Back in 2017, Liverpool FC fans borrowed a nickname of the city’s most famous export, The Beatles, to describe their exciting forward line.
Phillipe Coutinho, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were the ‘Fab Four’ a breathtaking collection of attacking talent who paired lighting quick attacks with a hard-working press.
With around two years under his belt as manager, the quartet’s exciting play was the clearest indication Jurgen Klopp was establishing the style which had brought him such success at Borussia Dortmund.
The breathless way Liverpool managed to squeeze teams back and force errors was captivating to watch and, although they might not have always been the most clinical, it was clear to see the Fab Four had the potential for greatness.
Anfield’s opportunity to really enjoy the quartet would turn out to be limited to one season, that summer the longest serving of the four, Phillips Coutinho, was transferred to Barcelona for $180 million.
It didn’t phase the German coach, at Dortmund he’d been repeatedly faced with losing his best players.
From Shinji Kagawa to Nuri Sahin, Mario Gotze to Robert Lewandoski Klopp’s skill had been to keep a stable core and coherent philosophy so that departures if anything aided the evolution.
The advantage he had at Liverpool was that armed with the resources of being a Premier League club, the necessity to sell stars like Coutinho was nowhere near as pressing.
When the Brazilian left for Barcelona Klopp was handed the proceeds and told to strengthen where required.
Virgil Van Dijk was added to the roster and the side powered to a Champions League final, when Allison Becker arrived a year later the club went one better and became kings of Europe.
That year the club also narrowly missed out on the league title despite accumulating 97 points, but a spectacular run of form the next year delivered the championship in style.
Driving much of that success was the trio who remained from that 2017 side; Mane, Salah and Firmino.
It is a testament to the longevity of that first Klopp side that it was only last summer the front three were broken up, Mane left for Bayern Munich and has been joined out the door this year by Firmino.
New names have been added to offset these departures, but the indications are that it’s not just in the forward line where renewal is required.
Van Dijk, the addition who provided the defensive solidity which enabled the famous front three to achieve greatness, and Fabinho, whose tireless midfield work rate provided the platform for many a victory, are looking their age.
It puts the manager in a situation he’s never faced before, to rebuild another great team.
The seven-year itch
As the 2022/23 season spluttered to a disappointing conclusion with Liverpool failing to reach the Champions League, Jurgen Klopp admitted he was assessing what his side had become.
“What we learned this season, a lot is how it doesn’t work out,” he explained
“[We went] from a counter-pressing monster to pretty much a non-existent counter-pressing side.
“I thought it was far away to be honest, but it was pretty quick. It was pretty much done.
“Getting back to that to make it pretty natural is not that easy, especially during a season when you constantly play the next game.
“So things happen and when you try to sort it you have to turn the right screws. That’s it.
“So now we know how it doesn’t work, which is good. It is important information.
“Finally we know. Because last year when it didn’t work out we still got the result.”
The philosophy of Klopp has always been the same, a high-energy game based on winning the ball back from the opponent high up the field.
Although he has experimented with trying to evolve that style to one based on greater control, additions like Thiago Alcantara have never really fit and the best Liverpool, even in later years, has tended to be driven by Klopp stalwarts like Salah, Mane and Van Dijk.
Much was made of the post-2019/20 drop-off Liverpool suffered when the side struggled to replicate the heights which made it European and domestic champions.
The campaign was Klopp’s seventh at Anfield and comparisons to his previous two spells at Mainz and Dortmund, which had both ended after the same period, were plentiful.
The parallels to Dortmund were especially pronounced. These were both sides who’d reached extraordinary heights but looked like they were running out of steam.
However, these comparisons proved premature because the next season Liverpool went on an extraordinary run to the finals of all three cup competitions and took the Premier League title race to the last day.
That this was the final flourish for Klopp’s team who were champions of England and Europe is pretty much irrefutable, the team that powered those victories has been steadily dismantled.
What rises from the ashes will be fascinating to see.
More than half of Klopp’s final Dortmund team selected in May 2015 played in the Champions League final two years earlier which in retrospect was when the team was most likely at its peak.
It is almost impossible that when the time comes for the German to name his last Liverpool lineup it will bear the same resemblance to the side which dominated world soccer for two years.
Whether the 2018-2020 period does prove to be Klopp’s peak with the Reds is yet to be determined. But we know for sure they’ll be significant changes between now and whenever his time in Liverpool does come to a close.