Jürgen Klopp's Liverpool debut was a qualified and rather low-key success. How high should the Reds set the bar this season? A look back at Klopp's maiden season at Dortmund may provide some clues.
A scoreless draw at White Hart Lane isn't exactly the stuff of fairy tales, but Jürgen Klopp put a positive spin on that result in his post-match remarks, and both the English and German press were willing to accept his glass-half-full interpretation.
"There were many full-throttle moments in the game," Klopp said. "We need to improve but after working with the players for three days I am completely satisfied."
"Full throttle" is an expression that the excitable German coach no doubt learned especially for his first job in England. (Note to Jürgen: high-octane, pedal-to-the-metal and balls-to-the-wall are also good turns-of-phrase.) But realistically, how much can Klopp rev up the Reds' engine in his rookie Premier League season?
As nearly everyone on planet earth has noted, Liverpool pressed Tottenham high up the field - a Klopp trademark. That gave Spurs fits for the first twenty minutes on Saturday and almost yielded an early lead for Liverpool. Yet as was equally obvious, the Reds couldn't sustain that intensity and needed an top-shelf performance by goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to escape London with a point.
Had the crossbar been a bit kinder, Klopp's English adventure might have begun with a win. But for Mignolet, it could have started with a thrashing. Such are the vagaries of football, and trying to predict how Klopp will fare at the Kop from one match is like trying to forecast a round of golf based only on the drive from tee one. But perhaps a look back at Klopp's initial campaign at Dortmund can provide a few indications.
A mixed bag
Klopp is best known for the two German league titles he won with Dortmund from 2010 to 2012. The Fenway Sports Group - Liverpool owners for the last five years - will be hoping for a repeat. But he took the job two years earlier after a season in which the team had flirted with relegation and finished 13th.
He opened with an impressive win over Leverkusen, fielding a squad that included names like Weidenfeller, Hummels, Subotic, Kehl, Blaszczykowski, Schmelzer and Sahin. Right from the start Klopp had a core with title-winning quality. Yet four of that septet were brought in or promoted from the youth ranks in Klopp's first summer.
Klopp's success at Dortmund was built on value-for-money transfers and young homegrown talent - and not necessarily on getting players already with the club to play his energy-intensive style of football. That would suggest that Liverpool fans will need to be patient. Klopp had no hand in assembling the squad, currently so injury riddled, with which he must now work.
Dortmund finished sixth in Klopp's first season, narrowly missing out on a spot in the Europa League. Klopp's charges administered a handful of blowouts, but also drew conspicuously often - 14 times in all. Dortmund tended to get big results if they scored early while they had a relatively hard time prevailing in tight matches. That was also reflected in their +23 goal differential, which should have yielded an even better season finish.
Klopp's title-winning teams were offensive juggernauts, but the strength of his first Dortmund side was defense. They only conceded 37 goals - second best in the league. Klopp was obviously capable of dialing back the full-throttle approach to suit the circumstances. Five teams outscored Dortmund in Klopp's first season in charge.
This history - together with the handicap of taking over a team in mid-season - suggests that Klopp is unlikely to lead the Reds back to the Champions League this campaign. Liverpool fans can probably be satisfied if their team finishes sixth for the second straight time.
The past shows that, like so many good things in life, Klopp's classic teams took time to build.