THE midweek defeat of Hoffenheim lifted many of the early season storm clouds brewing over Anfield. An impressive and crucial 2-1 win in Germany has all but secured Liverpool’s imperative target of Champions League group stage qualification after an eventual fourth-placed domestic finish in May.
Ahead of the visit to the Rhein-Neckar Arena, perhaps for the first time, but more so in the wake of last weekend’s error strewn 3-3 draw at Watford, Jürgen Klopp’s management has come under a vestige of scrutiny from a more reactive section of the club’s fan base. There’s angst in the camp over summer’s inertia and while Fenway Sports Group still cop for most of it, a fussy coach too carries some of the can.
Prior to last Saturday’s Vicarage Road fixture, Joey Barton – speaking on talkSPORT – challenged the German’s managerial credentials. While social media Reds are inclined to howl at the moon at the first sight of trouble – as they did after concession of a late equaliser to Watford – Barton’s critique was of a lazy pundit barking up the wrong tree.
The Liverpool-born midfielder, currently serving a ban for contravening betting regulations after representing Burnley last season, launched an attack on Klopp which bordered on the personal; branding the Liverpool manager a “giant German cheerleader…prancing up and down the touchline.”
Barton’s appraisal – alluding mainly to Klopp’s time at Borussia Dortmund – went further. “He is not trophy-laden like (Jose) Mourinho or (Pep) Guardiola, so we have to be sceptical of him.
“He has gone in with all this charisma and seems a down to earth, nice guy.
“To be a top manager, you have got to have more than that. He has got a terrible record in finals.
“I’m not buying the Klopp aura and that he is this super coach. His career doesn’t point that way.
“He’s not a Guardiola, not a Mourinho, not an Ancelotti… he’s not even a Pochettino.” @Joey7Barton on Klopp https://t.co/nOCybh8ExD pic.twitter.com/7VIBOHVxcD
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) 14 August 2017
“He has got one league title, one cup, in 2011-12. His Dortmund career ended in a hole in the ground. He lost the players, he lost the dressing room. They were fighting relegation.”
For a start, Joey – if he wants to acquire media respect and overturn negative public opinion harvested from a series of controversies during his playing career – needs to get his facts right. Klopp of course, won the Bundesliga title twice in consecutive years with Die Schwarzgelben.
If his final season in Germany began with alarmist fears of the drop, Dortmund recovered their mojo sufficiently to finish seventh and qualify for Europe. Footballers are fickle creatures but the upturn in form before Klopp’s departure, suggests whatever was lost in faith was admirably restored in his players before he made his eventual bow.
Barton omits to mention that one of Klopp’s lost cup finals came after steering Dortmund to a Champions League summit meeting at Wembley with Bayern Munich in 2013; which is hardly small beer. Furthermore, although acquiring silverware is a prerequisite for any Liverpool manager, you would be hard pressed to complain if in 2018, The Reds were to match Klopp’s first season feat of reaching two cup finals. The cup final thing feels like a lame, clichéd criticism.
Radio critic Barton was a little closer to the mark in highlighting Liverpool’s ongoing challenge in breaking down compact defences; especially should they be deprived of Phil Coutinho’s inventiveness long term.
“The players he has bought – (Mohamed) Salah, (Sadio) Mane – they are players to get in behind…If you take that space away and sit deep…that is when you need a Coutinho.”
No one questions the Brazilian’s guile but Mane’s incisive probe and finish from a deep position against Watford suggests Coutinho isn’t alone in having ability to pick the lock.
Where Barton is correct is in saying there is an aura that surrounds Klopp; a force field that makes him immune to criticism from some supporters. The manager enjoyed a justifiable honeymoon period and whatever progress has been made (and the restoration of Liverpool’s seat at Europe’s top table is inarguable) is enough to sustain the puppy love.
The irony is that Barton missed the point a bit; he actually went shy of mentioning areas where Klopp is open to genuine censure. It is possible to believe in a manager’s overall competency while recognising their blind spots. Rafa Benitez had many partisans who would have washed his feet without thinking of the stench but had an equal number of supporters whom he drove insane.
The current Liverpool coach is a firm disciple of time on the training pitch being his first priority and rightly so for that is much of the job at hand. After nearly two years of instruction at Melwood however, the Reds’ defensive issues, especially at set-pieces, remain unsolved.
Klopp devotees prefer to scapegoat any one or all three of Simon Mignolet, Alberto Moreno, and Dejan Lovren. Whatever the merits of these players, the manager is currently in the midst of a fourth transfer window when he could have chosen to relegate or move them on. And yet he still retains and picks them. Moreno, despite a loveable childish demeanor, is enjoying a return not consistent with his plight last season, or the left-back pecking order, and still borders on the rash.
Having clearly identified Virgil van Dijk as a defensive solution, Klopp is unwilling to believe there are many, if any, viable alternatives at the heart of the defence. Earlier this month, the 50-year-old questioned whether there were five defenders anywhere who could improve The Reds’ rearguard.
“Look out there and tell me five that would make us stronger. Five. Then you win a prize.
“We have four. I don’t think we need more. In the moment, I’m fine…I don’t see it (the defence) as a concern.”
After Watford some may still beg to differ.
Set-piece issues extend beyond chosen personnel at the back. Liverpool’s organisation for corners – presumably instigated in training – is at times shambolic. Gini Wijnaldum often finds himself at the scene of indecisive crime and Roberto Firmino, though not alone, is frequently guilty of ball watching. If the much vaunted practice-ground prep is incapable of ironing out these deficiencies, it makes the mulish stance and picky recruitment policy all the more questionable.
Organisation or personnel? Jamie Carragher or Jamie Redknapp in that particular tête-à-tête last week? Only the bolshiest would argue it is the one thing and not the other. The Liverpool boss has to have a foot in both camps if he is to address the problem satisfactorily.
Without question, Klopp isn’t a bad manager. Far from it; Klopp in the eyes of many is still and always will be a “super coach”.
Despite Barton’s words, Klopp’s overall record speaks for itself. His self belief is unwavering. There is a rare purity to inspire his thinking. One hopes that the trait of most great managers – a stubborn streak, doesn’t evolve into misplaced arrogance.
You can be right and wrong at the same time. Sometimes your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. Both Benitez and Brendan Rodgers were unhinged in the eyes of supporters when strict adherence to principle was construed later as obstinacy.
Maybe, just maybe, our manager could relax his search for perfection and accept there are lots of footballers out there who could improve us, and not just in defence. Every time he insists he won’t spend “for the sake of it” it aligns him closer to suspicion of the owners’ parsimony.
To say, as he did on Thursday, that he is happy with his squad if he makes no more signings – with added European commitments this season and with rivals (bar Tottenham Hotspur) all looking stronger – is a claim open to serious question. We can only trust that it is mere ruse and things will look different in a fortnight.
In his staunch defence, Klopp will rightly argue this Liverpool team play exciting, expansive football and last weekend there was a 15-minute vignette hinting at the havoc a front three of Firmino, Mane and Salah might wreak as the season unfolds. That is very much to the boss’s credit in the acquisition of two and the development of the other into an attacking trident worthy of the admission fee.
An offensive philosophy is to be lauded, with the understandable caveat that a side wanting to play so high will always concede goals – van Dijk or no van Dijk.
The frustration is that Liverpool; despite being the opposite of risk averse, defend relatively well in open play. Joel Matip is perhaps a microcosm of this; adept at sweeping diagonal balls away under pressure and decent on the stretch, extending a telescopic leg.
When the ball is dead, it’s another matter.
If we’re looking for another area to wonder where Herr Klopp can still improve, there’s probably room elsewhere for more extended analysis of substitutions. However, Liverpool were coping well at Watford in the final minutes until a cold and stiff Joe Gomez conceded the unnecessary foul that ultimately led to The Hornets’ third goal. It was a naïve change.
The media plot for this Liverpool season is already written – after one league game. As hackneyed as the narrative is – great going forward, suspect at the back – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is hard to argue with. Opponents will look to win free kicks, wingers will be looking to tickle the football against our full backs’ shins near the white lines.
The manager has a job to do. It’s either back to the lush green defensive drawing board at Melwood or admit defeat and consider alternatives before August 31. As unlikely as it seems for a modern, tightly-knit management team, would they consider drafting in a specialist from outside to improve defensive coaching?
As our Anfield bow beckons, Frank de Boer of Crystal Palace won’t be reading “Brilliant Orange” and reminiscing over the Dutch Masters and their total football. Instead he’ll be stoking his corner-ball cannons, summoning the target-man side of Christian Benteke and voicing echoes of their three consecutive Anfield wins.
In theory it’s a nightmare fixture, laced with all Liverpool’s apparent fears; a bogey team, a side sitting deep and adept from set pieces, and an arch nemesis of a spurned centre forward loitering with intent.
As ever, it falls on the players – and the manager – to buck the trend; otherwise the media naysayers will have more scope for complaint and doubt.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo
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An objective, reasoned and well-argued piece.
Not arsed about a single thing Barton says. As ever with people of his ilk, it’s all about being contrarian. Being the first to criticise a very popular manager with a well-deserved reputation. He didn’t even know how many Bundesliga titles Klopp had. Do your research Joey, learn about the subject at hand, and then perhaps you might be afforded the credibility you do desperately seek.
My belief in Klopp remains unshaken. Yes we have defensive issues and nobody could credibly argue against that, but we shouldn’t overlook that Klopp has built a side that always, always looks like scoring. Remember the days when our attackers looked like they were running in treacle? Not any more. We have the most rapid, blistering attack in the league. Even against Watford there was a fifteen minute period where we could realistically have scored five goals.
If we can get ourselves that defensive lynchpin – if ever a side needed one it’s us – we can start feeling that bit easier about having a one goal lead. The thing about van Dijk is he offers genuine assurance. He is quick enough to run attackers down, strong enough to push attackers around and settles the whole back-line with his composure on and off the football.
Just submit a bid of £75m along with written assurance that we will never target their players again. Get this done.
Running like treacle? Does the 2013/14 season count against this too?
Agree with the rest of your points.
“Does the 2013/14 season count against this too?”
Most definitely not that season. What a joyous season that was. I am talking more about Borini, Lambert, Balotelli etc. It’s been a long time since we’ve had such explosive pace in our team. Even the 13/14 vintage didn’t have Mane and Salah levels of pace.
Mike I believe in Klopp but I have a huge issue with his selection of Moreno. Lovern needs to be left to focus soley on his own game. When he has to look out for others he looks extremely indecisive and jittery and then it builds and he gets it in the neck from the fans. It happened when Klopp first insisted on playing Moreno. Lovern cannot play with Moreno it does not work. If you want to play Lovern the he needs someone beside him who he does not need to focus on. If you want to play Moreno get a better centre back who can school and direct him. As for Mingolet. Go back and watch the early videos of him at Sunderland you will see someone commanding his box, diving at feet and being extremely brave. He had a horrible collision (can’t recall with who) and broke his nose has not been the same player since. He got the job based on his Sunderland performances but he has not been the same player because the memory of the injury has made him hesitate. At times we see a brilliant keeper because somewhere in their he is. Gave the guy a face mask for protection to make him physiologically more secure and see what happens.
Some statistics before we start to panic … Liverpool played 9 preseason games and 2 competitive games. They won 8 games and draw 3 games. Wins against Bayern, Athletic Bilbao, Hoffenheim. Competitive draw was result of the ref mistake, otherwise they would win. They didn’t lost one single game !!! What are talking talking about now? Crysis, problems, worries ??? … Ok, now I remembered, defence is a problem … it would be great to have clean sheet. Maybe so, but we are team playing attacking football, that means a lot of goals – on both sides. I still prefer 3:3 instead of boring 0:0. We have results and we see a lot of goals. But, no “fans” are not happy. Of course is not important that we are in the middle of the developing process and that we played last games without our best player. We are in the middle of the crisys and should start to criticize (something, anything), otherwise we are not responsible “fans”.
Always a well written piece. Having supported the club from 1970, being brought up in the area and being a season ticket holder I share a lot of the positive comments here. However, it doesn’t mean we should be blind to or ignorant of the worrying negatives. If the 31sy=t Aug brings no more much needed signings then it won’t be one disastrous transfer window. It will be two in succession. Two out of a total of four that the manager has overseen. 50%. I admire the aim of only bringing in players that can truly improve the first 11. But if we are witnessing a stubborn and inflexible approach to transfers in the face of increasing market difficulties and competition…that is never going to work. The treatment of Sakho looks stubborn to me. A talented player, underrated on the ball, and one that can surely help solve the problem. He is not afraid of attacking the ball. If he isn’t about to be imminently sold to make way for Van Dyck, then he has to be re-integrated, differences settled and played. Substitions. The article makes the point about Gomez, with which ~i entirely agree. TAA was having a great game, not injured or tired, 2 mins left in a tight game. You donu do NOT change the defence, especially not one as shaky as ours. JK is always slow to make obvious substitutions earler in the game in my view. I think that relates to the lack of plan B accusations. When we are on form and playing as we can offensively it really is a joy to behold and has given us some great moments equal with many of the past in terms of performance. But we are woefully unbalanced. It is highly unlikely, we will win the league with that degree of imbalance. I will never say never. This is Liverpool. But highly unlikely. And I am certain the author would agree, as true liverpudlians we care about the league more that anything else at all. JK has the marginal benefit of my doubt for no. But I have doubts. If come Sept 1 we fail to sign players in the obvious areas we need and, if we continue to fail defensively, conceding needless goals, increasing the pressure on the forward line to score more and more just to stay in the game., it will be another season bereft of the league or a meaningful challenge. That will not be acceptable. Then with a much loved, but not without his detractors either, ex-manager in charge of dysfunctional Newcastle, I would expect the calls for Rafe to return to increase in volume and numbers.
Beating Hoffenheim away, their first defeat in 16months.
Yunus ,Johannesburg ,SA
I agree with Joey Barton our defence is shit , surely Lovren & Moreno cannot be better than Sakho, and Mignolet cannot be better than Ward who single handedly brought Huddersfield to the PL, Klopp must overlook his personal feelings towards Sakho and put the team first , we need Sakho in defence not only for his defence qualities but his leadership as well , its clear to see that Lovren & Moreno has no clue as how to defend and yet we purchase 10m specialists left back in Andy Robertson and Klopp leaves him at home ,come on ! , we want to win the PL not qualify for the Europa cup
Why does everyone who wants Sakho back in the team say that “Klopp must overlook his personal feelings”? Maybe his personal feelings are to let him back in the team, and it’s his professional values and rules at the club that prevent him from doing so? Just find it odd the assumptions people make about this situation. And then there is the elephant in the room, that only Palace have come for him, not paid the club’s asking price, and/or not agreed to his wage demands. And now reports are that West Brom are asking about him. Why are no CL clubs interested?
There are some facts that we have to accept regarding JK, one of which is he that hasn’t corrected or found a METHOD for set piece deliveries from the likes of West Brom’s Pulis , Mourinho’s United,Crystal Palace and Stoke Cities Hughes.
All of these teams practice set pieces have lumps in Benteke, Crouch, Fellaini & Lukaku et al.
Jurgen sees himself as a coach who improves players, this was part reason Rogers went and Klopp came in.
FSG in Gordon/Ayre wanted to continue to have the TC in place with too much influence on player recruitment but wanted a coach that improved the players.
They were wrong of course because when JK was approached and met JWH in Switzerland it was made clear that JK wanted control of player purchasing decisions and scouting which he now has.
I offer blind faith and belief to NO ONE, I offer support to LFC coaches & players, it should NOT be blind to you all coaches faults.
JK has NOT improved the defence with the players he has had since Brendan Rogers left ,its simple facts go and look at the statistics.
So he should be questioned, rightly so, as to what he has done or been doing in training or not done in training to improve the players he already had and the ones he’s bought.
Now having said all that ,there are clear problems in getting player purchases over the line.
The problem of getting deals over the line go back as far as Ricky Parry and laterly Ian Ayre.
They were slow & poor and sometimes unprofessional in when they choose to take their vacations …I’ll leave it at that.
Laterly, Peter Moore charming as he wants to be ,is not well versed in getting deals done quickly.
Firstly when a player has been identified, the process should be swift that’s not the case.
Secondly, when there is a ‘snag’ the second tier of player identified should be engaged immediately.
Instead of haggling move on (VVD & Keita case in point) when the club clearly says he’s not for sale , ask if it’s a question of price, decide your maximum or not.
Thirdly, DO NOT listen to agents who tell you they can negotiate the deals with the club …trusting an agent is never a good idea as Coutinho is now finding out I’d wager that should Coutinho stay he’ll change agents, as it was his who told him to write in a transfer request and clearly it was not written by Coutinho.
There IS a list of top tier 1 targets and there IS a list of tier2 targets for obvious reasons it’s not public because of the tier2 players ego and money.
For instance lets Coutinho is sold for £130 million.
After failing with 3rd bids for Keita and VVD who remain not for sale we then go to the tier 2 targets flush with the Coutinho money, what do you think the tier 2 club, agent and player will do?
Ask for inflated prices, agent fees, and wages.
Nothing is ever as simple as it appears, no one is perfect and JK is not nor will never be a chequebook manager in the same was as Ancelotti, Mourinho or Guardiola.
The blame for the current problems based on DAY TO DAY normal football business on the field and off is at the door of Mike Gordon, Andrew Hughes,Peter Moore, Jurgen Klopp,Peter Krawietz, Željko Buvač, Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren,Nathaniel Clyne,James Milner, Alberto Moreno, Ragnar Klavan.
The fretters need to calm down or sod off. Ill-informed, non-factual “opinions” need to be ignored. No mamager is flawless and Klopp has his blind spots but if he left tomorrow, who exactly would we get?? Would they be anywhere near the same level? Get a grip.
Seriously Mike, why did you feel the need to base an article on the words of a blow-hard without a shred of credibility, broadcast on a station that no self-respecting Liverpool would even think of listening to. Fair enough to defend our manager from those within our own ranks who are (wrongly) expressing doubts, but Joey fucking Barton? Come on.
Barton was clearly just being used as an example of someone who loathes Klopp. The main meaning of the article is that Klopp is not a perfect manager and can always improve in multiple ways. However, this doesn’t define him as a bad coach like Barton was making him out to be. He was clearly just being used for emphasis on these points. Also, who cares about which radio source it came from? If that’s your biggest concern as opposed to our defensive abilities, you might as well go home.
About the narrative that the Gomez sub was a naive change: He kept Trent on in the Hoffenheim game, and we still conceded a goal. I get that his substitutions have been questionable in the past, but I thought the Hoffenheim game answered the question about the need to sub Trent in the final minutes of the game.
I completely agree that self-fulfilling prophecy is a big factor for the defence. And there was a moment after Watford scored their first goal where Klopp was doing the “keep your chins up” gesture to his players; I think we underestimate the effort he puts into managing their confidence levels. It’s quite a thing how quickly they lose faith in their individual and collective abilities.
Amy, Trent made a mistake hes a kid. but he scored a cracker too. Trent let one cross by him the whole Hoffenheim game it went through his legs and reached an unmarked player in the middle. One cross. Moreno stopped just one in the same game and they could and should have done better out of his weaknesses. As for taking Trent off against Watford the golden rule is do not, I repeat do not, make unnecessary changes. I would be surprised if any real Liverpool fan wants JK to leave and I would ignore Barton but all these idiots are seeing something wrong and exaggerating it for their own egotistical publicity. However something is definitely wrong. JK is making the same mistake he made when he arrived thinking Moreno and Lovern can play together. They can’t. Mark my words those two cannot play together, they are both lacking the footballing intelligence to work with each other. Lovern looks bad because he can’t focus or his team mates game, he can’t anticipate on their behalf. This point has been made time and time again. JK fixed it by putting Milner there now he making the same mistake again because he knows the tactics are right and they are but the personnel are wrong Jurgen.
Sorry Al, given the choice I’ll stick with Jurgen and try to educate myself to better understand the reasons why he does what he does rather than assume that when he does something I disagree with that he’s making a mistake.
I agree with you! I think Trent has been brilliant and had a great game; nowhere did I make a judgment on his overall performance in my comment. But because he is a kid, my point is that Klopp suspected he might get tired and lose concentration in the final minutes of the Watford game, and so for him it *was* a necessary change. All I’m saying is he did look tired and perhaps lost concentration at the end of the Hoffenheim game, and we conceded, so for me this answers the question as to why he was subbed in the Watford game.
I suspect the rest of your comment is aimed at no one in particular, because nowhere did I talk about Lovren or Moreno. As others have said, all 11 players are involved in defending, not just the defence. But FWIW, I think Klopp’s been careful with Milner because of the injury he picked up in preseason and maybe that’s why he hasn’t started at LB (considering we’ve lost Lallana already), and I still think there’s a case to be made that Moreno is in the shop window rather than being ‘reintroduced’.
I trust Klopp fully to create a side in his image.Its the owners who I dont have faith in as everything is about future profit when they sell the club.My only two worries are that he wont be given a fair crack financially and the supporters nervous systems wont be able to cope with his risky adventurous style for long enough.My own personal take is that if we are gonna ccontinuously fail to win the league? Atleast we’ll see some amazing attacking exciting football matches along the way.
I don’t see the point of this article having to defend against Joey Barton. I mean if you went head to head with Alex Ferguson or Jamie Carragher ok then that’s something.
As for Klopp he isn’t perfect but he also needs to be held accountable for his time at the helm.
I think TAW wrote some time back about how a certain number of goals against does not win EPL title.
Outscoring opponents is great, I love that, on a day when the opposition has sucker punched us or is just that good, but trying to do that every game and having players run around at times like headless chickens is not a strategy.
Also what is worrying to me and I might miss this by some, but I see a continuing trend of not improving the defense.
So is Klopp building from the front? Is he going to be able to get LFC to win EPL titles for the long term, let alone CL title?
Add to my frustration is this trend LFC has seen:
Houllier, Rafa, Rogers all three led the team to near league titles or achieved in their own right, only to be let down following the successful year due poor transfer business. All of them failed.
This window was suggested by many including TAW that it needed to be used carefully to build on the past successful year of coming fourth.
So far the defense which every fan (knobheads or otherwise) have been wondering, what’s being done to fix this long term. This problem has existed before Rogers. How did he do trying to outscore the opponents?
So are Edwards and FSG really supporting Klopp?
Remains to be seen, at least by next Wednesday’s result of the game we might get an indication of things to unfold for the better or worse.
I for one have been in Klopp’s corner since before he even arrived, but also know that maybe he is too idealistic coming into LFC. I’m not into the whole believer Kumbaya rubbish, because there factors like money, immature kids, players who really are not the right players, egos, business priorities etc that are real and affect this for me at least.
As before I still am looking forward to seeing if Klopp learned from the failures as much as the successes at Dortmund and how he applies it.