Klopp is the manager to lead Liverpool back to the top, says Richard Buxton
All signs suggest the Reds have got a manager who is the real deal
ROUND OF 16, 1ST LEG
(Daniel Sturridge 20-pen, Roberto Firmino 73)
MAN UNITED 0
Anfield's matchday programme billed it as a box-office affair. What ensued was a one-sided encounter more befitting the undercard than a glamour prize fight.
In the mother of all games, Liverpool delivered a tremendous performance that sees them with one foot in the quarter-finals of the Europa League, after a 2-0 victory over greatest foes Manchester United in the last-16 first leg encounter at Anfield yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Slowly but surely, Juergen Klopp has transformed a club once drowning in cynicism into new-found levels of confidence and belief.
Little was expected from his maiden half-season, but with one cup final already reached, another edging closer and a credible finish in the English Premier League still in the offing, the German has continued to raise the bar.
As is often the case on crucial European nights, the Anfield crowd once again played its part.
Before kick-off, Klopp had taken in the vibrant sights and ferocious sounds which had previously convinced him that the club Bill Shankly had built was the perfect destination to next lay his baseball cap.
What a difference five months can make.
His inaugural address, last October, had laid bare the greatest task which lay ahead in his Liverpool tenure; shifting a culture of doubt that had plagued the Kop's ranks for far longer than its inhabitants would have ever cared to endure.
Mutiny and sub-par performances had festered in recent years, with those once reared on a diet of domestic and European success openly turning their backs at the first sign of trouble.
The scars of failure had become this once great club's primary stock in trade.
But hollow words and philosophies similarly devoid of substance have now been replaced with actions of real conviction.
An inherited squad has been transformed from one of relative misfits to valiant underdogs and a fan base increasingly resigned to mediocrity has been galvanised.
This is not merely another dead cat bounce which often accompanies a mid-season managerial upheaval.
Klopp continues to prove why he will not be just another great pretender in the Anfield hot seat that his predecessor Brendan Rodgers and countless others once were.
Scalps have come, not least the emphatic routs over Chelsea and Manchester City earlier this season, but comfortably seeing off United in the first leg of their Europa League battle was one truly worth adding to the scrapbook.
Liverpool have never truly excelled against their EPL adversaries when the heat is on.
Even last month's victory over City arrived after the Lord Mayor's Show, with Manuel Pellegrini's side on a comedown from their celebratory excess after the sides met in the League Cup final some four days prior.
Up against Manchester opposition once more, however, things were very different the second time around.
They did not merely leave United bloodied and bowed; Louis van Gaal's side were rendered punch-drunk after barely half an hour of play.
Only the formidable reflexes of David de Gea prevented the beleaguered Dutchman from presiding over a far more gruesome autopsy.
One-time shrinking violets like Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne continued to cast off their previous wallflower statuses.
An in-form Firmino has now recorded eight goals and four assists in his last 13 outings and, whisper it, the Brazilian is showing genuine signs that Liverpool finally have a player capable of taking on the mantle left by Luis Suarez's 2014 departure.
That void has hung over Anfield as just greatly as its perennial nearly-men status.
Building on a potentially watershed moment by emerging victorious at Old Trafford next week will continue to fuel the belief in Klopp's way.
And his side will become even more formidable when he begins to sign the players he wants during the summer.
Schalke's Joel Matip and Serbian midfielder Marko Grujic are merely the first two names as he looks to build a side moulded in his own image.
A far greater calibre of players will be breezing through the doors of the club's Melwood training ground. So, too, will a far stronger Liverpool come next season.
- LIVERPOOL: Simon Mignolet,Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, Alberto Moreno, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge (Joe Allen 64), Roberto Firmino (Divock Origi 84)
- MAN UNITED: David de Gea, Guillermo Varela, Chris Smalling, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata (Ander Herrera 79), Morgan Schneiderlin (Bastian Schweinsteiger 79), Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford (Michael Carrick 46), Memphis Depay