Image from the Daily Star
Monday morning’s papers may be dominated by Manchester City’s opening of an eleven-point gap at the top of the Premier League table with a vital win over Manchester United, but the Merseyside Derby which preceded it provided many more talking points. The game had everything; goals for either side, controversial penalty decisions, contentious challenges and furious managers – even the weather and the heavy snow added to the occasion. A 1-1 draw between Liverpool and Everton meant that the Reds failed take advantage of slip-ups by United, Chelsea and Arsenal around them, and are well and truly stuck in a top-four battle. Despite qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages, manager Jurgen Klopp’s quest for major honours looks very bleak at present. Here are the reasons why the German is holding back not only the Liverpool fans, but also himself, with regards to the club’s desire to win a big trophy.
Perhaps one of the biggest shocks of the afternoon was Klopp’s decision to leave out Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino from the very beginning, and play Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke in their places. This was another example of the German manager’s continuous rotational policy that has been successful to a certain extent for Liverpool this season, as Klopp has, so far, made 59 changes to his Premier League side, twenty more than any other top-flight side. However, why on earth would anyone change an attack force, let alone a team, that has scored twelve goals in their last two games, for one of your biggest games of the season? Klopp could argue that he was giving his players a rest, ahead of a busy Christmas period, but what game over the next week is he resting his key players for? West Brom at home [Liverpool’s next match on Wednesday night]? Furthermore, the Reds’ squad depth is not strong enough to allow for multiple changes on a weekly basis. Solanke is still too raw, Daniel Sturridge is a liability when it comes to availability, while Oxlade-Chamberlain has proven over the last twelve months that he is not suited to a central midfield role. It was a baffling decision to rest those two players, and, as a result of this misjudgement, the Reds’ attack was not as potent on Sunday as it has been in recent weeks.
While weekly rotation does keep Klopp’s players fresh and available on a game-by-game basis, too many changes leads to a lack of continuity and form. If you look at how Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016, or how Chelsea and Man City have operated in recent seasons, all these teams have either won the division (or, in City’s case, about to win the league) by taking each game as it comes, without unnecessarily thinking about their Premier League schedule on a longer-term basis. Even during the game, Klopp was still thinking about his side’s next few games, proven by the stunning decision to take Mohammed Salah, the league’s top scorer, off with the score still at 1-0 with twenty-five minutes remaining. Once Everton equalised, Liverpool couldn’t turn to their main source of goals so far this season, and struggled to even muster a shot towards the Everton goal. With regards to the result, Klopp has nobody but himself to blame for failing to pick up three points.
Defending Dejan despite Dire Defending
While the German’s passionate touchline antics have brought a breath of fresh air into Europe’s most exciting division, this admiration towards Klopp has clouded over the fact that he is a stubborn manager, that is unwilling to change his philosophy and tactics. During his tenure at Dortmund, the rest of the Bundesliga gave Klopp’s title winners the respect they deserved and played very defensively as a result, meaning that Der BVB rarely had to focus on their own defensive structure. In the Premier League, however, you cannot simply rely on outscoring your opponent, due to the quality of the league as a whole, so Klopp’s negligence towards his defence is really holding his side back in the Premier League. The only defensive signing by the German which has, so far, made a difference at Anfield is Joel Matip, but an injury plagued season means that the German has had to rely on the dodgy Dejan Lovren and the Premier League raw Ragnar Klavan at the heart of his back line. Furthermore, the decision to let Mamadou Sakho, one of the best defenders he’s had as Liverpool manager, leave the club looks like a terrible mistake, considering the good performances that the Frenchman has made for Crystal Palace so far this season. Therefore, a failure to improve the defence that let Brendan Rodgers down during his spell in charge of the Reds has proved costly for Klopp, and despite flashing the chequebook for attacking talents such as Sadio Mané, Mo Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it is in defence where the club need to invest in, and not the top end of the pitch.
Lovren was, once again, at fault during the derby game on Sunday, giving away a penalty for a needless foul on Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Yes, the challenge does look minimal, and, on the balance of play, is a soft decision. But the fact that the defender places a hand on Calvert-Lewin’s back, for no reason whatsoever, gives the referee a decision to make, which proves that it was a silly challenge from the Croatian, especially considering the fact that the Everton striker was moving away from the Liverpool goal. Sometimes there are cases where managers can improve players over the course of a couple of seasons, but it has become apparent that Lovren is just not good enough for a top team like Liverpool.
Image from the Daily Express
Both these reasons suggest that there is a relaxed atmosphere at Liverpool with regards to their season’s expectations, and this derives from the manager’s nonchalant decisions in big matches, and his neglect of the defence which has cost his side so dearly. Klopp can easily say that all is well so far this season, with his side sitting fourth in an already-decided title race, and progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League. But a failure to address key issues within the club could lead to his side stalling over the next few seasons. And with the German penned to the club for four more years, how long will it be until the Liverpool fans start to turn on their own popular figure?