June 1st 2020 marked one year since Liverpool made it six in Madrid. This leads me to think back across the last two years and how Jürgen Klopp has fortified such a talented group.
The blows that this Liverpool squad has suffered in the past two years would’ve crushed many mere mortals, but not this assembled bunch. The German manager and his staff have created such a group of players, with an instilled trust and belief capable of coming back from gut-wrenching defeats. Psychologically strong enough and capable of rising from defeat to unparalleled success.
Credit must also go to the leadership qualities within the squad, particularly from captain Jordan Henderson whose work rate and application is to be admired. Read more on captaincy here – Creative captaincy: the art of the armband
Starting in 2018 in Kyiv, Liverpool faced fellow European royalty Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Within minutes the season’s star man Mohammed Salah was dragged to the ground by Sergio Ramos, subsequently, he was substituted leaving the reds shook and vulnerable. A couple of dramatic goalkeeping errors later and Real Madrid had their name on the trophy once more. A cruel defeat in the circumstances but Liverpool were on the verge of something special.
The squad strengthened ahead of the 2018/19 season with the arrival of Brazilians’ Fabinho and Alisson in particular. Since his arrival, Klopp has barely failed with any signing, but it’s not just on-the-pitch prowess he needs in is players. To fit into the style and mentality of the squad is equally as important and possibly even a prerequisite for the Liverpool scouting team. Potential squad members must be willing to fight and work for every inch. The morale in the team is as important as the ability. Xherdan Shaqiri’s and Divock Origi are both valuable members of the squad, whilst neither get the game time they’d like, both have played vital roles when required and seem to remain a committed and happy squad member despite not playing often. Credit has to go to the man in charge for creating such an environment.
The 2018/19 campaign began and it seemed demons of the defeat in Kyiv had been all but forgotten and Liverpool were going again. Neck and neck with holders Man City in the league at every turn. It was a defeat in the Etihad at the hands of City that gave them the upper hand; on this night Liverpool had come millimetres from taking the lead following a scrambling goalmouth clearance.
A remarkable double was on still the cards when the reds headed to the Nou Camp for the 1st leg of the Champions League semi-final v Barcelona. It was to be a painful night for Klopp’s men as Lionel Messi and co ran riot. Another sickening blow for this squad, the league was out of their hands and seemingly out of Europe.
They picked themselves up from a hammering in Spain and with a depleted squad, incredibly managed to turn round a three-goal deficit and beat the mighty Barca 4-0. Another example of incredible fortitude and resilience from this squad on one of the great Anfield nights.
With a consecutive Champions League final coming up, Liverpool went into the last day of the season a point behind Man City. Joy was unbounded momentarily when Brighton took the lead against the leaders, it wasn’t to last and the Manchester club went on to secure back to back Premier League titles. Liverpool did their job against Wolves but it wasn’t enough. Yet another gut-wrenching blow ahead of the final. After a remarkable league campaign that would’ve seen them win to lift the title almost any other season. They had put so much into the run-in and now needed to bounce back once more in Madrid.
Mental strength and recovering from disappointment was second nature to this group. Bouncing back from heartbreak a year earlier in Kyiv, to beat Tottenham 2-0 in the Wanda Metropolitano. The scenes at the end of the game were joyous, as you’d expect for a squad that had just won Europe’s elite competition.
But there was more to this, having weeks earlier missed out on the Premier League by the narrowest of margins and suffering defeat in last seasons final. Liverpool had avenged their demons and done it. Salah fittingly scored the opener on this night, having picked himself up from the Kyiv floor a year earlier literally and figuratively to lift the trophy this time. Klopp after the final whistle in Madrid
Having avenged Champions League heartache, Klopp has turned his attention to setting things straight domestically. Once more putting last seasons cruel culmination behind them Liverpool look set to secure Premier League glory in 2019/20 when the season gets back underway; perhaps with some records along the way.
The adversity of defeat only seems to spur this squad on, Klopp included. It seems every time they get put down they come back stronger and more capable than ever. Players trust Klopp and buy into his methods, so much so they are willing to leave everything they have on the pitch for his and the teams cause.
It’s clear to see the bond he has with the squad, his famous embraces are a joy to behold. His affinity doesn’t stop with the players however, he has built up a relationship with the fans; seeming to understand the club like few have done before him. His celebrations in front of the Kop have become iconic in their own right. All this put together creates a juggernaut geared towards success.
All of this goes to show that having talented players is one thing, but having squad unity and harmony, added to the mental strength to strive for success is crucial. It is widely believed then when recruiting Klopp likes to meet potential players face to face, perhaps seeing if they are the right fit for the squad as well as selling them his vision.
A truly remarkable manager and overall likeable bloke, who in his time at the club has achieved so much already. Having faced levels of adversity coming so close to glory; before coming back even hungrier to succeed. The victories Liverpool have achieved to this day must taste that little bit sweeter given the grief that has preceded. Jurgen Klopp has created a group of ‘mentality monsters’.