‘We had a policy: Punch anyone negative in the face’ – how Jurgen Klopp rejuvenated Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp celebrates after Liverpool's FA Cup win at Arsenal

The regeneration of Liverpool to be attacking on four fronts began with the rejuvenation of Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool head into Wednesday night’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg with Fulham on top of the Premier League and on the back of knocking Arsenal out of the FA Cup while securely in the last 16 of the Europa League.

That Klopp has re-established Liverpool as a force is no surprise. The fact he has done so soon after a season in which the club dropped out of the Champions League, prepared for a period of transition and were the sixth-biggest Premier League spenders in the 2023 summer transfer window is.

How did he do it so soon? Pep Lijnders, Liverpool’s assistant manager, offers his insight into how Klopp re-energised himself and the club.

Banishing negative energy

Lijnders offered a colourful image as an explanation of how Liverpool ensured the trials and tribulations of last season were swiftly forgotten.

“I said as a joke that if anyone was negative in this building I would punch them in the face,” Klopp’s No 2 says with a laugh. “I said that to every single one of them. Just to make sure that we didn’t carry anything over.”

Liverpool players celebrate in front of their fans after going ahead at Arsenal
Liverpool players celebrate in front of their fans after going ahead at Arsenal - Getty Images/Julian Finney

Klopp is renowned for his positive energy but maintaining it when results are poor, senior players such as Roberto Firmino and Fabinho are coming to the end of their Liverpool careers, and prime transfer targets join other clubs is easier said than done.

Lijnders, one of Klopp’s chief lieutenants, said coaching meetings with fellow assistant manager Peter Krawietz, goalkeeper coach John Achterberg and elite development coach Vitor Matos set a fresh course.

“You do not want that negativity around. You are a product of your own environment,” Lijnders says.

“We [the coaches] work together and if you had three or four negative guys, everyone would be negative. If you have positive guys, the opposite. That is how the world works. It is important that I stay calm and give my honest view in a positive way. I can only speak for myself on that, but I always stay positive.”

New signings recharged Klopp

Although not every top target was secured last summer – everyone remembers the sagas of Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia – Klopp had the boardroom backing required to fill the vacancies, particularly in midfield.

Lijnders says the clarity of purpose and support from Liverpool’s American ownership was critical given as much as £100 million potential Uefa earnings were lost when the team finished fifth.

“There is not a good manager without good ownership,” Lijnders says. “The ownership invested in the squad where we needed to invest and that’s already a really good sign. You bring energy, power, talent, young players and that energises the manager and the coaching staff because you are working with new players and you have to explain the idea again.

“We knew we could invest and knew in the summer we would invest. Cody [Gakpo] was a summer signing we brought forward to January [2023]. We could do that early and it was great. If you look at the number of players we have brought in, that is really great.”

Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szoboszlai, Ryan Gravenberch and Wataru Endo followed in the summer.

Dominik Szoboszlai
Dominik Szoboszlai has been a stand-out performer since joining Liverpool - Getty Images/Michael Regan

“The way we do business and the way our ownership works – of course you are relying on Champions League money, but not so much because we do our things really well,” Lijnders says.

“If we do not have it, we don’t do it. If we have it, we do. Sometimes it is because salaries are going away when players go, so this can make a big difference to whether you do things or not. If you see it when it happens it is more complex than you think. Champions League money is about a lot of things.”

New leadership group sets standards

Jordan Henderson and James Milner were the leaders for the previous eight years. When they left in the summer, Klopp handed Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold senior roles. Lijnders says he knew the captain and vice-captain would lead the way on and off the pitch and that the side would elevate itself back to where it is accustomed to being.

“I felt that from last season already [that the group was special] and the moment we started making the signings, and then when we started deciding the leadership group and the captain,” Lijnders says.

“When Virgil was captain I knew he needed that responsibility and would step up again. We needed him at his best for the way we play – with many times both full-backs jumping, stepping up and pressing. We needed him and Ibou [Ibrahima Konate], Joel [Matip], Jarell [Quansah] in a really good way.

“What does not often get seen is our centre-halves are playing much better with the ball. If you look at how close they play to the offence and how they are stepping in with the outside or inside pass, they are playing to a level we needed. They are making a big difference.

“A lot of key players went, seniors who were always the leaders, so new players had to step up – Mo Salah, Virgil, Alisson, Trent – and they did. There was a voice in their head saying, ‘We want to be successful and so we have to go through this’.

“These things help, these things are crucial, but then you have to have success. You need to win games when you think that maybe you are not going to win them. Newcastle away [in August] was a massive one. That creates momentum. Winning helps.”

Pep Lijnders celebrates with Luis Diaz after  Liverpool beat Arsenal
Pep Lijnders celebrates with Luis Diaz - Getty Images/Julian Finney

Jones a symbol of potential being realised

Klopp and Ljinders rarely single players out for praise, but there is clearly particular delight in the progress of Curtis Jones this season – a home-grown talent who is regularly in the preferred starting XI.

“I don’t want to go on constantly about the new players because Curtis is a good example,” Lijnders says.

“He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, maybe because he comes from the academy, I don’t know. But if you see what he did to the team since the end of last season it’s as good as a new signing.”

Liverpool's Curtis Jones celebrates scoring their second goal against Newcastle
Curtis Jones has been like a new signing for Liverpool - Reuters/Carl Recine

Liverpool have continued their policy of blending academy talent with the expensive signings, the manner in which their youth centre is utilised bringing rewards in European and domestic competitions this season. Although Alexander-Arnold is out injured on Wednesday, another youth product, Conor Bradley, is ready to step in.

Lijnders says this approach has helped to renourish the club, the average age of Liverpool’s starting line-up significantly lower than two years ago. Earlier this season, Klopp fielded Liverpool’s youngest European line-up. Now the space for improvement in a squad that is already impressing is making him feel younger.

“When young players feel they have to do more, they feel more and more that it becomes their team,” Lijnders says.

“That’s what you need. That energises everyone. If you see that they want to run at 8am, they understand it and they go through really hard times. I really believe that the difference is made on the training pitch. The attitude of the boys and the quality of the sessions – that combination makes a big difference.”

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