The Challenge Facing Arne Slot

Jürgen is gone. It feels mad to say it, even if we’ve spent months preparing ourselves for it. In the end, he left in something of a whimper rather than a bang. That’s only because the staged manner of his departure, with most of the people inside Anfield entirely unable to understand a word he was saying through the PA system, was so unlike anything else during his time at the club. I remain convinced that the club should’ve confirmed a bus tour as soon as we won the League Cup, even if it isn’t the done thing. It would’ve allowed hundreds of thousands of us to line the streets and show him the love that he so richly deserves. It also would’ve made up for the parades that we missed out on either because of the titles that we had robbed from us by 115 Charges FC or else thanks to a global health crisis. In the end, though, there was no parade because the players couldn’t quite get one of the other trophies over the line. That’s ok. In some ways, the manager might well have been relieved if you’d asked him in private, hating the idea that it would’ve all been about him.

There is an extent to which it plays down the ability of the players to say that it’s all been about Jürgen. The manager is brilliant. I will maintain until the day that I die that he is the best manager in the world because he didn’t need to spend literal billions in order to win, nor have every other advantage there is going for him. That he did it with both Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool also shows that it wasn’t just a matter of being in the right place at the wrong time. In fact, in terms of the Reds at least, there’s a very solid argument that he was in the right place at the wrong time. Had he been our manager during Alex Ferguson’s era, he would’ve won a lot more titles than he did. It is what it is, though, and my guess is that history will look back on his achievements very kindly indeed. It isn’t just that he was such a good football manager that allowed him to find a place in all of our hearts. He is very much the best of us as a person, meaning that there was the perfect synchronicity of both success and being sound. Arne Slot might not have that, but what does he need to do?

He Needs to Be Himself

The football will take care of itself. I’ll take about what he needs to do with the players shortly, but as a clearly talented manager he’ll have plenty of ideas of how things should work on that front. It is off the pitch that he’ll be faced with his first real challenge. There will no doubt be a major temptation for him to come in and try to let us all know straight away that he knows he’s not our real dad and he won’t try to be. Perhaps he’ll be asked at his first press conference who he sees himself after Jürgen was ‘the Normal One’. He should resist any temptation to give a clever answer unless he’s genuinely got one. Instead, he should steer the conversation away from any such comparisons. What he needs to do more than anything else is just be himself. From what I’ve seen of him, he seems to be a decent fella and the Feyenoord fans are gutted to be losing him. He won’t have been doing a Jürgen Klopp impression in the Netherlands so he shouldn’t do one once he’s managed to unpack his boxes at Anfield. He just needs to let us get to know him.

That is just as relevant in press conferences as it is on the football pitch. He will have a way that he likes his players to take on their opponents and he should allow that come through in the matches. He can’t turn up and try to do ‘heavy metal football’ part two. Even ignoring the fact that Klopp had moved on from that by the time he left, if it isn’t Slot’s style then it will soon get found out. He’s arriving at a Liverpool side with some world-class players and some youth prospects that have an incredibly high ceiling. All he needs to do is show us how he wants to play his football and the supporters will get behind him. The only manager who didn’t have the backing of the fans in recent times was Roy Hodgson and he couldn’t have been less suited to the role if he tried. I have faith in the likes of Michael Edwards and Richard Hughes and there’s no way that Hodgson would’ve got the job if they’d been in charge of his appointment. There is a reason they think that Slot is the man for the Anfield hot seat, so now the Dutchman just needs to relax into the job and be himself.

Our Flaws are Obvious

The constant refrain from numerous quarters towards the end of the season is whether Liverpool would’ve won the title had Jürgen Klopp not announced his imminent departure. Whilst that is a nice easy answer to the question of what happened to our season, it is also a nonsense one. The truth is that the Reds missed out on the top spot because we conceded too many goals. In the Premier League, we kept ten clean sheets all season. The games that we managed to do so in were against Aston Villa, Everton, Nottingham Forest twice, Brentford, Sheffield United, Manchester United, Burnley, Bournemouth and a ten-man Wolverhampton Wanderers on the last day of the season. Hardly the best teams in the world when you sit and look at the list. We scored 86 goals, which is one more than when we won the league but we conceded 41, is eight more than 2019-2020. It might not seem like many, but when you concede the first goal so many times, you’re making a rod for your own back in terms of trying to win the biggest prize.

Slot’s biggest job is shoring things up at the back, which really shouldn’t be difficult when you consider we’ve got the best goalkeeper in the world, one of the best centre-backs and full-backs who know how to dig in when needed. It is arguably the midfield where we’ve got the biggest issue, given the complete lack of a defensive midfielder worth their salt. I loved what Wataru Endō did last season, but he was showing his age towards the end of the campaign and the minutes in his legs were starting to make them look heavy. Alexis Mac Allister simply isn’t a number six and that was made evidently clear. I wouldn’t be surprised if signing an out-and-out defensive midfielder is the first thing Slot wants to do to offer some protection to the defence, but it isn’t like there are loads out there. Whilst the attack has done more than well enough, finding a way to turn Darwin Núñez from potential to deadly would be a big help for all. Add in adapting to the new format of the Champions League and you can see that the Dutchman still has plenty to be getting on with.

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