It is not yet March but Liverpool already have a 22-point lead at the top of the Premier League. Dominance of this type has never been seen before in English football. With 13 games to go, Jürgen Klopp’s side need to win less than half of their remaining fixtures to assure themselves of their first title in 30 years.
The Merseyside giants are blessed with world-class talent all over the pitch with the likes of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané in attack, Georginio Wijnaldum in midfield, defender Virgil van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson Becker having been astute recruits in recent times.
But while a lot has been spoken about the players and Klopp himself in both the media and amongst the fans, Liverpool's niche backroom hirings in their quest for success have helped to transform the club and take them to a new level. “I am nothing without them,” Klopp said of his backroom staff back in 2017 and the continued adding to his coaching setup has helped to take Liverpool to new heights.
So who are the disciples behind the rise of the Reds?
We start with one man who is no longer with the club, but who deserves a mention all the same. Following Klopp's arrival in October 2015, the German tactician brought several trusted lieutenants with him to Merseyside. Experienced Bosnian Željko Buvač, dubbed 'The Brain' by Klopp having helped to establish the ‘gegenpressing’ system which was so effective under Klopp's management, was drafted in from Borussia Dortmund as the new assistant manager in place of Colin Pascoe. But things turned sour between the pair and in April 2018 Buvač vacated his role, ending a 17-year relationship which had seen them work together at Mainz, Dortmund and Liverpool.
Buvač's departure meant Pepijn Lijnders was promoted as an assistant coach alongside Peter Krawietz, another one of Klopp's key cogs during his Dortmund days. Lijnders, who was brought to the club in 2014 by Brendan Rodgers, left Liverpool temporarily to take up a new role with NEC in the Dutch Eerste Divisie. After failing to gain promotion to the Eredivisie in the play-offs he was relieved of his duties, playing into the Reds’ hands. Lijnders has since become instrumental in bringing new ideas to the set-up at Anfield, designing new training drills which he states helps to show 'Liverpool's identity'. He has brought in increased tactical flexibility and intensity, just like he showed during his days at both PSV Eindhoven as a youth coach and at Porto in 2017, where he was the head of individual development for the academy and coached the youth team.
Krawietz, who is dubbed 'The Eye' by Klopp due to his expertise in scouting and analysis, has also played a key role in the club's successes. Unlike Buvač, the German is a figure in the shadows and doesn't like the limelight. Providing analysis during and after games, Klopp highlighted Krawietz's role in the 4-0 win over Southampton earlier this month as vital. The Reds were drawing 0-0 at half-time before Liverpool turned it on in emphatic fashion in the second half to sweep aside the Saints with four second-half strikes due to some "tactical observations" from Krawietz.
The Bad Boy
Klopp reshuffled the pack further, and, following the departure of head of fitness and conditioning Ryland Morgans, Andreas Kornmayer was brought to the club. The German served as his hometown club's fitness coach at Bayern Munich under Louis van Gaal, Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola after being promoted to first-team duties in 2010, but opted to swap the Allianz Arena for Anfield following an approach from Klopp. The Liverpool manager has labelled his look-alike the 'Bad Boy' of his backroom staff, as Kornmayer wants the players to drive above and beyond when running.
Physiotherapist Christopher Rohrbeck was brought in from Mainz in 2017 to work alongside medical rehabilitation and performance manager Philipp Jacobsen. The Reds have struggled with injuries over the years but the appointments of Rohrbeck and Jacobsen have proved key in helping to keep injuries limited.
The Number One
Another part of the restructure is the goalkeeping department, albeit not at the very top. Whilst managers such as Rafael Benítez, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers have all come and gone, Dutch native John Achterberg has remained as the goalkeeper coach on Merseyside. Now in his 11th season at the club, his relationship with Klopp, the rest of the backroom staff and players has underlined the direction in which the club is going.
Having joined in 2009, Achterberg made the short trip across the Mersey from Tranmere Rovers, where he was also the Whites’ number one for 11 years. He was initially criticised by some fans but proved doubters wrong by helping with the scouting of Alisson Becker, who arrived from Roma in July 2018. Achterberg has played a huge role in the Brazilian international's development and success at Anfield.
The Lucky Charm
Whilst Achterberg takes charge of Allison, former Leeds United and Manchester United youth team goalkeeping coach Jack Robinson moved to Anfield in September 2018 as part of a new role as first-team development goalkeeping coach, leaving his position with the Football Association. Described as Klopp's 'lucky charm', Robinson says that the manager has jokingly thanked him for his impact, with the Reds having been beaten just once in the Premier League since his arrival.
Robinson works closely with No.2 Adrián, as well as 21-year-old Irishman Caoimhín Kelleher and veteran Andy Lonergan. The new member of the goalkeeping department has fitted in well and Achterberg clearly trusts him, with Robinson having taken a number of first-team sessions. He was brought in to provide a different point of view and to improve certain areas in training.
Robinson has previously said: "There’s nobody in the club – right the way through everyone at Melwood and the Academy – that is doing it for themselves. Everyone wants to do it for the club and for the fans here.
"There’s a real spirit within the group where we want to do it together, we want to do it as a group and create memories. The manager has spoken about when we’re old and have grandkids, we want to tell them about the stories we created here."
Most recently, Vitor Matos was brought in by Klopp as an elite development coach, a position which Lijnders previously held before being promoted. The Portuguese native, who joined in October 2019, is tasked with developing the younger players, with the likes of Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliot and Pedro Chirivella all developing in such a short period of time.
Matos moved to the Reds from Porto, where he served as assistant coach of the Portuguese club's B Team, who played in the country's second-tier. That was Matos' second spell with the club, and he also served as youth technical coordinator and U16 head coach for Shandong Luneng.
Klopp has previously said of Matos, "We had to fill that void and we've done that with a really great guy, an outstanding coach. Young and experienced, you don't get that a lot. A kind of guy who is used to having six or seven sessions a day.
"He is smart, his English is very good – which is obviously important – and he has worked at different clubs, but is educated at Porto, which is good for us because Pep is from there as well.
A final part of the revolution is the recruitment team led by sporting director Michael Edwards, who has played a key role in bringing players to Anfield as well as getting good prices for those departing. Head of recruitment Dave Fallows and chief scout Barry Hunter have worked wonders too in advising Klopp that Salah, for instance, was the right fit for the foreseeable project. The duo also worked tirelessly to bring in both youngsters Sepp van den Berg and Elliot last summer.
There are clearly success stories off the pitch as well as on it at Anfield, meaning the future for the reigning world champions and Champions League holders could get even brighter.