Ten months and 55 games into his Liverpool adventure, Jürgen Klopp returns to the place where it all began, White Hart Lane, a game after which the German said there was no need to “sprinkle magic dust” to transform the team he inherited. on Saturday, well into the evolution he is working on, Klopp is pleased with the progress that has been made but is still searching for more improvement, more refinement, more consistency.
“There was a big sign of quality. We have changed things,” he says. “Now there are quality players in defence, in midfield, on the wing and other players who can still improve like Divock [Origi], Phil [Coutinho] can improve, even Roberto [Firmino] can make the next step. Even the English guys can make the next step, Hendo [Jordan Henderson] had a difficult season with injuries and it is the first time he is fit since I’ve been here over a long term. These are all the things I was thinking about. I still think I don’t need magic dust.”
Klopp took a moment to back his captain, Henderson, who has struggled to find his most convincing form in the season’s early matches. “I see him every day in training so if I was doubting him then he would not be here. I have no doubt,” he says. “It is about decision making, not to too often make the special things, just more what you need to do rather than what you want to do.
“A Liverpool player, that is at the club with not so much success in recent years, is always doubted a little bit. They always have to show they are not the reason we have not made the next step. Of course that is not the reason. There are more reasons for not being successful and it keeps these players always trying to convince everyone. Stay cool, try to play football. It is not that difficult. Not only for Jordan but for other players.”
It is not so much the dramatic effects of magic dust as the subtle tweaks that are on the agenda. Down the touchline at Tottenham, Klopp confronts a coach with a similar mission. When they met last October, with a goalless draw that he described at the time as “eager”and “hectic”, both managers were still in a period of fundamental change. For Liverpool it was the shock of the new, and all the freshness and ideas Klopp would bring. For Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino had been there a little longer, since 2014, but it was still early days in how he was reshaping the team to turn them into title challengers.
“Last season people had big expectations or a big question mark about how we would develop our squad, our team, I think it was very hard work to improve and develop our style of play,” explains Pochettino.
“Because for a lot of players it was their first season, like Dele Alli, for Eric Dier it was his first complete season as a holding midfielder, a new position for him, different things like that. Sometimes people don’t realise how important last season was. We learned a lot and improved a lot and it’s true that it will be tougher this season to try to succeed again.”
He is looking forward to trying to get some time to work properly with the team but regrets challenges as tricky as Liverpool come so soon, when so many teams are struggling to be ready.
“It’s impossible after the Euros with a very short break to recover to start again. To start the Premier League after two weeks’ training, to start international competition, it’s very tough for the players. We want to create the possibility for our players to be fit for the whole season. We are a little bit late in our development for this new season. After the international break we can start to work on small details and develop different possibilities to play linked with our work on the pitch.”
Three points from a big game, before restarting with the transfer window closed, the international break over, and better fitness levels all round is a huge incentive for both Pochettino and Klopp.
A third consecutive Premier League away trip for Liverpool brings its own challenges in the search for greater consistency. They need to see more of the zest they demonstrated on the break when they won 4-3 at Arsenal, and less of the bluntness that left them open to a sucker punch at Burnley.