During his time at Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has proven himself to be one of Europe’s best managers. This claim is evidenced by the radical improvement in both clubs during his tenure. At Dortmund, he managed to take the team from 5th to Bundesliga champions in two consecutive seasons, including a double with victory in the German Cup in 2012. He also took Dortmund to their first Champions League final for 16 years, in 2013.
Since taking over at Anfield, Klopp has managed to lead Liverpool to a League Cup final, a Europa League final and two Champions League finals. Despite these stellar achievements, Klopp has been questioned for his inability to deliver when it most matters: cup finals. His record of having only won 1 out of 7 showpieces is something that deserves further investigation. Why have his sides fared so poorly in cup finals?
Jurgen Klopps’s sides are known, and admired for, their ‘heavy metal’ style of play – a description famously coined by Klopp himself when comparing himself to Arsène Wenger. He was quoted as saying
“He likes having the ball, playing football, passes. It’s like an orchestra. But it’s a silent song. I like heavy metal more. I always want it loud.”
This philosophy has been born out in the 7 finals that Klopp has been involved in as a manager: these games have averaged just shy of 3 goals a game which, by cup final standards, is rather high.
Far more pertinently though, Klopp’s teams have an aggregate score of 10-16 with opponents averaging over 2 goals per game. An obvious observation to make would be – that it’s difficult to win finals when you need to score (on average) 3 goals to win the game. Here in lies Klopp’s dilemma – does he make a deliberate attempt to change his philosophy for this latest final against Tottenham by ensuring that they are hard to beat, or does he take a ‘you shoot, we’ll shoot’ view that ‘heavy metal’ can once again deliver the goods? While Klopp’s side has bundles of attacking talent, I would argue that adapting the former will have a better chance of bringing an end to Klopp’s cup final hoodoo. The good news for Liverpool fans is that they now have the players to pull it off, if Klopp agrees with me.
Brick wall and golden glove
One key difference from the Liverpool side of the previous two seasons and this one is the established presence of Virgil Van Dijk (VVD). A world-record fee for a defender of £75 million was ridiculed at the time by many, but he would now be worth significantly more than that. Not only has he coped with the added competition and greater standard of opponent; he’s made it look effortless. It’s not only his defensive skills that have made a huge difference to Liverpool. Both his ice-cool composure, and great leadership and communication skills, have helped to transform the Liverpool defence into a much less charitable entity.
In addition to VVD, Liverpool also moved quickly to banish the memory of Loris Karius’ infamous performance in the Champions League defeat by Real Madrid in 2018, by signing Allison from Roma, for a-then world record fee of £56 million with add-ons. Since joining the Anfield outfit, Allison has demonstrated his talent admirably – picking up the Golden Glove in his first Premier League season by keeping 21 clean sheets. His most memorable performance of the season came during the second leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona where he produced a string of tie-winning saves.
A change of music
In acquiring both Allison and VVD, Liverpool have shored up a defence which had been the sides’ achilles heel over the previous season. This defence has been the foundation upon which they have mounted a record-breaking Premier League title assault, and helped them to reach the Champions League final. In the process, they’ve been the meanest defence in the Premier League this season – only letting in a measly 10 goals at Anfield.
Now that the back line is watertight, I would argue that Liverpool’s best hope for the final, based upon Klopp’s recent cup final record, is to steer away slightly from the fabled ‘heavy metal’ style of play. Instead, they would be well-placed to continue playing like they have done all season – a symphony orchestra; calm, rational, elegant and with very few mistakes.
It will be a tough task keeping a talented Tottenham front line at bay, but if they can replicate the high defensive standards they’ve produced all season, there’s a good chance that they will be bringing home a 6th European title to Merseyside. This would be a just reward for a fantastic team lead by a fantastic manager and would banish the cup final hoodoo once and for all.