Jurgen Klopp's reboot has put Liverpool back in contention with Man City after pain of last season

Thu, Sep 28, 2023
Soccer News (AP)

Jurgen Klopp's reboot has put Liverpool back in contention with Man City after pain of last season

MANCHESTER, England (AP) - Last season's problems feel like a distant memory for Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp's reboot has had an immediate effect, with normal service seemingly resumed at Anfield despite losing a slew of players in the off-season and disbanding much of the team that led Liverpool to the Champions League and Premier League titles in recent years.

It remains to be seen if Klopp can push Manchester City in the manner he did during the clubs' epic rivalry from 2019-22, but his team is moving in the right direction again.

"We had a tough year last year and it was not always fun for all of us and this time it looks like it is different," Klopp said.

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If last season represented a painful period of transition for Liverpool, it was short-lived. The sale of Sadio Mane to Bayern Munich and a number of injuries to key players like Virgil van Dijk saw a team that had come within two games of winning a quadruple of trophies the year before finish the next campaign empty-handed.

The six-time European Cup champions missed out on Champions League qualification for the first time since 2016 by finishing in fifth place in the standings.

That was still better than had looked like being the case until Liverpool mounted an 11-game unbeaten run at the end of the season.

There were concerns, however, that there would be more pain to come this year after the departures of Jordan Henderson, Roberto Firmino, Fabinho, James Milner and others.

While it was accepted a refresh was needed, the fear was that there was too much change too soon, with Henderson a surprise exit. The signings of Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Wataru Endo and Ryan Gravenberch would need time to gel.

So much for that theory. Liverpool has racked up seven straight wins in all competitions and is unbeaten so far this season.

The team will go into Saturday's Premier League game against Tottenham sitting second in the standings, two points behind leader City.

The top of the league has a familiar look again after City and Liverpool turned the title race into a personal battle over the course of four seasons when the Merseyside club lost by a single point on two occasions and won the championship in 2020.

Klopp's team also reached three Champions League finals - winning one - and won every other major trophy over that period.

There were no guarantees the German coach would be able to do it again, especially up against the financial power of a City team backed by the Abu Dhabi royal family. Rebuilds are rarely quick. Certainly not when replacing talents like Mane, Firmino and Henderson.

But Klopp's coaching expertise and guiding hand has been a constant influence during a period of such change. After all, Liverpool has not only lost leading players, but has also had to cope with the exits of two sporting directors in Michael Edwards and Julian Ward.

Against that backdrop, it is even more impressive that Klopp's signings have proved so effective so soon.

Szoboszlai, a midfielder who joined from Leipzig in July and also plays for Hungary's national team, has stood out in the opening games of the season and scored in Wednesday's 3-1 comeback win over Leicester in the English League Cup.

"It's so long ago that he's here that I've forgotten what I thought (when he first came), but since the first minute of training it was pretty impressive," Klopp said. "He's a top bloke, a top guy and it's easy to step into the team and the dressing room and stuff like this.

"He's a very naturally confident boy and that helps but it's super hard work as well and that's what you see today."

Fourth-place Tottenham is enjoying its own impressive start to the season and remains unbeaten in the league after last week's 2-2 draw with Arsenal.

Liverpool is the latest test for Tottenham manager Ange Postecoglou, while the trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will be another opportunity for Klopp to gauge the progress of his team.

Tottenham has already beaten Manchester United at home this season.

If Liverpool extends its winning run to eight straight games, it will be further evidence Klopp is ready to go toe-to-toe with City manager Pep Guardiola yet again.

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

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