Why is the Jürgen Klopp revolution stuttering? What’s the point of Jordan Henderson? How have Liverpool changed since Brendan Rodgers’ departure? Dan Brigham finds out from This Is Anfield writer Henry Jackson
Dan: Hi Henry. So, Liverpool are in 9th, eight points off the top four and eight points above Norwich in 16th. I think that pretty much equals limbo status. When Jürgen Klopp came in it actually entered my mind to have a little bet on Liverpool winning the title, but then I remembered how thin your squad is and thought better of it. Were you thinking Klopp would fix things immediately, or did you suspect a lot of rebuilding work would be involved? How do you think he's done so far?
Henry: I think an irrational part of my brain took over briefly when, like you, I thought he may actually produce a miracle and win the league. The wins at Chelsea and Man City, particularly the manner of them, were the main reason for that. In hindsight, though, it was always going to take time. Injuries have really crippled us, which has definitely played a part in us being where we are in the table, and the same old weaknesses (woeful from set-pieces, embarrassingly poor at finishing) have haunted us time and time again. This summer is huge, with Klopp bringing in who he wants and getting rid of a lot of dead wood.
I think he's done well considering the injuries he's had and lack of time of the training pitch. He clearly doesn’t rate Christian Benteke, who has been hopeless, while Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ings and Divock Origi are all out. Mamadou Sakho is our best defender and has been in and out, as has the increasingly influential Jordan Henderson, while Philippe Coutinho being on the sidelines currently is another obvious blow.
Results have been inconsistent, but realistically that was always going to be the case. Has Klopp been perfect? No. But he has reinvigorated the whole club, and I have total faith in him being a great manager for us over the next three or four years at least.
Dan: What did you make of Brendan Rodgers? He was clearly an arse – there's a brilliant passage in Michael Calvin's Living on the Volcano where Rodgers, with absolutely no self-awareness, talks about jogging around the streets near Anfield, “when the doors are open and the dinners are on, and you can smell the mince cooking...”.
But despite his David Brentisms, it was a shame it didn't work out for him. He and Paul Lambert did great jobs at Swansea and Norwich, got them promoted in the same season, easily secured their survival and then went on to bigger jobs. And both failed. It would have been great if two young managers, who'd started in the lower leagues, had taken on the Liverpool and Villa jobs and made a success out of it – it would have opened up opportunities for other young managers.
So what went wrong for him? And were you glad or sad to see him go?
Henry: Haha will have to check that out!
Unfortunately, Rodgers always let himself down with his Brent-esque mannerisms, and I always felt frustrated because he's a really talented young manager. He just gave the impression of someone trying too hard to be respected, and his sense of humour seemed a little lacking.
Everyone just says 2013-14 was purely down to Luis Suarez, which is complete nonsense. He was clearly the key to nearly winning the league, but Rodgers got us playing some sensational football. He improved Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Coutinho as footballers hugely, and successfully played Steven Gerrard as a deep-lying playmaker. He plays the game in the right way, even if he is guilty of ignoring the defensive side of things. That was always an issue.
I was sad for him that things ended sourly, but he had reached the point of no return come October time. The players had stopped playing for him, and he was making some strange decisions in terms of tactics and team selection. I always stuck up for him more than most, but the spineless display at Old Trafford in September was the final straw.
I really hope he goes on to have a successful career elsewhere, and firmly believe he will. Next England manager, perhaps? (more likely to go back to Swansea).
Dan: It was a genuine shame Liverpool didn't win the title under him in 2013-14. What's to dislike about a team trying to win the Premier League by putting all of their emphasis on attack? Not sure where Rodgers goes next, though. Who's going to want a manager who clearly demonstrated he doesn't know how to coach a defence properly? Not many chairmen of top clubs will take that risk.
Now, the other day you told me a pretty sensational stat about the goals Liverpool have conceded this season. Can you let us know what that is, and what you think that means for Liverpool's frailties or luck this season?
Henry: Ah, that statistic! Unbelievably, in 18 matches this season, Liverpool have conceded with the first shot against them in the game. I genuinely could not believe it when I saw it.
To me, it displays several things. Luck has to play a part – a few unfortunate deflections, stunning strikes etc – but in truth there have been far bigger factors. Constant defensive errors have seen us gift the opposition goals when we've been on top – Emre Can against Everton and Palace, Alberto Moreno against Chelsea and Southampton and Ádám Bogdán and Martin Škrtel against Watford, just as a few of many examples – which is infuriating to watch. We have really had to work for our goals invariably, and it has been a total contrast at the other end of the pitch.
A lack of professionalism in general has to be the main reason for conceding with the first shot on so many occasions, and considering a fair number have been from set-pieces, it all just points towards a complete lack of confidence at the back.
Dan: That is just the best stat. Just hoping Norwich's first on-target attempt comes when the score is still 0-0.
You mention the individual errors and the frail defence, but will Liverpool be set-up differently to how they were under Rodgers when Norwich got a 1-1 draw at Anfield earlier in the season? Have some weaknesses been eroded since that game? Or are there new weaknesses Norwich can exploit?
Henry: Just have a first-minute shot from 40 yards and it will no doubt divert in via the knee of Lucas!
Yeah, the setup will be different for sure. When we played you in September, Rodgers went with the 3-4-3 system that brought him success last season. Emre Can was used at centre-back – he is now rightly a key man in midfield – while Nathaniel Clyne and Moreno were deployed as wing-backs. Sturridge and Benteke both started, but there was no balance or cohesion between the pair.
This time around, it is likely that Klopp will go with either the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 (it varies) that he has invariably used since becoming manager, using Roberto Firmino as a 'false nine' because he clearly doesn't rate Benteke (the only fit striker). Adam Lallana and Jordon Ibe will likely support him on either flank, with Lucas, Can and Henderson in midfield. James Milner, who has not impressed in a Liverpool shirt, may sneak in ahead of either Lucas or Ibe, either playing on the left or in a central midfield role.
To be honest, the same weaknesses still exist, most notably the aforementioned set-piece woes. The finishing remains as poor as it was that day too. I feel for Klopp, because the players are listening to him and trying to adapt to his style, but some of them are just simply not good enough. He is being made to look flawed because of the ineptitude of some.
Our pressing and general work ethic will be noticeably better to when we last played you, though, with that part of our game often nowhere to be seen during the end of Rodgers' reign.
Newcastle, Watford and West Ham have all exploited our weaknesses to perfection, so frankly Alex Neil should just show the player videos of those games. Get in our faces, work hard and make sure your set-pieces are accurate. If the Carrow Road pitch is poor you have an even better chance.
Dan: The Carrow Road pitch is decent, but we have scored plenty of goals from set-pieces this season – so half good news, half bad news for you. Already having visions of Timm Klose rising high to score the winner from a Robbie Brady free-kick, running to the Barclay End and screaming ‘SMELL MY FOOTBALL’.
A quick diversion before wrapping this up: looking ahead to Euro 2016, how are Milner, Henderson, Clyne, Lallana and Ibe getting on? I'm a big fan of Clyne, but not so sure about the others. Loved Lallana at Southampton but he's still the same player - hasn't seem to have improved at all at Liverpool. Is that fair?
Henry: I think if Klose did that I would just have to stand up and applaud!
Clyne has been a really good signing; perhaps the standout purchase we made last summer. He is so solid defensively, which considering we had to put up with Glen Johnson for a number of years, is a joy to watch. It would be nice to see him do a little more going forward, but all in all, I'm really happy with him. He should start at the Euros, but I fear Roy 'the cretin' Hodgson will go with Kyle Walker instead.
Henderson is one of our most important players now, without question, and was a big loss during three months on the sidelines. He is a player who is criminally underrated by many rival fans, perhaps because he doesn't look as slick on the ball as someone like Ross Barkley, but he is so effective. He runs all day, he has physical presence, he's far better on the ball that some think and is settling into his role as captain well. He'll never be Steven Gerrard, but then who is? He has to start for England.
Lallana is a very talented footballer, but I agree he hasn't kicked on at Liverpool. His input of goals and assists is simply not good enough, and too often he flatters to deceive. He was a real focal point at Southampton, with the team built around him, but he doesn't look the same player now that he is not the star man. His work-rate cannot be questioned, and he has had the odd decent game, but far more substance is required.
Milner has been a real disappointment in my opinion. I thought he would be a really shrewd signing, but technically he has looked very limited, and he hasn't played with the consistency and underrated quality that he did at Manchester City. At 30, maybe his legs are starting to go a little, but the amount of distance he covers every game would suggest otherwise.
Ibe remains very raw – anybody who says he is on a par with Raheem Sterling has completely lost the plot – but he is an exciting player. He has all the ingredients to become a good Premier League player, but I'm not convinced that he will become a superstar like I expect Sterling to. He is definitely worth persevering with, though. His end product needs to be worked on hugely.
Dan: Ha, I forgot there isn't too much affection for Hodgson from Liverpool fans. I seem to be in the minority in England and think he's doing a decent job with a young, inexperienced squad. And I'm very much one of those neutrals who criminally underrates Henderson. Except it's not criminal, and nor is he underrated. He's just a tall Scott Parker (waits for the inevitable 30-yard winner from Henderson on Saturday).
Right then. Let's finish this off with your score prediction for Saturday, and where you think Liverpool and Norwich will finish this season.
Henry: Both sides are clearly unpredictable, but I think Liverpool will edge it 2-1. A win is much-needed after just one point against Arsenal and United, and I feel your style of play will be nicer to play against than the likes of Watford and West Ham. We have a great record at Carrow Road in recent times, and I expect it to continue on Saturday.
That said, you will give us a tough game, and assuming he starts, Steven Naismith will cause us problems. He's a gritty bastard who would no doubt love to score the winner against his former Merseyside rivals. The first goal will prove crucial, and I think we'll get it.
As for final league positions, I think we will come 6th. Watford and Crystal Palace are all on the slide and we will gradually overtake them in the coming months. West Ham will finish below us even though they are still playing well, Leicester have a big enough lead over us to finish above us, and will be 5th, while United will grind out enough wins to finish 4th. Spurs will be 3rd, and I'm yet to decide on the champions. City will definitely win it if their key players are fit from now until May, but that is a big if.
I think Norwich will avoid relegation, even though you're only two points clear of the drop currently. I've seen you play enough good football to know that there are four or five worse teams in the league, and the signings of Klose and Naismith are shrewd pieces of business. I would predict you to finish where you currently are: 16th. Aston Villa, Sunderland and one other will go down, but I'm not sure who just yet. Not Norwich, though.
Dan: Cheers Henry. I made a hasty call on West Ham finishing in the top four early in the season, so I’m sticking by that… 6th or 7th sounds about right for Liverpool. I’m going 1-1 tomorrow, which will leave everyone mildly grumpy.
Stop the Yellow Bird from dying! We've joined Patreon to make sure The Little Yellow Bird Project remains independent and for you – the fans! If you want to help us provide more quality writing, more podcasts and even better content, take a look here. Thanks!