Jürgen Klopp can use his experience at Borussia Dortmund to navigate Liverpool through injury crisis
The thing about Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool’s ongoing injury crisis is that he’s been here before.
It’s why he remains bullish. It’s why he rarely ebbs and flows. He maintains his confidence, oozes calm. Even when things seem like that they could, at any time, come off the rails, he’s there with a smile and a chuckle to remind you that things aren’t so bad — they could certainly be much worse.
Klopp has a ton of managerial experience. It often goes unremarked on by the British football commentariat, but it’s something that really, really matters. Outside of a global pandemic shuttering the season for three-months, there’s not much that he hasn’t seen or been a part of.
He has been in a relegation dogfight. He has been the underdog nipping at the heels of the domestic Super Power. At Liverpool, he has channeled all of those experiences and turned his side into that all-conquering, domestic juggernaut, with a pair of Champions League final appearances tacked on for good measure.
When Klopp is presented with a seemingly new challenge — like losing a raft of players to injury, including his two starting centre-backs to two season-ending knocks — it’s important to remember that across his career — at both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund — he has faced similar obstacles before. They may not be the exact same issues, the same pressure may different, but the base skills required by the man in charge are the same. And it’s much easier to look at those challenges with a smile and walk with confiendece when you have Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah, and Alisson Becker in your dressing room
During Klopp’s miserable, final year at Borussia Dortmund, his team was decimated by injuries and fatigue — physical and mental. His squad was exhausted. His message was no longer getting through. While the advanced metrics point to a team that should have finished 2nd in the league (Borussia 2014/15 season is often held up by the advanced metrics nerds as the example of a team that was much, much better than its league position and which succumbed to bad look and poor finishing), the fact remains that up until Christmas the club sat in the relegation zone, regularly spending times at the very foot of the table.
An injury crisis coupled with a post-Champions League final hangover and a general sense that Klopp’s methods had exhausted himself, the club and the squad, led to the poor run of results and Klopp announcing that he would leave at the end of the season.
Still: Klopp managed to turn things around. “They didn’t change anything,” said Raphael Honigstein , author of the Klopp biography Bring the Noise . “They were convinced that if they had enough time over Christmas, if they had a few players coming back from injury, then things would kick into gear, and they did.”
Klopp stayed the cause. He was unashamedly himself. He dismissed calls that he need to alter his philosophy. Instead, he double-down on it. Things turned around. Klopp was lucky to have some players return from injury — a luxury he will not receive this year — but he also trusted in and invested in backups. It took time, but by the end of the season Borussia was closer to the side that swarmed German football at the peak of its powers rather than the shell-shocked group that fit the floor in December — a fact that Liverpool’s analytics department was delighted to point out to Klopp as soon as he appointed the club’s manager.
At their crisis point, Klopp’s final Dortmund team were bottom of the league with half of the season remaining. His Liverpool side, in the midst of a mini-crisis, are third in the league with a chance to reclaim the top spot on Sunday.
Klopp’s experience routinely goes unoted. He has been in more difficult spots than having to rely on the health of a creaking Joel Matip and Fabinho as his primary centre-back options before. He has proven over and over that he can navigate through tricky periods (his Mainz side rebounded to the Bundesliga at the first time of asking after relegation; he was able to turn playoff disappoints into sustained success). This will be another challenge for Klopp, but he is well versed in how to steer a team and club through difficult periods. And he always, always comes out on the other end with a successful team.