Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp does not view the frustrating time he had last season as a “lost” campaign as he learned so much from it and the mistakes he made.
As he begins preparations for a midweek Merseyside derby at Goodison Park – the match in October 2020 in which things started to go horribly wrong for the defending champions after Virgil Van Dijk had his season ended by a reckless Jordan Pickford tackle – the German accepts he got things wrong last year.
Fast-forward 13 months and things could not be more different after a comfortable 4-0 victory over Southampton made it 39 goals scored in 13 Premier League matches.
So far the only real injury issues he has had to deal with have been in midfield – the department where he has the greatest depth – but even those are easing.
There has been no need to play square pegs in round holes, as he did a year ago when he resorted to fielding midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson as makeshift centre-backs as Joe Gomez, also to a knee problem, and then Joel Matip (ankle) also had their campaigns prematurely ended.
Then Klopp did not initially trust his back-up defensive options of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, both first-team rookies, but he realises that was now an error of judgement.
“I learned a lot. I made mistakes, so it’s easy for me to look back and think, ‘That was wrong, that was wrong’,” he said.
“But in the moment when we made decisions, when we put the midfielders back and then played without protection in midfield, last line deeper, not really compact in a lot of moments, maybe we should have just played Rhys and Nat together earlier and trusted the boys more.
“In that moment I thought they were not ready, later on they were ready and they could both play.
“That would have given us a bit more stability in other areas. Lose a centre-half it’s like breaking a leg, but if you then put the midfielders in the last line and open up other gaps then you break your spine and all of a sudden you cannot walk any more.
“That’s exactly like it was last year. It was not a lost season, I learned more than in other seasons, but it was a difficult season and finishing that season in third position was an absolutely exceptional achievement.”
Klopp has already demonstrated his faith in the less-experienced members of his squad, starting 18-year-old Harvey Elliott in three of their first four matches before an horrific fracture dislocation of his ankle at Leeds, and giving second-choice left-back Kostas Tsimikas more appearances already than he managed last season.
In five days this week he gave 19-year-old Tyler Morton back-to-back Premier League and Champions League debuts to help ease the burden on his stretched midfield.
Klopp has been rewarded by seeing his side play some of their best football and that was evident in the first half against Saints, with Diogo Jota scoring the Premier League’s fastest goal this season after 97 seconds, adding another before Thiago Alcantara and Van Dijk completed the rout with goals either side of half-time.
Southampton, however, are looking anxiously over their shoulders as the bottom of the table creeps ever closer with only three league wins to their name this season.
“We have to work and we have to concentrate on our strength, bring the players back on the pitch with a good plan and then hopefully having a better result,” said manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.
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