Neil Humphreys: Juergen Klopp's Liverpool will win war of attrition
Liverpool manager best equipped to handle season of injuries & fixture pile-up
The obituary was written. Liverpool were done. Too many injuries had to mark the end of their imperial phase at Anfield.
Defeat seemed inevitable against Leicester City yesterday morning (Singapore time).
But there is nothing inevitable about Juergen Klopp's Reds beyond an otherworldly refusal to yield, as they defeated the Foxes 3-0. They won the fine-arts prizes last season. They'll win the war of attrition this time around.
In a grim campaign of fixture indigestion, no other club will stomach this season quite like Liverpool. They churn out wins like Bill Shankly in his pomp.
Perhaps it's no surprise that the most perceptive description of Liverpool's current manner of victory came from one of their longest-serving former players.
Jamie Carragher acknowledged that the stirring gegenpressing has gone after reaching a peak last Christmas, arguably against Leicester. The Reds' 4-0 triumph away from home on Boxing Day was the definitive Klopp performance.
But Covid-19 entered the global lexicon a few weeks later and gegenpressing gave away to an urgent pragmatism. Any kind of win would do.
And, as Carragher pointed out, the stylish, intoxicating fare, reminiscent of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley in Kenny Dalglish's heyday, was replaced with a ruthless, machine-like consistency.
It's a little German, certainly, but it also looks a lot like the Scottish utilitarianism of Shankly. Win first. Worry about the window dressing later.
Such a comparison is hardly a criticism, but a glowing tribute to Klopp's remarkable man-management and player development.
Pep Guardiola continues to lament Sergio Aguero's absence at Manchester City, where a club of near-limitless funds seem dependent upon the mood and waistline of an ageing Argentinian striker.
Guardiola's track record in the transfer market remains patchy, spending tens of millions on defenders before finally reaching a satisfactory conclusion, of sorts.
Klopp has seldom enjoyed such luxuries. He hasn't needed them. Liverpool extended their unbeaten league run at Anfield to 64 with more injuries than any other side in the English Premier League (eight).
He was without three of his title-winning back four; Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez may not return this season.
Liverpool's leading league scorer Mohamed Salah is isolating after twice testing positive for Covid-19. They were also without captain Jordan Henderson, among others.
By any reasonable yardstick, the Reds are a mess. Those pessimistic predictions before the Leicester game were not unwarranted.
But Salah's replacement, Diogo Jota, dominated the contest in such a matter-of-fact fashion that Klopp's contribution ended up being downplayed.
Jota thrived as a big fish in a pond at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but his elevation to Liverpool's elite was hardly a given. Klopp ensured the transition was seamless.
As Carragher suggested, Klopp still isn't getting enough credit for his improvised handling of a season without respite.
Fabinho switched from defensive midfielder to invaluable centre-back. Georginio Wijnaldum replaced an irreplaceable captain. Curtis Jones stepped up at the tender age of 19. And James Milner delivered at right-back.
That's right, the unflappable, popular veteran, who will be 35 in January, shone despite playing in an unfamiliar position and picked off Foxes for fun.
What an extraordinary series of coincidences. The kid in midfield, the old fella filling in for the regular right-back, the stand-in for the skipper and the utility man in front of Alisson were all exemplary.
How lucky can one coach be?
To mangle Gary Player's quote, the more Klopp coaches, the luckier he gets.
There's nothing particularly fortunate about a bunch of out- of-position rookies and veterans denying Leicester a goal for the first time in seven games.
While former Manchester United star Roy Keane is a major proponent of the "hunger, spirit and desire" that he finds lacking in defeated players, those qualities have a tendency to go missing in teams without organisation and tactical discipline.
No matter how weary, Klopp's teams always know what they are doing - and where they are supposed to be doing it - both individually and collectively. Players change. But the overriding synergy remains.
In most workplaces, employees have a habit of showcasing Keane's beloved "hunger, spirit and desire" when roles are clearly defined and prepared for.
Klopp doesn't just buy good players and make them better (though he does and more frequently than most of his peers). He drills good players to make great decisions - in different positions, if necessary.
Adaptability is a way of life at Anfield.
Liverpool will rarely have all their best players available in this compressed season, but they'll be the best prepared. In a war of attrition, that's priceless.