Liverpool searches for Jurgen Klopp’s Replacement – The Coaches in Question

It’s been almost two months since Jurgen Klopp, beloved head coach of Liverpool FC, announced he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. Over his last eight seasons at the club, he’s led them to Eight Trophies: a League Title, UCL Championship, FA Cup, Two Carabao Cups, one Community Shield, one UEFA Super Cup, and a FIFA Club World Cup. 

But, for those unaware of just how big of a role he played in reviving the club to where it is today, it goes far beyond the league titles and silverware. 

A struggling club…

In the seasons leading up to Klopp’s appointment in 2015, Liverpool was in a rough position. The team had been underperforming for a couple of years at that point, and with the exception of Brendan Rodgers’ first season with the club, the team hadn’t finished higher than 6th place in six years.  

The issues didn’t stop there. While the club had secured stars like Coutinho, Firmino, and Joe Gomez in the transfer portal, they struggled to use many of these players effectively in the long run. The worst of it was the egregious amount of money the team spent on players like Firmino, only to see the player starting on the bench – a managerial decision that confounds Liverpool fans to this day. The number of ineffective and excessive trades (Balotelli for 18M, Benteke for 32M) is what led the board to finally sack Rodgers at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, appointing Klopp as his replacement.

2015: Enter Jurgen Klopp

Klopp’s success in repairing the club started with a different approach than his predecessor. Klopp sought to build a sound team using players that would work well in his system (quick in transition and overloads), grabbing players Andy Robertson, Sadio Mane, and later Mo Salah for relatively low prices. Klopp also made an effort to give the Club Academy’s youth a chance to play for the squad, with players like Trent Alexander-Arnold getting pulled up in 2016 to fortify the club’s defense until the record signing of defender Virgil Van Dijk in 2018 (€84.5 Million). Van Dijk was the one exception to Klopp’s moderate spending in the transfer portal, but he was crucial to improving the team’s strength in the defensive third as well as his leadership qualities.. 

Beyond assembling an effective team, Klopp ensured that he surrounded himself with as many specialists as possible, from a record-holding throw-in coach to renowned nutrition and fitness experts from Bayern Munich. He understood – unlike many of those before him – that he didn’t need to control all aspects of the game but rather know what people to use and when to use them. “You cannot have enough specialists around you,” said Klopp.

But Klopp’s final year hasn’t been an easy one despite Liverpool leading the Premier League for much of the year and still fighting for three trophies. Injuries have continued to be an issue, especially those from star players Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold earlier in the season, and starting keeper Alisson Becker dealing with a hamstring. Additionally, with players like Mo Salah and Virgil van Djik getting older also makes preventing injuries an important consideration. Despite that, the squad also has a bench full of young players, so even with these older players getting towards their final years, there’s a lot of potential in the younger players within the squad.

Klopp-less Liverpool

So with Klopp gone at the end of the Summer, the club is left with the difficult task of appointing a new coach after Klopp is gone. Thankfully, there’s a pool of talented coaches right now who could be a good fit for the job, but will they be able to fill the shoes that Klopp left behind?

The Coaches in Question:

Xabi Alonso – Bayer Leverkusen

Based on his dominating first season at Bayer Leverkusen, Xabi Alonso should be the first choice for Liverpool’s manager. Currently leading his team in a historic undefeated season, potentially the first in Bundesliga history, Xabi has an adaptable and meticulous coaching style which seems to have clicked with his team this season more than last. This adaptable and evolving coaching style is reminiscent of Pep’s ever-changing Manchester City, making him a good choice for a manager who can create and build a working system around some already talented players.

While moving from the Bundesliga to the Premier League may be difficult with a different kind of competition and some threatening teams, his use of young and experienced players at Leverkusen could prove advantageous in a similar situation at Liverpool. Moreover, as a former Liverpool player, I’m sure the novelty of a coach and former player would resonate well with both players and staff members. 

Roberto De Zerbi – Brighton & Hove Albion F.C.

Brighton’s performance this season has been a little underwhelming, making Roberto De Zerbi seem like a less-than-ideal choice for Liverpool’s new manager. However, while his resume is difficult to overlook, having coached seven teams in nine years, his immediate influence at Brighton last season cannot be overlooked. In his first season managing the Seagulls he helped them secure a 6th place league finish and qualify for European football for the first time in the club’s history. 

He could fit well into the Liverpool role this next season especially due to his fast-paced, attack-oriented systems, with quick and capable scorers like Salah and Diaz. However, with the difficulty Brighton is having from missing players due to injuries, it could prove devastating for the Reds if it turns out Zerbi’s struggle at Brighton was his inability to get the most out of his players and not Brighton’s lack of talent on the bench. 

Whether Zerbi is in the middle or at the bottom of Liverpool’s list of candidates could heavily depend on how Brighton closes out this season.

 

Sérgio Conceição – F.C. Porto

Since he arrived at the club in 2017, Conceicao’s Porto has finished the season no lower than 2nd, winning the league three times out of his six seasons there. He’s shown the ability to thrive under pressure and in suboptimal circumstances, bringing Ligue 1 team FC Nantes up from 19th to 7th in only five months. He’s also led his team in some impressive performances in the Champions League against world-class opponents like Atletico, Inter, and Milan. 

His work with young talents like Otavio and veteran players like Pepe, who continues to perform despite being 41, could be conducive to building upon a squad of experienced academy players while continuing to utilize the critical older players. However, while Conceição is known for his focus on defensive excellence, Liverpool’s pre-existing dominance in those areas could mean the club is looking for a manager who will help improve the team’s attacking performance. 

The biggest question for a coach like Conceicao is whether he can go from coaching teams like Porto, where making UCL and playing the role of spoiler is enough, to a frontrunner like Liverpool, where Klopp has now completely changed the standard of success at Anfield.

Pep Ljinders – Liverpool F.C. (Assistant Manager)

The easiest and most recently mentioned candidate for Jurgen Klopp’s replacement is Pep Ljinders, the current assistant manager under Klopp. It’s pretty clear that if the club wants to continue playing this Klopp style of football, Ljinders is worth considering. Having worked under both Brendan Rodgers and Jurgen Klopp, Ljinders has worked with everything from youth academies and second-division teams to senior squads and his experience shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Noted for turning his notes from past coaches into flip charts, Ljinders has studied and logged his thoughts and even ideas from coaches he’s worked under to be an effective number two under Klopp. He focuses primarily on counter-presses, counter-attacks, overloads from the back, and absorbing pressure from opponents, all things that Liverpool excels at. While it seems he has the mind and the tactics for it, his abilities as a leader are still up for debate unlike some of the other candidates in the running. 

Ruben Amorim – Sporting CP

At a whopping 70% career win rate as head coach, Ruben Amorim certainly belongs in the running for Liverpool’s next head coach. Not to mention his team turning it around from finishing fourth last season to sitting one point clear of first place in Liga Portugal. He’s led his team to two Portuguese cups and one league title over his last three seasons at Sporting and, based on his coaching style, he could be a good fit for Liverpool’s new manager. 

Ruben’s offensive tactics align well with the Reds’ current playstyles. Pundits have said that counter-attacking off a deep back line is essentially how Sporting won their title with Amorim at the helm, which is reminiscent of Liverpool’s disciplined backline. 

Moreover, signing a lot of these young players and utilizing them effectively is a forced habit as many Portuguese clubs don’t have tons of money to spend on players. So his experience in finding the right players for the plan and working from there is what makes him seem very Klopp-esc, and it could be what Liverpool needs to stay on the right track. 

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