Jurgen Klopp ignores the Instagram critics in staunch defence of his Liverpool midfield
Jurgen Klopp has ways of spending his time and browsing social media does not tend to be one of them. He objects to kneejerk reactions, to over-the-top opinions, to verdicts on his players that he does not share. Klopp has been accused of being too loyal to some; certainly in a world where impatience reigns.
As he discovered the other day. “Somebody showed me after the West Ham game a thing on Instagram when people find out our line-up and what they write about it and not a lot of them wanted Curtis [Jones] on the pitch, not a lot of them wanted Cody [Gakpo] on the pitch and when they saw Joel Matip was playing they say: ‘How can they do that?’ And they watch the other game.”
In which case, they would have missed Gakpo and Matip scoring in a 2-1 victory at the London Stadium, Liverpool’s third successive win. Klopp has found a formula for now and it includes Jones. The Liverpudlian had endured a frustrating spell when inhibited by injury. Now he has made five consecutive starts, his longest run of the season. Many others had given up on Jones, but not Klopp.
A summer of change beckons in the most-discussed and most-criticised area of Liverpool’s team, but it will be allied with continuity. “If you go to social media you think, ‘Oh my God, there is no bigger problem in the world than our midfield’,” Klopp said.
A solution of sorts has been found by moving one local into it, with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s new role as a deep-lying playmaker who doubles up as a right-back. It has allowed Jones to operate ahead of him – Klopp has even described the 22-year-old and Jordan Henderson as two No 10s in the current formation – displaying his ability to win the ball back high up the pitch. That capacity to press, Klopp says, “is the ticket into this team”.
And not a ticket to the exit. Klopp has long objected to the idea that glitzy, costly arrivals are the answer to everything. “Always people fancy big transfers so if an academy boy plays good football, it is ‘OK, but I would prefer bringing him in and him in and him in’,” he explained.
Indeed, Klopp will look to bring in at least two midfielders, and perhaps three. The bill for the rebuilding is likely to top £100m. But his plans will involve three groups of midfielders: the veterans who have been the regulars, the newcomers who will command the majority of the attention, and three youngsters acquired for around £2m so far.
Stefan Bajcetic’s season is over but he had a spell in January and February when Mohamed Salah said he had been Liverpool’s best player. Harvey Elliott has lost his place but still ranks fourth only to Salah, Fabinho and Alisson for appearances and, for much of the campaign, was Liverpool’s only ever-present. Bajcetic cost £220,000. Elliott’s fee could rise to more than £4m, but his initial price was lower. Jones is currently keeping Thiago Alcantara out of the team and if he got into the side when the Spaniard was injured, he offers the energy a man a decade his senior lacks.
“I am really pleased that Harvey played big spells of the season and was for spells our most consistent player,” Klopp said. “And Curtis shows up now. Stefan was a real revelation: ‘Wow, who’s that? He’s really good’.”
Elliott, Bajcetic, Jones: it could be a midfield for the future. Perhaps not together yet, though, given that each has looked better with experience around him. Equally, the trio of Henderson, Thiago and Fabinho may need to be separated, requiring younger legs around them. The equation will change again in the summer: not with the addition of Jude Bellingham, but when potential arrivals include Mason Mount, Conor Gallagher, Alexis Mac Allister, Moises Caicedo and Ryan Gravenberch.
Perhaps the task will get harder for Jones and co if Klopp can bring in high-class targets. And then, once again, there may be complaints if the academy product is preferred to the bigger games. Klopp is conscious that those who want revolution will be less excited by the evolution they offer, that those excited by big fees may underestimate the man who cost nothing and who has been on Liverpool’s books since he was nine.
“That’s why I said whatever we do in the summer it will be not enough for the people in the first place but that is the job,” he said. “We have to make decisions on the basis of things that we know and that is exactly what we will do. We have a lot of potential in this team – we didn’t show it very often this season – and we will keep that, improve that, use that and bring new players: both are possible.” Get it right, and there may be bigger problems on the planet than the Liverpool midfield.