While Jürgen Klopp still has another few months at Anfield, talk has already started regarding his eventual replacement. We take a look at who Liverpool might turn to after the ‘normal one’.
The shock has settled, the tears have dried, and the four-month emotional goodbye has begun.
Jürgen Klopp is leaving Liverpool at the end of the season, which means the most successful and popular manager in the club’s recent history must be replaced.
When Klopp was appointed in 2015, he felt like the obvious choice. He and Carlo Ancelotti were the standout candidates at the time, but Liverpool didn’t just simply go with popular opinion. They insisted it was a decision based on the data, which was obviously in Klopp’s favour from his successful time at Borussia Dortmund having won two Bundesliga titles and reached a Champions League final against all odds.
Liverpool’s next selection will also be heavily influenced by data. The club’s CEO Billy Hogan said at Friday’s press conference: “From our perspective, I wouldn’t want to set an expectation [on a timeline for replacing Klopp]. Number one because this is a process we have to go through and have done in the past. The way we operate as a football club is to make sure we look at all the information and all the data, we’ve done our proper due diligence and then make a decision and have an announcement at that time.”
Therefore, we thought we’d give Liverpool a bit of a helping hand and look at some of the more notable data around the names being linked with replacing the most popular manager at the club in the modern era.
When it was speculated that Klopp’s eventual successor might be a former much-loved midfielder, Steven Gerrard was the Liverpool legend most had in mind.
With Xabi Alonso impressing as manager of Bayer Leverkusen, though, it is the Spaniard who leads the betting. Having made over 200 appearances for the club and won the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup at Liverpool as a player, the fanbase seem encouraged by the idea of the 42-year-old returning to Anfield in a managerial capacity.
Alonso had already shown his credentials with Real Sociedad B, getting Sanse promoted to the Segunda División for the first time in 59 years before he was appointed by Leverkusen in October 2022.
He has an overall Bundesliga record of 45 games managed, 28 wins, 10 draws and seven defeats, though all of those losses came last season, with a win percentage of 62.2%.
After taking Leverkusen from fighting relegation to finishing sixth last season, he has developed the team to a sensational extent in 2023-24.
They accumulated 45 points in the first half of the season, with a Bundesliga side only ever recording more points by this stage on two occasions – both Bayern Munich (2013-14 and 2015-16).
Saturday saw them drop points in a 0-0 home draw with Borussia Mönchengladbach, though there were still signs of how well coached they have been under Alonso. Leverkusen had 69 touches in the Gladbach box, a new record for a team in a Bundesliga match since the start of detailed data collection in 2004-05.
It seems unlikely Liverpool would be able to replace Klopp with someone with an identical playing style, but Alonso would be an interesting potential evolution. Leverkusen have made 208 high turnovers (HTs) – winning the ball within 40m of the opposition’s goal – in total in the Bundesliga this season, with 39 shot-ending HTs and four goal-ending HTs. Liverpool have recorded 202 HTs in the Premier League, with 30 shot-ending and three goal-ending. Similar numbers, though Leverkusen have played two fewer league games than Liverpool.
While Liverpool have played an intense and high-level counter-attacking style synonymous with Klopp’s teams, they are perhaps a more possession-focused side than some think. In every league campaign under Klopp, Liverpool have averaged at least 58.3% possession, and even managed to record an average of 63.5% in 2019-20 when they won the title.
Only three teams in Europe’s top five leagues have averaged more possession than Alonso’s Leverkusen this season (Paris Saint-Germain – 65.6%, Barcelona – 65%, Manchester City – 64.4%). Under the Spanish coach, Leverkusen have increased their average from 51.8% last season to 62.3% this season.
Both teams enjoy a progressive pass. Liverpool have averaged 36.2 progressive passes per game this season, more than any other team in the Premier League, while Leverkusen have averaged 35.7, more than any other team in the Bundesliga.
A big part of Liverpool’s game is their switches, and they’ve averaged 3.9 per game this season, the second-most in the Premier League behind West Ham (4.4). Leverkusen do not use them as often (2.7 per game) but if Alonso had the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold in his side perhaps he would adapt, or the team would.
One of Liverpool’s main strengths has been their ability to win no matter what, hence Klopp labelling them ‘mentality monsters’. Alonso’s Leverkusen have shown similar resoluteness this season, in particular their recent late away wins over Augsburg and RB Leipzig. Die Mentalitätsmonster, indeed.
Roberto De Zerbi
Not only has Roberto De Zerbi impressed in the Premier League over the last two seasons, but he also arguably has a similar on-the-surface passion to Klopp that Liverpool fans would be likely to get behind.
De Zerbi is only two years older than Alonso but has over a decade of managerial experience behind him, having taken charge of Italian lower-league side Darfo Boario in November 2013. It was his work at Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk that caught Brighton’s attention before the Seagulls brought him to England to replace Graham Potter in 2022.
It was a tricky task considering how successful Potter had been before his departure for Chelsea in the September. Coincidentally, De Zerbi’s first game was at Anfield where his new team gave Liverpool all sorts of problems in a 3-3 draw.
Since De Zerbi arrived, only seven Premier League teams have won more games than Brighton (22 out of 53), while only five have lost fewer (16).
In that time, only Man City (64.2%) have averaged more possession than Brighton (62.2%) in the Premier League, while only Liverpool (882) have attempted more shots than their 850. This season, only Liverpool (760) and Tottenham (732) have made as many progressive passes as Brighton’s 679
When it comes to high turnovers this season in the league, Brighton have recorded 193, but have been more productive with them than Liverpool, with 37 ending in a shot and six ending in a goal.
However, defensive stability might be a concern. Since De Zerbi’s appointment, of ever-present Premier League teams only Nottingham Forest (10) have kept fewer clean sheets than Brighton (11), while only Bournemouth (91), Forest (89), Tottenham (87) and Wolves (82) have conceded more goals than their 81.
He does, of course, also know how to get the best out of Alexis Mac Allister. The Argentina international has been playing in an unfamiliar role at the base of midfield for Klopp, though he has been impressing particularly in recent weeks.
Similarly to both Alonso and De Zerbi, Rúben Amorim has burst onto the scene in recent years.
There were eyebrows raised when Sporting CP paid a significant fee to take the young coach from Braga in 2020, but in his first full season in Lisbon he won the club their first Primeira Liga title in 19 years.
With a team that included current Premier League stars Pedro Porro and João Palhinha, Amorim’s Sporting lost just once in their 34 league games, finishing five points ahead of Porto.
They have not won the league since but did finish second in 2021-22 and are leading the way this season. Overall, Amorim has taken charge of 132 Primeira Liga games for Sporting, winning 98, drawing 20 and losing 14. Only Porto (W101 D20 L11) have a better record in that time.
Sporting have averaged 60.4% possession in the Primeira Liga under Amorim, and they conceded just 20 and 23 goals in his first two full seasons in charge at Estádio José Alvalade. That rose to 32 last season as they finished fourth, but although they have already conceded 19 after 19 games this campaign, they have scored a whopping 53. That has been in part thanks to the 15 goals of Viktor Gyökeres, whose impact we recently looked at.
They hammered Casa Pia 8-0 on Monday and sit top of the league on 49 points from 19 games. Amorim is a name routinely linked with so-called ‘bigger jobs’ thanks to his achievements in Lisbon, and it likely won’t be long before someone takes a chance on him.
Klopp insists he will take at least a year off once he departs Anfield, but he will inevitably be strongly linked to the Germany national team job given Julian Nagelsmann is only contracted until the end of Euro 2024.
That, of course, also means Nagelsmann will be available this summer and that could pique Liverpool’s interest if they fancy another highly-rated German coach.
The youngest on an already very young shortlist, the 36-year-old still has quite the CV. Nagelsmann made his name at Hoffenheim where he was appointed when he was just 28.
After saving them from relegation from the Bundesliga in his first season, he led Hoffenheim to a fourth-place finish in his second. It was actually Klopp’s Liverpool who beat them in the Champions League qualifiers the following campaign.
He moved to RB Leipzig and guided them to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019-20, before finishing second in the Bundesliga the following season.
That convinced Bayern Munich to move for him, and he won his first Bundesliga title there in 2021-22. He was sacked the following March with Bayern a point behind Dortmund at the top of the table, before taking the Germany job to try and improve their fortunes ahead of their home Euros tournament in the summer of 2024.
But would he suit Liverpool? Nagelsmann had a win percentage in the Bundesliga of 44% at Hoffenheim, 54.4% at Leipzig and 66.1% at Bayern, so he seems able to scale up with little problem. That was also true with his team’s average possession, which in the Bundesliga was 52.9% at Hoffenheim, 57.5% at Leipzig and 64.7% at Bayern.
In terms of progressive passes, in his title season at Bayern they averaged 46.9 per game, the most in the Bundesliga by a distance, while only Stuttgart (150) completed more successful switches than their 115.
The downside would be his work couldn’t officially start until late in the summer due to his Euros commitments, but Nagelsmann’s name will still likely be in Liverpool’s thinking over the next few weeks and months.
Well-respected Danish coach Thomas Frank has the most Premier League experience on this list, which could count in his favour.
After a couple of years as assistant coach at Brentford, he was promoted to the big gig in 2018 and has been there ever since.
As another club who are big proponents of following the data with their decision-making, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Liverpool take a look at Brentford, and it would be difficult not to be impressed by Frank’s achievements to date.
He took Brentford to the Championship play-off final in 2019-20, losing to Fulham, only to reach the final again a year later and this time oversee a 2-0 win over Swansea to take the Bees into the Premier League for the first time.
Not only that, but he has established Brentford as a top-flight team since, with 13th- and 9th-place finishes.
One issue is that Frank’s side do not really play anything like Liverpool currently do. They’re far from a long-ball team but they’re much less reliant on passes and possession. Only seven Premier League teams have attempted fewer passes this season, while 10 have a higher average possession percentage than their 48.7% and 10 have made more progressive passes than their 562.
In terms of high turnovers, they have made just 161 in the league, with 25 shot-ending and one goal-ending. That could change with the return of Ivan Toney, though it might also be a concern how much Brentford appear to have struggled without their star man. Prior to their 3-2 win in his comeback game, they had lost eight of their previous 10 games in all competitions (W1 D1).
Brentford do attempt a high number of switches, though as you can see below, they are not as successful with them as Liverpool, especially the higher up the pitch they try them.
It would be a big step up for Frank and he is arguably the outside bet of this list, but like Amorim, you feel at some stage a bigger club than Brentford will see if his skills can scale up.
This is a gigantic decision for Liverpool and will likely need to wait until a new sporting director is installed, but with the club having known about Klopp’s departure since November, they will have already been doing their research and crunching the numbers over the last three months.
Whether it is one of the above or an outside shout, they will have a tough job to follow Klopp. The new manager will need the character to lead as well as to put up with the inevitable comparisons.
Winning games will win hearts, though, and Liverpool fans will hope they will be allowed to just reminisce about the glory years of Klopp in the future, rather than cite it as where things peaked.