Why Liverpool’s season is shaping up to be Jurgen Klopp’s final masterpiece

Jurgen Klopp may be saving the best for last. In his time at Liverpool, given the continuing possibility he will bow out with a quadruple. In his rivalry with Pep Guardiola, certainly. A 30th encounter with the manager he deems the best of his lifetime did not yield a 13th win but it did produce two new highs for the German.

“The second half was the best we ever played against Manchester City, definitely,” he said. Some of Klopp’s definitive victories involved blistering starts and hanging on at the end but in a 1-1 draw, Liverpool were stronger after the break.

And there were signs of evolution, even as his thoughts could have turned to his departure. “How we played in midfield was some of the best moments of my coaching career,” Klopp said, and his great rival concurred. “It is difficult because with [Wataru] Endo and [Alexis] Mac Allister they have extra passes and the quality to play,” reflected Guardiola. “Before, they were more direct.”

Liverpool still played at full throttle, still showed their capacity to rattle City, but the touches of class were evidence of the success of Klopp’s overhaul. ‘Liverpool 2.0’ may be a one-season phenomenon but they were supposed to be a team in transition, one going for fourth place, not competing for four trophies. And if they may not last long enough to be Klopp’s second great team – they will probably look very different under any other manager – they show that he will take his leave as a great manager.

Liverpool and Manchester City split the points in a draw at Anfield (PA Wire)
Liverpool and Manchester City split the points in a draw at Anfield (PA Wire)

The season is shaping up as Klopp’s final masterpiece: constructed from the ruins of much of last year, with the rebuilding job disrupted by the sudden loss of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, before Liverpool’s injuries should logically have expelled them from title contention. Klopp has spent years competing with a City side with more resources and more talent, but that felt exacerbated now Guardiola has Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne and John Stones available after their spells on the sidelines. Liverpool were without nine players, with Mohamed Salah not deemed fit enough to start, with a defence who made more starts in League One than the Premier League in 2022-23. Yet they hammered away at the champions. Liverpool were saved by the woodwork, City perhaps by the officiating. But Liverpool put their problems to one side in a way that illustrated Klopp’s ability to improvise and galvanise, to see the potential few others had identified and make the best of an unprepossessing situation.

“Our injury situation is still awful,” Klopp said. There are many players not available, it is crazy. If we were to play only the players who were not available today, that would have been a good team as [this] one.” That is only a slight exaggeration: his best team would feature the absent Alisson Becker, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ibrahima Konate, the substitutes Salah and Andy Robertson and perhaps the injured Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones, too.

The season has been an extended example of Klopp’s ability to adapt and react. He was an advocate of allowing five substitutes, but he has used them better than anyone else, changing game after game. He can rouse the Kop with fist pumps but read a game to make subtle switches. Liverpool have the most points taken from losing positions: 23 now.

Klopp has done it with some of the untried – and Jarell Quansah, who made 16 appearances for a Bristol Rovers team who came 17th in the third tier last season, prospered against Haaland - but also the flawed. He seems to cherish the idiosyncrasies of Darwin Nunez. Camouflaged by his friend, Luis Diaz has a similar propensity to wreak havoc and yet miss chances. But Liverpool can transcend their individual shortcomings.

Liverpool’s youngsters have been a revelation this season (AFP via Getty Images)
Liverpool’s youngsters have been a revelation this season (AFP via Getty Images)

“All the different ways we found,” Klopp said. “Just highest intense fights to get the result.” It is a testament to his own resourcefulness. He saw something in Endo that eluded others and has been richly rewarded. Harvey Elliott was reinvented as the super-sub earlier in the season. Now he has been transformed into a talismanic starter, almost a senior figure at 20. Klopp has created an environment where three unknowns could help win the Carabao Cup, where almost everyone can excel, and where the side seems greater than the sum of the parts.

It comes from a combination of the psychological and the tactical, courtesy of a huge personality with attention to small details, aided by a faith in people and players that is being rewarded. His own situation feels paradoxical, getting and giving complete commitment while he is walking away, but perhaps he is being liberated, a manager who already exercised great authority freed still further. And in the process, Klopp has shown he is both at the peak of his powers and, in one respect, wrong. On Friday, he had said he is not an impossible act to follow. His successor may discover otherwise.