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Jürgen Klopp has pitiless Liverpool squad and must defy critics



Not called ruthless enough, Jurgen Klopp is now being questioned by former Liverpool players over one of his bravest calls to Jordan Henderson

Jürgen Klopp has tried everything this season. Over the last seven months, Liverpool’s form has soared and the Reds are now playing with a very realistic chance of finishing in the bottom half of the Premier League.

The Anfield side have played 20 games in England’s top flight, winning just eight. Turning things around, Klopp has been testing new formations from 4-4-2 to 4-3-1-2, while also dropping his trademark high pressure in recent weeks.

His last resort was to abandon his most trusted lieutenants, which has been the case for the past month. Players such as Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have been strong pillars for Klopp throughout his spell at Merseyside, but have been given bench roles since the start of the year.

Indeed, some of Liverpool’s legends disagreed with the decision to step down as captain of the club in particular, with Henderson replaced by Naby Keïta as starter for the side’s last four games in all competitions.

On Saturday afternoon, the Reds lost 3-0 to Wolves with Keita in the squad, in what proved to be an embarrassing performance from a group of players who clearly seemed to be struggling for confidence.

Following the defeat, Liverpool legend John Aldridge called for Henderson to be reinstated as a regular in his regular ECHO column. He wasn’t alone, and ex-Red Danny Murphy also said it on talkSPORT: “I don’t care how he trains, Henderson starts every game for me. He’s the heartbeat of midfield and still has his legs to foul.”

Systematic support from seasoned pros for Henderson is understandable, especially given his established status as the archetypal “leader” within the team and one who will warn teammates that they’re not behaving as they should.

The Liverpool captain is known for his vocal qualities and almost acts as a coach on the pitch. He is truly committed to the cause, is the ultimate team player and will run to the ground for the jersey, which explains why his inclusion is an obvious decision in the eyes of many.

However, now that he is 32, Henderson’s complicated interpretation of this term cannot be ignored. Despite his steely mentality and character, it looked like time on the pitch had almost caught up with him as the Reds struggled to establish the same level of central control as in previous years.

Henderson was always late for tackles, he was dribbling, he was panicking in the chaos of possession and chasing shadows. To be fair to him, these issues could apply to many players on the roster, but they still don’t portray him in a positive light.

The question arises as to the understanding of leadership on the ground. Some players are praised for their contribution to morale, teamwork, set pieces and dressing room harmony, but that’s a problem when those benefits take precedence over actual performance on the pitch. Players should be selected primarily based on their performance.

Leadership cannot be the main reason for starting a player, it has to be an added advantage. Once players are selected for reasons other than their footballing abilities, problems tend to arise and this is increasingly true for Henderson and perhaps James Milner, who plays less frequently.

Both players have served Klopp since his very first day on the English coast, setting the tone for their teammates behind the scenes, with the German boss not too long ago calling his players ‘mental freaks’.

The duo were invaluable, but their prominent midfield personalities prevented Liverpool from developing beyond them. Last summer, Klopp attempted to land the signing of Aurelien Tchouaméni but when the Frenchman opted for a move to Real Madrid, Milner’s contract was extended rather than finding an alternative destination.

Aurelien Tchouaméni

Thinking back on this decision, a second-choice midfielder should have taken precedence over the desire to retain the services of a player who would turn 37 during the season.

Overall, leaders are undeniably important, but their exact importance is up for debate. It is curious that the team rarely suffers when adequately replaced by good players.

Klopp was bold with his Henderson move and he will have to continue the same reckless streak this summer as he attempts to move past what is sure to be his darkest period in charge of the Reds.

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