Exclusive Interview with Liverpool FC reporter for ‘The Athletic’, James Pearce

By Callum Ferguson

Liverpool FC currently sit eight points clear of second place Leicester City and a staggering 14 points clear of the Champions, Manchester City.

The Reds have slowly improved under manager, Jurgen Klopp’s tenor at Anfield, lifting the Champions League in June. They now have their eyes set on the Premier League, a trophy that has eluded them.

I spoke to James Pearce about how Liverpool are now one the best teams in Europe and in a fantastic position to end a 30-year wait for the top-flight trophy.

“I don’t see Liverpool stuttering like last season”

Liverpool have taken 46 points from their first 16 games this season, winning an impressive 15 of those.

Pearce thinks, “The most crucial period is the one coming up now. I think from now until the middle of January, where you have to deal with a week in Qatar and then the hectic festive schedule, you just want to see this momentum maintained until the New Year.” 

Liverpool will play in the Club World Cup in Qatar to represent the winners of the Champions League. However the day before (17thDecember) they will be playing Aston Villa in the quarterfinals of the Carabao Cup.

A closer look at Liverpool’s congested fixture list

With the inclusion of these fixtures, the Christmas period is set to be extremely hectic for Liverpool and could pose a threat with potential injuries.  

“Certainly if Liverpool can get to January still seven or eight points clear of the chasing pack then I just don’t see us getting caught. I think if you look at Klopp’s teams, they tend to get stronger as the season goes on and they are in a fantastic position,” Pearce went on to say.

History shows that having a large gap on the rest of the League can help you to go on to win it.

“Only Manchester United in 93/94 had a bigger gap after 12 games of a Premier League season and they won the title that year by some distance so obviously Liverpool fans have been hurt that many times and you don’t want to take anything for granted, and no body is thinking it by any seems of the imagination but they have put themselves in a fantastic position,” Pearce stated. 

Liverpool were involved in one of the greatest title-races ever last season and despite being top on Christmas day and having a 9-point lead over Manchester City, they still could not hold on to the title.

“Liverpool didn’t bottle it or anything, they actually had a good end to the season, it was just the standard set by Manchester City was crazy but that wobble in January/February with the draws against Leicester and West Ham, drawing at Old Trafford and Everton, I don’t see Liverpool stuttering like that this season,” Pearce said.

“The maturity of this team now; they’ve got this amazing belief in themselves, the belief in the manager, and at the moment it looks like he’s going to carry them to the Premier League title. When you’ve only lost one out of  54 Premier League games there is a real belief there and I think the big difference to last season is there was a period where Liverpool did have that cushion on Manchester City around January/ February time and you could really sense the nerves and anxiety,” Pearce continued to say.

This season, however, Liverpool do not look as nervous, with the side having 15 wins and one draw from their first 16 Premier League games.

“I don’t want to jinx it but what I would say is I am a hell of a lot more confident this time around rather than last season. Last season you could sense that it was a step into the unknown for a lot of those players that they haven’t found themselves in that position before.” 

“There’s been a huge step forward in the way they can grind out results.”

“I think the big issue was that Liverpool always had to play really well to win. Part of it was leaking too many goals, I think certainly in the early years of Klopp we lacked a defensive leader as well, they were always in a position where you had to score at least two or three if they were going to win a game.” 

Liverpool broke the transfer record for a defender when they signed Virgil Van Dijk in January 2018 for £75million. Van Dijk made an instant impact, scoring on his debut in the FA Cup against rivals, Everton and has since won various individual awards including coming second in the recent Ballon d’Or.

“Personnel makes a difference as well. Klopp was always going to need time to fashion the squad the way he wanted it to be and you can see that was a gradual process as well. There’s been a huge step forward in the way they can grind out results,” he continued to say.

As well as signing talented players, Klopp is also fantastic at man-management and has helped develop his players in to world-class players.

Fullbacks Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold were signed for £8million and promoted from the youth system. Both have come on leaps and bounds to become two of the best fullbacks in football.

Klopp has also adapted the playing style of his team over his tenure, controlling games better.

“He has altered the style of play, less expansive, more about control and discipline but also this is a group that are used to winning and when you are used to winning and are in difficult positions, you don’t panic, you believe in this way of playing. They believe in the manager and they just have this kind of belief that they will find a way to win and more often then not they do.”

“… He is in the absolute elite bracket of managers…”

When Liverpool appointed Jurgen Klopp in October 2015, Liverpool fans from all over the world were ecstatic at the prospect of seeing their team managed by a world-class coach.

“I remember thinking how can he possibly live up to the hype, it was crazy. I remember being outside the Hope Street hotel with hundreds and hundreds of fans desperate just to get a glimpse of him.”

In Klopp’s first season as manager, he took the Reds to the League Cup final, followed by the Europa League final. However lost them both.

Despite this, his side have continued to improve, claiming the prestigious Champions League, followed by the Super Cup.

“He hasn’t just lived up to the hype but he has actually been even better than it. I think he is perfect fit for the club in terms of not jut the brand of football but in terms of who he is and the passion and emotion he shows on the touchline.”

Pearce’s new role at The Athletic has allowed him insight to press conferences, putting him face-to-face with the Liverpool manager and his team. 

James Pearce interviewing Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp

“I think what makes Klopp so special is he clearly is a genius. Both in terms of his eye for a player, his tactical knowledge and his man-management, his ability to get the best out of people he works with.”

Pearce continued to say, “Klopp wants his staff to challenge [him] every single day, he wants them to disagree with him and argue their case and you only have to look at his commitment to marginal gains, you think about the throw-in coach, the head of nutrition the way in which he overhauls the sport science department, the focus on set-pieces, he surrounds himself with experts because he had that in him. That kind of longing to always improve, always get better.

Along with Klopp’s overhaul of research regarding football, he has also changed the way Liverpool players and fans think, making them mentally stronger.

Pictures courtesy of James Pearce

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