and the frustration at Brighton, Klopp needs Liverpool to embrace the intensity of the Merseyside derby when they return home.