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10th Sep 2016

Liverpool finally have the stadium and the manager they craved – now FSG’s vision can be realised

Tony Barrett

In one sense, it is only a new stand; an architectural triumph rather than a sporting one. It may allow 8,500 more people to watch but they will still be watching the same team.

The real significance of Liverpool’s impressively renovated Main Stand, though, is to be found in what it represents. For the first time since Fenway Sports Group took over the club almost six years ago, the two most crucial elements of their vision – a stadium capable of raising revenues and ambitions and a manager in tune with their philosophy of how a team should be built – are now in place.

Getting to this stage has not been easy. Jurgen Klopp is FSG’s third managerial appointment and the first to fully embrace their preferred transfer strategy, which prioritises potential and value at a time when their rivals are consuming more conspicuously.

After considering and rejecting the option of leaving Anfield and moving to a new stadium, their decision to increase the capacity of Liverpool’s existing home was beset with the kind of issues, mainly revolving around planning regulations, that had prevented redevelopment in the past.

The route that they have taken may not have been straightforward and has featured more U-turns and changes of direction than would be ideal but, finally, FSG have Liverpool exactly where they always wanted them. But now that is the case, the emphasis changes from realising their vision to delivering on it.

Liverpool’s history and standards demand that progress is never just for progress’ sake. It is all well and good having 8,500 extra supporters experiencing their home matches but unless results improve sufficiently for success to follow, all Liverpool will have is more people watching them fall short.

The visit of Leicester City, the reigning champions and the most recent setters of the standard that Liverpool must always be judged by, could not, therefore, have been more timely.

This was the first opportunity for Liverpool to harness the “power” of their new Main Stand, as Klopp described it, at the same time as the German attempts to do what Claudio Ranieri did to an almost illogical extent last season by making Liverpool considerably more than the sum of their parts. It was only one game and only day one for a stand which will is likely to tower over Anfield for decades but it felt like it mattered so much more.


“The extra capacity only means something if we make it mean something,” Klopp wrote to supporters in his programme notes.

“As the team, we know it is always for us to inspire you but today, this special day, let’s make the new Anfield something incredible and a place that feels instantly like a home where we will be successful.”

Within half an hour of kick-off, that objective seemed wholly achievable. The two goals that Liverpool scored during that period, through Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, provided perfect demonstrations of the flowing, free running style that Klopp continues to implement.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates scoring his sides second goal with team mates during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield on September 10, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

At that point anything seemed possible and even the Main Stand, traditionally a sedate place at the best of times, throbbed with atmosphere. Ever the conductor, Klopp turned to the 21,000 fans banked behind him and urged them to give even more. Then, with a single slip, the mood and the game changed as Lucas Leiva’s miscontrol and misdirected pass along his own six yard box allowed Jamie Vardy to score into an open goal.

Suddenly, the early certainties gave way to uncertainties and confidence was replaced by anxiety. Having left themselves exposed in a game they had been dominating, old frailties started to resurface with Simon Mignolet coming for a cross he was never going to get, looking shocked when the ball evaded his grasp and then counting his blessings when Robert Huth’s header landed on top of his goal rather than inside it.

Liverpool were in danger of losing their way while Leicester were rediscovering theirs having earlier allowed themselves to be caught up in the occasion.


Such violent switches in momentum have been a recurring theme for Liverpool ever since Klopp’s arrival, their ability to go from dominant to dominated and vice versa in the blink of an eye confusing opponents almost as much as it perplexes themselves. Having been presented with a route back into the game, Leicester’s challenge was to do punish Liverpool for not punishing them but unlike last season when so many key moments went their way, this was a day when the opposition thrived most when it mattered most.

That prevailing theme of a captivating game was encapsulated in two instances in the second half which ensured the three points went to Liverpool rather than Leicester. Whereas Adam Lallana took advantage of what little he had to aim at as he arrowed a shot into the top right hand corner of Kasper Schmeichel’s goal, Vardy failed to make the most of a clear run on goal as he shot too close to Mignolet who saved well with his legs.

As strange as it may sound in a game that they won well and could have won by even more had Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson not wasted chances that they should have taken before Firmino scored his second, there was never a sense that Liverpool were in total control.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: General view of the new stand during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Leicester City at Anfield on September 10, 2016 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

That just doesn’t seem to be Klopp’s way. While other managers seek to dominate possession and territory with the expectation that victory will follow more often than not, Klopp’s primary concern is for Liverpool to make the most of the ball whenever they have it with the emphasis being on flooding the opposition penalty area at every opportunity. On this occasion it worked a treat.

It is still early days, but for the leading figures from FSG who took advantage of the best seats in the remodelled stadium that their vision had demanded, this was hugely promising. It is only a stand and Klopp is only a manager but on the first day that they combined their impact was significant. The test now is to ensure their impact is maintained.


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