AS sliding doors moments go, this week has been a pretty unfortunate one for Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool team.
If they clear the corner against Sevilla and win 3-2, elation and praise follows. If Willian doesn’t mishit his attempted cross and The Reds win 1-0 against Chelsea, more elation, more praise, and deservedly so.
Neither of those things happen so therefore we can only surmise that Klopp is a fool who can’t manage a defence, can’t organise a midfield, picked all the wrong attackers, can’t manage in game and has stupid glasses. And his dog’s ugly and shit at fetch.
If I’d not seen the Chelsea game and avoided the score until checking the overwhelmingly negative reaction from fans afterwards, my first question would have been “who scored Chelsea’s seventh?” It was disappointing to lose a lead yet again, but the levels of outrage at such a result seemed a tad over the top.
Don’t get me wrong, I have concerns about what happened as well that I’ll address lower down the page, but I’ve been surprised by the overall exasperation that Liverpool could only pick up two measly draws against a team that hasn’t lost at home in over a year and the current Champions of England fresh off two 4-0 away wins in a week.
Of course the nature of them is the reason for that, though I’m not sure it’s fair for that to be the case. I was as close as anyone to drop kicking a pint glass through a window when Sevilla equalised, and my cat intelligently got well out of my way when Willian accidentally scored, but to draw any game you have to have done something wrong and something right. Either you score and concede, or you fail to score but keep a clean sheet.
Liverpool deserve some criticism for blowing two leads in a week, but equally were good enough to go 3-0 up in Seville, and to be 1-0 up against an in-form Chelsea with minutes to go. Credit where it’s due you would think, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The Reds are just shite for losing the leads.
There have also been numerous complaints that the subs came too late. Klopp has already given the reasons for the delay in getting Adam Lallana on, but many have questioned why Sadio Mane only came on in the 88th minute. Personally I thought it was pretty clear, he was resting on the bench in a “break glass in emergency” capacity, rather than to be this planned counter-attacking outlet when we were winning that people seemed to think was the role he should have played.
As soon as Liverpool went 1-0 up and Daniel Sturridge came off, the effervescent Mohamed Salah was the outlet. If the expectation was that Mane should have come on as well and also performed the same job, that’s one less player to be at the other end trying to defend or in the middle trying to win the ball back. You’re entirely reliant on being able to win the ball off them with fewer men and to launch it accurately for the fast lads, but there’s nothing to say that would have worked either.
Mane came on in the 88th minute because Chelsea scored in the 86th. Had they scored in the 73rd, I’m sure he’d have come on in the 75th. It seems incredibly hindsight-y to suggest not making that sub beforehand costs the hosts two points. Don’t get me wrong, it might have worked, but I’m never comfortable when the language around the discussion basically insinuates that it definitely would have, therefore the manager was wrong for thinking otherwise.
Personally, being 1-0 up, I didn’t see that there was any need to roll the dice in that way. It would have been a very risky move and had it not come off, it would have been just as easy for people to criticise the decision to bring on an attacking player rather than shut up shop. In fact it was exactly the criticism Klopp got in Seville. I may have been more persuaded that Roberto Firmino was the sub so he could occupy the defenders and press Cesc Fabregas, but equally that may not have worked either.
However, one thing Klopp didn’t do that I was jumping up and down like a cartoon in frustration at was going to three at the back earlier. He apparently wanted to just minutes before the equaliser, but once Salah scored and Chelsea brought more attack-minded players on, they started to dominate Liverpool, taking advantage of the huge gaps out wide.
Davide Zappacosta had his agoraphobia tested time and again as he was given the widest of open spaces on Liverpool’s left, with the impressive Alberto Moreno the only one trying to stop him from marauding up and down in front of the Kenny Dalglish Stand at will, while Marcos Alonso was one of the visitors’ more dangerous players down the other side.
I’m not a fan of the general approach many managers have when faced with three at the back, which is to match it immediately. It seems odd that people think 3-5-2 will cause more problems to a 4-2-3-1, for example, than vice versa. Have faith in your system and players. However, when you’re on the back foot and defending more often than not with a lead to hold on to, then it might be an idea to match them up if only to plug the gaps.
Antonio Conte had made a tactical move, he needed to, and it felt like we should have responded in kind, if only to give them something else to think about. Klopp decided not to, which is not as some people seem to want to believe, a failure to react, more a refusal to. He thought sticking with things would work. It didn’t, but sometimes things you think might work on a football field don’t.
Moving on to Klopp’s decision to rotate. To play Sturridge, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner instead of Firmino, Mane and Gini Wijnaldum was a bold call against a rival. I was surprised he did so, but equally surprised at how little people think of the three that did start.
It’s interesting because I recall a significant number of people previously questioning why Sturridge hardly ever plays, and asking why Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn’t getting starts, and why Wijnaldum continued to play after a very, very poor season to date.
Was Klopp vindicated? We won’t know until we see how well Firmino and Mane in particular do assuming they now start at Stoke on Wednesday, but on Saturday Sturridge was poor, albeit he might have scored had it not been for the world class Cesar Azpilicueta being world class in blocking his shot when played in by Salah. Oxlade-Chamberlain was very good, created things, was one of the better passers and gets an assist on the goal. Milner was woeful, but it’s not as if Wijnaldum’s performances have been anything to write home about this season.
The manager is certainly not beyond criticism, no manager is, but it almost feels to me like people have told themselves that so much that they’ve talked themselves into trying to find things. When Liverpool don’t win a game, even a tough game, fans seem to be able to come up with 15-20 reasons as to why that all somehow link back to the manager. Joe Gomez was called for a foul throw in the first half, and I was expecting to see an article somewhere after the game criticising Klopp for not doing extensive throw-in training at Melwood.
Liverpool are embarking on a mad run of games over the next couple of months, and Klopp is clearly trying something new in terms of management of the period. The last two seasons have seen injuries aplenty, points dropped as a result and at least one season completely derailed. He obviously doesn’t want to take as many risks with fitness. We might not agree with everything he does, but I’m willing to let it play out a bit before deciding he’s doing it all wrong.
Let’s get into Stoke on Wednesday. Beat them up, take their points and silence the doubters. Then do the same to Brighton, Spartak Moscow, Everton and West Brom. Then before you know it the season’s actually looking pretty good.
The moments of frustration make the moments of elation taste that much sweeter.
Whether you doubt or believe, I’ve written a book that will be perfect for your Christmas. Kloppite: One Man’s Quest to turn Doubters into Believers looks at Jürgen Klopp’s first two seasons at Anfield, and his mission to try and finally bring the people what they really want. For every copy purchased, I will donate 10p to the “Bring Naby Keita to Liverpool in January Fund”.*
*Not an actual thing.
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