Book Review – Mentality Monsters: How Jürgen Klopp took Liverpool FC from also-rans to Champions of Europe, by Paul Tomkins

In a world where Liverpool’s recent success has been analysed to death, it takes a special book to shed new light on the topic. Enter Paul Tomkin’s Mentality Monsters.

The book joins a long list of books, blogs, podcasts and more that have attempted to pinpoint the main causes by behind Liverpool’s extraordinary resurgence under Jurgen Klopp over the last few years.

But where this book differentiates itself is in its detail and breadth of information. Rather than stopping short at simple observations that have become common knowledge by now, this book delves a lot deeper, using a plethora of stats and context to paint a much clearer image behind Klopp’s formula.

Let’s take running for example. It has become common knowledge by now that this Liverpool team run a lot. But what type of running? Which players? To what end? As Tomkins makes clear, in football, not all running is created equal.

One of the most eye opening stats in the book is that, despite what you might think, Liverpool do not cover the most distance in the Premier League. In fact, going on total kilometers covered alone, the Liverpool side that stormed to 97 points and a Champions League title in 2018/19, were positively mid table.

In December 2018, Liverpool ranked only 8th for total kilometers covered (1905km in total). This was a whole 53km behind the top placed team, Arsenal. But it’s Liverpool, not Arsenal, who are blowing teams away with their work rate on a consistent basis. In fact, Arsenal under Emery were considered one of the more pedestrian sides in the league, hardly a team you’d consider to be out-running the rest of the competition. So what gives?

Change your focus from total kilometers covered to total sprints and you begin to see a different story. In this metric, Liverpool are well clear. After 17 games, Liverpool had completed 2080 sprints, 54 more than the team in second place. That team? Eventual Champions Manchester City. Even more fascinating, if we turn our attention back to total distance covered, City join Liverpool in midtable, further indicating that it is total sprints and not total distance covered that is the key stat behind a high-energy team.

This new found penchant for sprinting is in stark contrast to Liverpool under Rodgers, who were, during his last season in 2014/15, ranked 14th in sprints in the league, further highlighting it as a potentially key part of Klopp’s (and Pep’s) winning formula.

This ties directly into another common observation about Liverpool: Liverpool press. A lot. But where are they focusing their efforts? And how is this benefitting them?

As Tomkins demonstrates, the increase in sprints is not the only difference between Klopp and Rodgers’ sides, the focus and effectiveness of those sprints differs greatly as well. One of the most interesting stats Tomkins looks at is Final Third Recoveries (FTRs). There has been a whopping 55% increase in Liverpool’s FTRs during the Champions League-winning season of 2018/19 compared to under Brendan Rodgers.

Liverpool’s front 3, lead by Salah who finished with the 2nd most sprints in the league in 2018/19 (bettered only by Leicester’s Ben Chilwell) are a major part of this, as are Liverpool’s midfield, especially when the dynamic Oxlade-Chamberlain plays. This has lead directly to more scoring opportunities, forming a key part of Liverpool’s creative strategy.

This look into Liverpool’s running is just one example of the sort of deeper insight this book provides. The book also discusses topics as far reaching as Klopp’s transfer policy (“no dickheads,” valuing versatility, buying players for what they can become, not what they are), Liverpool’s injury record (down from 24% under Rodgers to 9% under Klopp in 2018/19), their set-piece record (a swing in set piece goal difference from -8 under Rodgers to +14 under Klopp) and much more.

Concepts like the social multiplier effect are also applied to the team, helping to account for why players have consistently reached greater levels under Klopp than before (and often after) playing under him. In all these areas, Tomkins consistently delves deeper, lacing his insights and observations with statistics and context, as well as frequently comparing to both Klopp’s predecessors at Liverpool and to his rivals at other clubs.

Somewhat refreshingly, Tomkins does not focus solely on Klopp but also spends a great deal of time analysing and paying tribute to the work of Liverpool’s lesser known assets. The work of Michael Edwards and Ian Graham, “the smartest men in the room,” both in highlighting Klopp as the right man for the job and in attracting him to the club, as well as in using new analytical methods to achieve a whole degree of marginal gains for the club, is also analysed in detail. This helps give the book a more holistic feel, painting a more complete picture of the work done to so drastically turn Liverpool’s fortunes around.

Perhaps my only gripe with the book is the heavy Liverpool bias running through it. Tomkins is a massive Liverpool fan, having followed and written about the club for years. His love for the team is perhaps a major driving force behind the quality of the book, his passion giving it a warmer feel and complementing the more focused, analytical parts. However, at times, this Liverpool bias does get a bit much, at least for a non-Liverpool fan like myself. 

For example, there is a section about referee decisions which seems to be a direct response to the LiVARpool crowd who claim that Liverpool have disproportionately benefitted from both referee decisions and VAR over the last few years. Tomkins makes an interesting observation, using stats to dispel the widely accepted notion that bigger teams get more decisions, (the stats in fact show that middle of the table clubs get the most, likely due to the low-stakes of a potentially wrong call for these teams).

However, Tomkins then goes further, going through a whole swathe of decisions that have gone against Liverpool, implying that they have actually been hard done by, not benefitted. Throughout this section, he never once mentions the plethora of decisions that go against all clubs across the season, instead focusing solely on Liverpool.

To his credit, Tomkins admits his bias and to his greater credit, he steers cleer of empty statements, using stats to back up his points. How comprehensive some of those stats are, at least in the aforementioned referee decision section, is another matter.

Overall, this is a masterful book, full of original and well-backed up insights. From a coaching perspective, the book sheds a lot of light on key parts of Klopp’s methods and philosophy, making it a great read for anyone hoping to understand and perhaps incorporate, parts of the German’s winning formula. Liverpool fans will no doubt love this book, but the bias should not dissuade other club’s fans from giving it a read as well. 

Overall rating: 9/10 – Highly Recommended.

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