In this months monthly exclusive, we’ve been lucky enough to speak to the Independent’s Simon Hughes to discuss all things Liverpool, as we approach the halfway point of the season.
Simon was kind enough to speak to us following the launch of his new book – On the Brink – a journey through English football’s North-West, where we are given a fascinating insight into the modern day era through exclusive interviews with some of football’s biggest names, including Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. You can purchase the book here.
What have you made of Liverpool’s season so far and do you think they’re heading in the right direction under Jürgen Klopp?
They are. I think it’s only fair to judge any manager at the end of a season unless there something spectacularly negative requires interception.
I realise Liverpool need to win something soon but there has been improvement in each season under his guidance so far and Liverpool have just qualified for the second round of the Champions League for the first time since 2008/09. This is surely the mark of progress.
We are seeing Klopp’s side use a number of different systems this season. Last year we very rarely saw anything other than the 4-3-3 shape that Klopp has used throughout his time at Liverpool. Do you think this is helping Liverpool to get results?
Definitely. It also helps that he has a bigger squad now and he’s embraced rotation, implementing it at the right times especially over the last month.
What do you think is the most significant change to this Liverpool team since Klopp’s arrival at the club?
An injection of pace. I’ve never seen a Liverpool team as fast as this one.
Has Klopp’s handling of the Liverpool team been exactly what you expected when he first arrived?
I’ll be honest, no. I didn’t think it would take him two winters to get to grips with the English football calendar (we’ll only know for certain that he has this season by February). I didn’t think he would build from the front as well.
How have you rated the impact of Liverpool’s summer signings so far?
The three below Salah have done well when they’ve played but clearly not done quite enough to convince the manager they should be playing ahead of others and so, are marked down.
Lots of Liverpool fans on Twitter still like to refer to the theory that some signings may be ‘committee signings’ more than others. Do you think there’s anything in that theory at all?
Not anymore. Klopp runs the show now and has a final say on everything. It is Michael Edwards’s responsibility to make recommendations and broker deals – and the latter is a huge responsibility and deserving of analysis. But Klopp has the final say.
Can you see Liverpool doing much business in the January window and if so, which areas of the team do you think Klopp will look to strengthen?
I think they’d like to and I’m not saying anything anyone else hasn’t identified by saying a centre half is necessary. I realise Klopp takes responsibility for errors in defence by talking about tactical strategy but the reality is, lots of the mistakes have been the rash decisions of individuals.
I also think he needs a better goalkeeper but that won’t happen in January.
Are there any particular Liverpool players that you think are very likely to move on in January?
Which players do you think Liverpool will look to loan out in January?
Harry Wilson and Ben Woodburn. I think Klopp would like to have played Woodburn more but getting knocked out of the League Cup early on has removed an entry point.
There was a lot of criticism for Michael Edwards in the summer. He was individual that lots looked to blame for the mess that was Liverpool’s pursuit of Virgil van Dijk. Do you think that’s fair, and what do you think of the job he’s done so far?
If it’s your responsibility to negotiate your way through deals and it collapses as dramatically as it did with Virgil van Dijk, I think that clearly something has gone dreadfully wrong and you have not managed the situation with the care or experience it needs.
Contrastingly, by brokering a deal for Salah with Monchi and seeing Salah perform as he has, you have to give him credit for that. Salah appears to be the steal of the summer. And, of course, Edwards recommended Salah in 2014 when Liverpool came close to signing him then.
Fundamentally, I think it’s very important that all of the key personnel have accountability at Liverpool.
Steven Gerrard seems to have slotted into his role as U18s manager very well. Do you think the club may feel that he could go on to become a top class manager?
He’s enjoyed a great start and the improvement in results of that particular age group has been spectacular. The importance of this needs to be recognised because academy football widely has moved away from being a results business as well as a place of nurture to somewhere only individual development seems to matter.
I do wonder sometimes whether this is because young coaches with limited if no playing careers to speak of want to buy their own time by not being judged on results. Steven Gerrard doesn’t have that problem because he already has everyone’s respect. And he could be a top-class manager, yes.
Do you think Liverpool handled the Philippe Coutinho situation in a good way this summer?
In terms of Coutinho, yes. But I still think they could have done more to prepare for his departure because it’s inevitable it will happen eventually. I’d like to think then, they’ll have a replacement in mind.
Do you think Coutinho would be open to the idea of a move to PSG if they came calling? Or would you say it’s Barcelona/La Liga or bust for him?
Coutinho prefers Barcelona. PSG would like to sign him. But I don’t think he forces a move to PSG in the way he would to Barcelona.
Your take on Emre Can’s contract situation? Should the club have done more to try and keep him at the club past this season?
I think the club is in principal right not to bow to his demand for a release clause. If they do, others will want one as well. I can’t really understand why Can would want to leave at this moment. Surely he sees what’s in front of him in attack and fancies sticking around for a few years. Klopp really, really likes him.
The most improved Liverpool player this season?
The Liverpool player you expected more from this season?
Liverpool’s most impressive performance of the season to date and why?
Southampton at home, 3-0. This is the type of result Liverpool need more of. Minimal fuss and exertion against a half decent opponent, completed in efficiency and style without raising expectations to an unrealistic level. They won’t win 7-0 on too many more occasions!
Do you think Liverpool will manage to achieve a top four finish this season?
Yes. I think Liverpool have the capacity to finish second or third.