Klopp’s belief in fringe figures may prolong Liverpool’s golden age

Jurgen Klopp has a happy habit of appearing prophetic. The things he says can come true, sometimes in strange ways.

After the League Cup semi-finals, he dubbed it “the Caoimhin Kelleher competition”. It’s safe to say that even Klopp didn’t envision the goalkeeper scoring what turned out to be the winning penalty in the shootout in the final.

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Kelleher failed to save any of Chelsea’s 11 penalty kicks and yet ended up becoming the hero, and if that sounds illogical, his performance in the previous 120 minutes vindicated Klopp’s decision to bench Alisson, whom he has often called the best goalkeeper in the world, for one with 17 previous senior appearances.

Part of Klopp’s management stems from the power of belief; time and time again, fringe figures have seemed fueled by his confidence on big occasions. If Divock Origi is the most iconic example, the performances of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams last spring to secure Champions League football showed how understudy can accomplish the improbable.

Kelleher feels like a player with more pedigree. “The best No.2 in the world,” Klopp said, pointing out two issues. Will the 23-year-old, who looked raw and unconvincing in his first outings in 2019 and now look transformed, be content to stay on as Alisson’s deputy?

Meanwhile, the world’s most expensive second-choice goalkeeper is the most expensive of them all: Kepa Arrizabalaga, whose own unfortunate cameo – for failing to save one of Liverpool’s spot-kicks his own orbiting penalty – and his infamous involvement in the 2019 final illustrated that this is certainly not about the Kepa Arrizabalaga competition.

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But Kelleher is also part of a larger whole. Perhaps Liverpool’s renewed interest in domestic cups came in part when it looked like Manchester City might run away with the Premier League and when it looked like a team of their quality had won too few trophies. .

But a quadruple flush was facilitated by greater strength at depth. Some 33 players took part in Liverpool’s Carabao Cup-winning run and a 34th, Thiago Alcantara, was due to start in the final.

Kelleher is proof that Klopp can use the FA and the League Cup to bleed emerging players. While Kaide Gordon is now the academy’s star talent, there are plenty more to help weakened teams navigate the early rounds.

There are also more enviable senior options. Klopp called it his best team ever. Various factors came together. Excellent recruitment stands out and Luis Diaz’s immediate impact gives him five elite strikers, with the menacing Colombian man of the match at Wembley.

Summer signing Ibrahima Konaté has had a more gradual introduction but looks potentially formidable. Kostas Tsimikas has started his second season.

Add to the improvement of young players like Harvey Elliott and a bigger group was forged. The fact that, even without the injured Roberto Firmino, Elliott, Curtis Jones and Joe Gomez were initially omitted from the bench on Sunday indicates that Klopp is now choosing from a group of 24.

It remains to be seen how long a generation entering their thirties can maintain their standards, despite Virgil van Dijk appearing at his best, but there is evidence that a succession plan is in place.

That a manager who felt drained last season, losing his zest for life amid a combination of bad luck with injuries, the loss of his mother and a lockdown that deprived someone of companionship has found his zest aid.

Liverpool are showing renewed hunger and it’s no longer impossible to believe that Klopp will extend a contract that expires in 2024. Their future for the next few years looks bright. If it looked like a team peaked in 2019 and 2020, it could be part of a longer golden age.

Updated: February 28, 2022, 1:46 p.m.