Jurgen Klopp will depart Liverpool with one regret after immense contribution

So Jurgen Klopp will leave the Premier League with a place alongside Manuel Pellegrini, Claudio Ranieri, Roberto Mancini and Antonio Conte. Carlo Ancelotti and Kenny Dalglish, too, and they are company he will probably deem a compliment. But Klopp, one of the division’s defining managers, will forever remain a one-time winner.

And if that 2020 triumph was historic, as Liverpool’s first for three decades, if his reign has come in the context of a wonderful rivalry with Pep Guardiola, it feels an inadequate reflection of a colossal contribution.

Klopp will not sign off with a second Premier League; that was likely before Liverpool crossed Stanley Park, almost certain after Everton’s demolition job.

“I can’t say now we are fully in [the title race],” he said. “We need a crisis at [Manchester] City and Arsenal and need to win football games. You can read the table.” It shows Liverpool second, but with City’s games in hand rendering them very much third favourites.

Liverpool 2.0 won’t be Klopp’s second champions. There was never a guarantee of his perfect finish when he announced his departure; Klopp knew as much, has maintained his decision would not change if Liverpool won everything or nothing and, long before Arne Slot was lined up as his successor, has accepted his lot.

He is not Alex Ferguson and not merely because Klopp was surprised the Scot retracted his initial plans to retire in 2002; he would then have gone in 2012 but stayed on for an extra year to bow out as a winner. Maybe Klopp has a greater sense of perspective or a lesser hunger. He may instead bow out with the bittersweet distinction as the Premier League’s greatest runner-up, the man who came second with 97 and 92 points.

Now he has helped to fashion that rarity, a three-team title race. Amid the schadenfreude from Evertonians, the choruses of “You lost the league at Goodison Park”, Liverpool have exceeded most pre-season expectations. The aim was merely to qualify for the Champions League.

But the last few weeks have been underwhelming. Since Klopp’s announcement, there was a spell when it seemed Liverpool could be propelled to glory by an irresistible narrative; of comebacks and kids, of a managerial master of substitutions and a team overflowing with late goals. But the quadruple became a single, the Carabao Cup Klopp’s last silverware.

Liverpool won a trophy with Jayden Danns, James McConnell and Bobby Clark on the pitch this season. They will not win one with Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold or Dominik Szoboszlai in their kits. There was always an element of the improbable with Klopp; at least his final medal did not come in mundane fashion.

But Liverpool 2.0 may forever remain an unfinished project; this season had brought a sense of renewal, as though it was a springboard to potentially being Klopp’s second great team in 2025 or 2026. Now, whatever happens with someone else in the dugout, it never will be. Encouraging as so many aspects have been, they have not touched the heights of the team of 2018-20, who won the Champions League and the Premier League, who amassed 196 points in two seasons.

This side have been entertainingly flawed. Liverpool have had fewer clean sheets than Everton, conceding first in 16 league games alone. In part, it reflects on Ibrahima Konate’s mixed season and, apart from a four-month spell in mid-season when Wataru Endo excelled, the lack of a high-class defensive midfielder after Fabinho’s departure. Liverpool’s squad players kept them in contention for eight months: so, too, their capacity to score.

Yet that has deserted them of late. They had 23 shots and Everton 23 percent of possession. They had lost to Atalanta and Crystal Palace with 19 and 21 attempts at goal respectively, scoring in neither. A team with 131 goals this season are suddenly struggling to score.

It is in part because Salah may be in the worst form of his Liverpool career, while Nunez’s capacity for misses has become costly, and Diogo Jota, as so often, is sidelined again. Of all the great Liverpool managers, Klopp is the most innately attacking. At the last, his attack is misfiring.

And for a manager who attributed his own decision to leave to the realisation his energy levels are not bottomless, his team have started to look drained: of verve, of ideas, of the Kloppian capacity to carry on regardless and conjure something special. “Not the most inspired performance of all time,” said Klopp.

He might have won the title in 2019 but for a 0-0 draw at Goodison Park; he almost certainly will not win it in 2024 after a 2-0 defeat. “We were not good enough,” he concluded. They have been for the vast majority of this season and the vast majority of his reign.

But it has only brought him one league title and, without Klopp, the question is of when Liverpool will win their next and if it will be under Slot.

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