Six of Liverpool’s eleven that began the Carabao Cup clash with Chelsea last Wednesday night started the Europa League Final defeat to Sevilla in 2016.
To be honest, I barely even knew that there were still six players from that final still left at the club. Jurgen Klopp’s squad has been refashioned, reshaped and redesigned since the side’s crushing defeat in Basel, despite it only being two and a half years ago.
The backline in particular screamed of 2015 as the Reds exited against Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea.
Back on the pitch! Eager for more 💪🏻 pic.twitter.com/KS9sTtumVP
— Simon Mignolet (@SMignolet) September 27, 2018
It was like going back in time to a place that we thought we had left behind for good. I half expected Uptown Funk to be top of the charts by the full-time whistle, and Donald Trump to have returned to having the same amount of worldwide political power as Alberto Moreno has competence slide tackling the right way round.
The difference in between then and now was clear to see as the Reds suffered their first loss of the season.
Sure, all the usual caveats go with it. Five of those drafted in hadn’t featured in a competitive game at club level since last season, and it was a side that had never played together before.
However, the Reds at times looked like the Liverpool of old. It was an exercise of gratitude for those in attendance, further affirming just how good the first-choice eleven really is, and just how much it struggles without the likes of Van Dijk at the back and Firmino up top.
There’s a narrative around Liverpool, both from the media and opposition supporters, that there’s more pressure than ever on the team to win big. Mainly as they’re now “financially competing” with the Manchester Citys and Manchester Uniteds of this world.
There will always be pressure and expectations on Liverpool Football Club, it’s one of the consequences of the sheer size of the club. But the suggestion that Jurgen Klopp has bought his way to having a squad capable of beating anyone in Europe is not just flawed, it’s false.
Last Wednesday reminded supporters of the progress made under the German. The side he inherited and the side he now possesses are on different levels
But it has been a mix of development and canny spending from Klopp that has led to Liverpool being title challengers, not financial doping.
He took Liverpool to the UEL final & the UCL final within two-and-a-half years at the club.
His 600th game as a manager ended in a win – marking Liverpool’s greatest start to a League campaign in the club's history.
Jürgen Klopp is creating a side worthy of being PL champions. pic.twitter.com/u2xX3wDSZh
— FourFourTweet (@FourFourTweet) September 22, 2018
What is widely considered to be the Reds’ current strongest starting eleven still contains five players inherited, not bought, by the former Dortmund boss. Then there’s the likes of Lovren and Sturridge who both play key roles in the squad, and both of whom were signed under Brendan Rodgers.
The loss to Chelsea further highlighted Liverpool’s remarkable improvement in defence. Even though that defence may include the world’s most expensive defender, and the second-most valuable goalkeeper of all time, the remaining three names are in stark contrast to the glamour of the signings of Van Dijk and Alisson.
Joe Gomez was only 18 years old when he moved to Liverpool from Charlton for just under £5m. Andy Robertson was brought to Merseyside for a similarly modest fee at £8m, from a relegated Hull City, and was seen as an underwhelming signing by most Reds.
Trent Alexander-Arnold was an academy graduate. He cost the club zilch, just like James Milner when he arrived from City on a Bosman in 2015. The two have been lauded for their performances and consistency at Anfield so far this season, yet between them their transfer fees didn’t accumulate to a single penny.
Jordan Henderson was lured from Sunderland as a 21-year old, costing £16m.
Similarly, Gini Wijnaldum was drafted in from the North East. This time a relegated Newcastle United were the sellers at a price of £25m.
Even the front three who scored 91 goals between them last campaign, were brought in for relatively humble fees at a time when Liverpool couldn’t shop in the same market as the likes of Madrid, Barcelona or the Manchester clubs.
All three were signed for approximately £35m each, far from ridiculous figures compared to the spending of some of Liverpool’s rivals, as seen across Europe in recent years.
Salah had failed to make the cut at Chelsea and while he had impressed in Italy for both Roma and Fiorentina, there were still doubts over whether he could do the business in the Premier League.
Sadio Mane had been inconsistent, although sometimes brilliant, at Southampton. Many fans hadn’t even heard of Roberto Firmino before the club were linked with him, and by the time Klopp had arrived in October 2015, the Brazilian was yet to score a goal for his new club.
Overall since Klopp’s arrival, Liverpool’s net spend is less than half that of Manchester United’s. Remarkably, even Everton have spent over £20m more on players than Liverpool have since October 2015.
This isn’t saying that the signings Liverpool have made are part-timers from San Marino or even the new-age equivalent of Milan Jovanovic and Co. by any means.
All of Liverpool’s players are highly-skilled footballers. They are now and they were when Liverpool signed them as well.
However, very few of them were brought in as the finished article, and very few of them were signed in the knowledge that just putting them out on the pitch and letting them play was going to be enough.
They were signed as part of a project.
Some as part of a Jurgen Klopp project, some as part of a Brendan Rodgers project and the current captain was even brought in as part of a Kenny Dalglish project.
— Anything Liverpool (@AnythingLFC_) June 9, 2018
Big money has been spent on the likes of Keita, Chamberlain, Van Dijk, Alisson and Fabinho and we should never pretend we’re huge underdogs forever at a disadvantage to those around us. Liverpool are the ninth richest football club in the world, surpassed only by institutions that are as much businesses as they are clubs.
But the bulk of this squad has been part of a series of clever buys from Klopp whilst shopping in a market below that of our title rivals. The other remaining names are players that Klopp was handed, then persevered with, and then developed to form a side now capable of challenging for every trophy there is to win.
Well, with the possible exception of the League Cup…
As special as you think the man is, you’re probably still underrating him.