Liverpool’s Mentality Is A Championship Winning One

All but the most blindly loyal Liverpool fans will have been worried about the game against Leicester City on Sunday night. Brendan Rodgers’ team has been playing some great stuff so far this season, including their 5-2 win over Manchester City at the Etihad. They have a strike force that knows how to score goals, with Jamie Vardy continuing to be a threat despite his advancing years. More importantly, our side has been decimated by injuries. Yes, Rodgers was right to point out that his own side has been struggling to get everyone fit, but how many of the players that they were missing could he genuinely say would have started the match? Two? Three at a push? Whereas the Reds were missing an entire spine, including the club captain and two first-choice centre-backs, to say nothing of a Covid-hit Mohamed Salah. We were basically just a goalkeeper away from having pretty much an entire eleven missing from our squad.

Lesser teams would have rolled over. Lesser managers would have come up with excuses before a ball was even kicked. This isn’t a lesser team, though, and Jürgen Klopp isn’t a lesser manager. When Naby Keita picked up his injury early in the second-half, the manager had no doubt about the substitution that we wanted to make. Neco Williams was stripped off and ready to come on before the medical staff had even confirmed a substitution was necessary. Not for Klopp the dithering or concern about playing a nineteen-year-old that we might have seen from other managers. Instead just a conviction that Williams knew his role in the team and was capable of performing it. Having already asked a midfielder to play right-back and withstand the barrage of Leicester attacks, Klopp was going to ask the same thing of a teenager without a moment’s hesitation. He knows his team and he knows their mentality, which is one of title winners.

No Excuses

It’s absolutely clear from his post-match interviews, especially the bits that don’t get broadcast, that Jürgen Klopp is extremely worried about players this season. He’s concerned not just for Liverpool but for all clubs in the division, with many perhaps not realising just how demanding the schedule before Christmas is going to be on their players. Dean Smith and Aston Villa might well be railing against five substitutes at the moment, but I think he’ll change his tune when his players start dropping like flies as the colder months set in. Klopp and Pep Guardiola aren’t banging the drum about protecting players purely from a self-preservation point of view, but because both are lovers of quality football and we’re not going to be watching that once the stockings have been hung up and the mistletoe dangles from the ceiling. Yet not once has the German used the decimation of his playing squad as an excuse for not giving 100% in a match. It’s not his style.

Instead, he trusts in the system that he’s asked his players to play and knows that they’re all good enough to do so. Neco Williams might not be good enough to be Liverpool’s right-back solution in the long-term, but the manager trusts him to be able to play for half an hour without the world falling apart. Similarly the former Borussia Dortmund boss has no compunction about asking Curtis Jones to play ninety minutes in the centre of the pitch and put in a disciplined performance. We’re going to be without Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez for most, if not the remainder, of the season, yet Fabinho has just come in and made himself one of the best central defenders around. The players know that if they do the job that the manager has asked of them then they’ll be able to beat virtually every team that they come up against, so none of them look for excuses. Even after the humbling at the hands of Villa there were no excuses, just a desire to get it right next time.

The Players Are Certainly Believers

Jürgen Klopp’s suggestion that we all need to turn from ‘doubters to believers’ when he first arrived at the club will go down in the same books as countless Shankly quotes in terms of something that summed up the two managers’ approach to life. Yet it wasn’t just a blithe comment designed to give the press something to talk about. Instead, it was a neat summation of the German’s approach to life and a mentality that he clearly wanted to instil in the player’s as quickly as possible. He said it was his message to supporters, but it was actually far more important that the people lining up in Red each week believed that it was the correct way to head into football matches. Those that perhaps struggled to believe, wondering why on earth they were saluting the Kop after a 2-2 draw with West Brom, would have been won over by the time the team turned around a 3-1 deficit to beat the manager’s former club in the Europa League.

When he held his first team meeting with the squad he had inherited, Jürgen Klopp wrote the word TEAM on a white board and assigned the following meaning to each letter:

  • T – Terrible to play against
  • E – enthusiastic
  • A – Ambitious
  • M – Mentally-strong machines

It’s the finally one that’s important, with ‘mentally strong machines’ being what he truly wanted his players to become. Slowly but surely they began to become exactly that. If there’s a moment when the manager’s hard work on his players’ mentality was truly proven to have worked then it’s when they defeated Barcelona by four goals to nil. Most noteworthy about that performance was the players that were missing, with the lads that make up the squad stepping up to the plate.

It’s all thanks to the mentality that Jürgen Klopp has installed in his players, with every one of them believing that they can overcome any obstacle. It’s clear from the manner that so many Liverpool fans began to flap about the Leicester match that some of us still haven’t properly switched from doubters to believers, but the players sure as hell have. They know what is required of them and they do the job time and time again. The Aston Villa match was the exception that proves the rule, with the performance we saw against the Foxes the one that we’ll get produced more often than not this season. There’s still a long way to go, but the players have shown that they’ve got the mentality of title winners, refusing to make excuses and never lying down.

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