Klopp rallies and builds team spirit at Liverpool the right way, says Neil Humphreys
Klopp has turned the Reds into a winning unit by building close ties with his players
(James Milner 62-pen)
The most telling moment in Liverpool's dull victory over Swansea came after the final whistle.
Juergen Klopp hugged Jordon Ibe on the pitch. Arm in arm, the German mentor and his English apprentice made their way to the centre circle to applaud the Anfield faithful.
Klopp was in the teenager's ear the whole time, praising, instructing, encouraging and gently goading.
Ibe hung on every word, delighted to receive counsel from the charismatic coach.
The body language was remarkable in its sincerity. Klopp's charisma and his ability to galvanise the men around him will take the Reds into the top four.
Just a quick look at the relationship breakdown between Jose Mourinho and Diego Costa, and Steve McClaren and the entire Newcastle squad shows the demoralising impact of a divisive manager.
Klopp is the real deal. Liverpool want to win for their leader. Their impromptu huddle after James Milner's penalty goal was extraordinary, as if the uncompromising spirit of Steven Gerrard, who was watching in the stands, had filtered down to the pitch.
But it's all down to Klopp. He hasn't fostered a siege mentality. That's too simplistic a description and does a disservice to the manager's approach.
Klopp has seen at Chelsea that a siege mentality has a limited shelf life. It's a firework approach to man-management, burning brightly, but fizzling quickly.
Klopp builds relationships for the long haul, relationships that are built on honesty rather than a self-help textbook.
There is an authenticity about the manager that was absent during Brendan Rodgers' era.
Under Rodgers, Liverpool would've come away with a draw against Swansea, leaving the manager to blame the windy conditions.
Rodgers would've spouted management-speak guff about commitment and passion, overlooking the glaring fact that his sides so often ran out of steam mentally, as if resigned to their mediocrity.
But Klopp's Reds held on for their sixth win in seven matches - and the first in five attempts immediately after a Europa League fixture.
The personnel remain the same, but the fortitude has been transformed. The Reds have found a backbone.
Had Klopp come on board first time round instead of Rodgers, and worked with the likes of Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling, they'd all still be at the club, chasing silverware on several fronts.
Just consider the spine of the side sent out in blustery conditions to take on a side fighting for Garry Monk's survival.
Simon Mignolet didn't make a save. He was protected, ably shielded by the former laughing stock of Liverpool.
Remember when Dejan Lovren was the butt of every pub joke? Klopp doesn't. He remembers when Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher called Lovren the best central defender in the Premier League.
No one laughed then, when Lovren was marshaling Southampton's defence with an authority that eluded him under Rodgers.
No one is laughing now.
For the first time in two years, the Reds are blessed with a settled defence. Klopp put the pieces back together within two months. He didn't embark on a frenzied shopping spree. He just brought the glue of self-belief to bind the back four.
That's more than man-management. That's a minor miracle.
Emre Can, one of Liverpool's most enterprising performers, revels in the central midfield role that he always coveted under Rodgers.
But the former manager was always working on reinventing the wheel, conjuring a fresh formation to dazzle critics and promising a new and improved formula like a washing powder salesman.
Klopp believes in square pegs in square holes, topped up with a dollop of self-belief.
His counter-pressing strategy has perhaps been over-exaggerated.
Liverpool are not the only side to surge quickly in the transitional phase - Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham are still the most accomplished practitioners - but they are among the most committed.
That's the work of a magnetic manager.
The timely return of Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge against Swansea reinforced Klopp's achievement.
Six wins in seven games were achieved with a patched-up squad. Against Swansea, they were without Philippe Coutinho, who was clearly missed in the final third.
See Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United for what happens when key players are either missing or delivering sub-par performances.
Along with Tottenham, Liverpool have both momentum and an astute manager in their corner, plotting an assault on the top four.
To reach that destination, the Reds need Sturridge to stay fit or buy a striker in January to support the inconsistent Christian Benteke.
But the jury is no longer out. Rodgers was a fake. Klopp is an authentic gem.
His whispered words come with substance, rather than bluff and bluster.
The ongoing topsy-turvy nature of the Premier League summit only hints at what might have been for Reds fans.
Had Klopp taken charge in pre-season, Liverpool could've had a tilt at the title.
- LIVERPOOL: Simon Mignolet, Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno, James Milner, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Jordon Ibe (Kolo Toure 90+5), Christian Benteke (Daniel Sturridge 71), Roberto Firmino (Jordan Henderson 64)
- SWANSEA: Lukasz Fabianski, Kyle Naughton, Kyle Bartley, Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Leon Britton (Jack Cork 65), Ki Sung Yueng, Wayne Routledge (Jefferson Montero 72), Gylfi Sigurdsson, Andre Ayew, Eder (Bafetimbi Gomis 69)
BY THE NUMBERS
Liverpool have allowed fewer shots on target than any other EPL team this season.
SPURS OR POOL FOR THE TITLE?
“Absolutely. I think Tottenham and Liverpool will both be quietly confident that they can certainly look towards the title. Away from that, they are both real contenders for the top four this season.”
- Former Norwich and West Ham striker Dean Ashton. when asked on Sky Sports if Spurs and Liverpool can be title contenders
“He’s a man whom players will run through a brick wall for... So things are building at Liverpool. Why can’t they win the title?”
- Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith, on Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp
“I’m loathed to say Spurs are in the mix because I don’t want to tempt fate, although I do think that if we can sustain this form there’s no reason why we can’t win the league.”
- Former Tottenham striker Micky Hazard
Jamie Vardy (Leicester)
Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
Odion Ighalo (Watford), Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Sergio Aguero (Man City), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Riyad Mahrez (Leicester)
Andre Ayew (Swansea), Ross Barkley (Everton), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle)
Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Arouna Kone (Everton), Dimitri Payet (West Ham), Callum Wilson (Bournemouth)
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now