Klopp’s nearly full-strength team: The key to victory over Atlético?

The story of Klopp’s heavy metal football, early criticism and a (almost) full-strength side

As February rolls by, we are excited to welcome back another round of European action. The mighty Reds travel to Wanda Metropolitano, a venue holding many recent happy memories - the hunting ground that saw them lift the Champions League trophy for the 6th time after beating Tottenham Hotspur last season.

Jurgen Klopp’s side will be starting his European defence in the knockout stages against a relatively out-of-sorts Atletico, with the current form of both teams suggesting a Liverpool victory. But even if we were to throw the contrasting form books out of the window, there is perhaps another notable element between the two teams in tonight’s fixture that looks in stark contrast - and perhaps the key to the side coming out on top.

And we are referring to the strength of the team that both sides have at their disposals.

It’s really incredible how Liverpool have an almost full-strength team to call upon as we approach the tail end of the season. Xherdan Shaqiri and Nathaniel Clyne are the only players still sidelined - but in truth it is only the stocky Swiss’ absence that might cause Klopp to fret over for just a fraction of a second, while any comeback for the English fullback this season is really just a cherry on top of a 43-layer cake for the German manager.

This time in the season usually spells trouble and headache for the fitness and medical staffs, as the players begin to feel the full brunt of a hectic season. The mid-season break that was introduced for the first time might see its benefits, but the pain that the players have been putting up will inevitably starts taking its toll - an increase in European games also translates to more miles for the players to take on while domestic cup games are coming on thick and fast. It does not help when the intensity of the football increases too, as the stakes are naturally raised – teams fighting for trophies and titles can almost smell the finish line, while the fear of relegation looms increasingly large for the teams sitting at the opposite end.

Take the two teams just below Liverpool in the league for example: Manchester City have the ongoing Aymeric Laporte headache, with John Stones and Benjamin Mendy constant doubts, while Leicester City of course have had key players in Jamie Vardy and Wilfried Ndidi spending a significant period in recent times on the medical table too.

Shining the spotlight away from England and back onto the opponents for tonight - Diego Simeone is facing a mini injury crisis of his own. The Spanish team has a worrying number of key players that are cause for concerns: Diego Costa has just returned to training last week after recovering from a hernia disk injury; Alvaro Morota returned to the bench only in the last game, while club record signing Joao Felix and ex-Spurs defender Kieran Trippier are likely to be ruled out completely.

Good news for the visitors, not so good for Simeone, whose side has won just one in the last seven matches in all competitions.

It is also worth to note that Klopp’s gegenpressing style was a magnet for criticism not too long ago, as his high-pressing game was too often blamed for muscle (especially hamstring) injures that players were picking up. The German was criticised for “overworking” his players during games and trainings, with many claiming that those factors were key to the dip in performances during the second half of the season, even during his stint with Borussia Dortmund.

There is no denying that Klopp’s arrival has raised the team’s tempo by a couple of notches (to say the very least) since his arrival and the players are all clocking a significantly higher mileage each game, but after all the hoo-hah in the earlier days - perhaps we are now finally staring at the fruits of the labour?

The German has of course learnt a little from the past – the tweaks and improvements in his game plan mean that his team no longer plays at a hundred miles per hour over 90 minutes, while the players have all developed an excellent sense of game management and nous over the years - knowing exactly when to go into overdrive and when to simply keep possession of the ball and pass the opponents to death.

It is handy too when the personnel at his disposal are all clearly suited for his system: Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are quite rightly the two fittest players in the league, Jordan Henderson combines his graft and leadership to perfection, Roberto Firmino is a number 9 that embodies the philosophy of defending from the front, while James Milner is 34 and well, still doing Milner things.

It’s clear that there is no longer even a smidgen of those early days criticism going on right now, as the recent victory over Norwich meant that they have been unbeaten for an incredible 43 games – dip in form you say?

Much of this credit goes to the team working tirelessly behind the scenes, from Carol and Caroline to the physiotherapists - those unsung heroes are a key part of the reason the squad is as healthy as it is in February. Throw in Andreas Kornmayer - the head of fitness and conditioning and Klopp’s lookalike – it is a pretty formidable team that the German coach can rely on.

Sensible management and recruitment by Klopp and his team, learning from past lessons and ensuring that this season, the long-term injuries were well managed also ensured the longevity of the players’ health. The backups too, have proved to be more than capable time and time again this season when called upon.

Good fortune of course plays a huge part it all of these, but when you are on an unbeaten streak as such – we suggest Lady Luck is taking the backseat here, and a majority of the credit rightly belongs to Klopp and his team at Melwood.

Forget the heavy metal football — this team have been rocking out victories analogous to The Beatles (arguably the best rock band of all time) in their pomp days, releasing chart-topping hits one after another, while Jurgen Klopp is Brian Epstein, the mastermind behind all the success, all with a little help from his friends.