Klopp, for all that his public image is of a coach with one distinct, nonnegotiable style, has retuned his team, and his thinking. Liverpool is now a team built as much for obduracy as explosiveness, one that boasts the most expensive defender in the world in van Dijk and, in Alisson Becker, the second-most expensive goalkeeper.
It is a team that has discovered the virtue of patience, and of precision, characteristics that Klopp believes stand it in better stead of thriving over an entire season, rather than in patches. It is a team that seeks to control, not one that intends to turn all around it to chaos.
It is a team that needed to beat Napoli either by a single goal to none, or by at least two goals. Last year, there would have been no choice: Liverpool would have had to welcome the mayhem and hope to come out on top. This time around, it is different: more flexible, more mature. A single goal, a brilliant one from Mohamed Salah, was all it could muster, but it was all it needed.
That is not to say Klopp’s team is sterile, or dull, or lacking in ambition. Nor is it to say this was an evening of eerie calm. Liverpool still had chances — Sadio Mané, in particular, might have scored three or four — and still, in those tense final minutes, allowed two. Only the poor finishing of José Callejón, and a wonderful save from Alisson, kept Liverpool on course. Still, that is why you spend $84 million on a goalkeeper.
By Anfield’s standards, it was almost a letdown. There was no stirring finale. There was only a little nail-biting, nerve-shredding drama. There was a team doing what it had to do; a team, for the most part, in control; a team that wanted all the noise and fervor and frenzy, of course, a team that benefited from it, a team that would not have it any other way. But a team that needed it? Not any more.