Is the shine coming off Liverpool manager?
IT'S been 17 months since Jurgen Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager.
The man who was brought in to clean up the mess at Anfield immediately won over Liverpool supporters and the English media with his smiling, open honesty and touchline antics, and a run to the Europa League final didn't hurt either. He was Liverpool's darling, but now, a year and a half into his tenure, the honeymoon period has ended for Klopp, and there are sections of Liverpool's support calling for his head.
The numbers do most of the work for the Klopp skeptics.
After 56 Premier League matches, Klopp has earned the exact number of points that Rodgers managed over the same period and Liverpool sit in fifth place in the English Premier League, with only six points in all of 2017 and having been eliminated from every cup.
Klopp himself understands the situation at hand perfectly well.
"It's getting more serious now. We all play for our future, myself included," he said after an embarrassing loss to Leicester on Monday. "We get judged every day, especially on match days. Of course performances have influence on these things.
"I feel maximum responsible because I am. I hope I use the word 'we' and not 'they' because I'm involved in this."
Quite simply, the glitter's worn off, and Klopp's being judged more harshly now that he's no longer the bright new boy on the block.
People have begun to question whether he's the right man to lead Liverpool, with talk of his fitness for the job creeping into the papers and bookies slashing odds on his ousting. But should he have reason to fear for his job?
Statistics can lie. While it's true Klopp's Liverpool have picked up exactly the same number of points as Rodgers' side over the same period, they're doing it without a certain Luis Suarez, and one Raheem Sterling. In just 17 months, Klopp has led the Reds to two finals and a semifinal, too.
When Klopp took over Liverpool they were completely without direction, without an established style of play, and filled with weak links not close to the standard expected of Liverpool.
They're not even close to the finished product, but the quality has markedly improved since the latter period of Rodgers' reign.
Critics have questioned Klopp's reputation, citing his refusal (or inability) to adjust his tactics game by game, and their awful defence (worst in the top eight) as legitimate knocks against his methods. And they have a point.
Klopp's go-to "gegenpressing" system depends on athletic, technical defenders who can cover immense swathes of ground, enabling his attackers and midfielders to press high up the pitch and attempt to recover the ball in their opponents' half. Without those players in his team (whether due to injury, suspension, or availability), Klopp often hasn't adjusted his style, and he's seen his team get punished for it over and over again this year.
Liverpool have struggled in matches that require a different approach this year - namely away games - with their high-tempo style often leaving them exposed on the counter-attack, and their defensive organisation almost non-existent far too often.
Klopp must shoulder blame for his tactical naivety and refusal to change his approach, but in truth, the bigger problem is that the Reds simply lack quality across the board.
The Reds have made just two notable signings in defence since Klopp arrived, bolstering their ranks with former Schalke centre back Joel Matip, and little-known Ragnar Klavan. They weren't exactly boasting the world's greatest in their ranks before this either, with Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure the options before this season, and Emre Can even drafted in to play out of position as a centre-back at times before Klopp took the helm.
Klopp's current first-choice centre-back pairing of Matip and Lovren is a marked improvement from the previous options, but Liverpool's defence is still far from a unit that strikes fear into opposing attackers.
Their error-prone goalkeeping tandem of new signing Loris Karius and old starting keeper Simon Mignolet don't inspire much confidence, and midfielder James Milner's even been drafted in as an emergency left back in place of the wildly inconsistent (and out of his depth) Alberto Moreno.
The quality simply isn't there.
Yes, there are questions over some of Klopp's more unorthodox methods, but he's an unorthodox manager whose ways have been proven to be a success if given time. And that's what he needs at Liverpool.
Liverpool's decision to hand Klopp a six-year contract shows that they believe the same. Klopp has always been a man for the long haul, and his work at Anfield speaks that this is a long-term project. He's worked to build the side up slowly and create a solid foundation, despite the helter-skelter "win now" attitude that's pervasive in today's game.
There's pressure for him to succeed now, yes, but he shouldn't be in danger of losing his job just 17 months in.
At the very least, he deserves a chance to make this team his own.