Jurgen Klopp now has worse record than Brendan Rodgers at Anfield
As Manchester United inflicted Liverpool’s latest setback on Sunday - from a set-piece, naturally - Jurgen Klopp could be forgiven for wishing his side could play every game away from Anfield.
The German will wish no such thing, of course. Ever since his first press conference on Merseyside the charismatic Klopp has spoken of embracing the Anfield fervour, of harnessing the famous atmosphere just as he did at the Westfalenstadion.
Yet while Klopp’s much-vaunted gegenpressing style yielded some thrilling early wins in league and cup, Liverpool have stalled since the autumn. The German’s self-confidence seems strangely at odds with his timid players who have been bullied off the pitch by Watford, Newcastle United and West Ham United.
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At Anfield, Liverpool’s stylish approach breaks down on the edge of the area with grim predictability. Indeed, the problem seems worse at home than away. After defeat to United Klopp has a worse record from his first seven games at Anfield (nine points) than his predecessor Brendan Rodgers did from his final seven (14).
The mitigating factors hardly need restating – this is not Klopp’s team, these are not his players and he has been incredibly unlucky with injuries to key players. He walked in halfway through a season and inherited a squad without an identity. The resulting inconsistency is precisely what many expected.
Yet such inconsistency is already prompting questions. Klopp’s faith in Simon Mignolet, a goalkeeper who practically faints at the sight of a cross, is baffling. Mignolet’s latest catastrophe came when he conceded from a corner again in the 3-3 draw with Arsenal. There have been many others. Any ball into the box brings panic to the Belgian’s eyes.
A defence that leaks goals surely will not improve unless the man behind them is a safe pair of hands. Yet Klopp has stood firm and is set to offer Mignolet a new contract. If a title-challenging team is built from the back, this is an alarming first step.
Indeed, Liverpool’s defensive vulnerability in general is proving a headache for Klopp.
Since a 0-0 draw with Tottenham in Klopp’s first game Liverpool have kept only five clean sheets in 21 matches, with far too many goals coming from crosses and set-pieces and central defenders who are beaten regularly on the ground and in the air.
They conceded another goal – albeit indirectly – from a corner against United. Winning a set-piece against Klopp’s Liverpool is almost akin to winning a penalty.
Liverpool were defensively poor long before Klopp’s arrival – arguably, not since the days of Rafael Benitez have they had a defence to reply upon – but under Klopp the problem appears to be getting worse, not better, with the defence often exposed by Liverpool’s pressing game. They simply must tighten up.
Klopp also seems to have settled on Roberto Firmino operating as a ‘false nine’ in attack as opposed to the more physical threat of Christian Benteke, whose stay at Anfield increasingly looks like being brief. Yet if anyone encapsulates Liverpool’s Jekyll and Hyde identity it is the Brazilian: thrilling one match, invisible the next, and a real test for Klopp’s motivational powers.
Klopp has at least settled on a formation – which is more than can be said for his predecessor – playing 4-3-3 system which will yield results with the right players next season and beyond.
It would be unfair to criticise Klopp to any great extent after three months in charge, yet there must be genuine signs of progress by the end of the season to prevent more searching questions and certainly these flaws must be eradicated by next season if another mid-table campaign is to be avoided.
A Capital One Cup win at Wembley would be a bonus. An ability to defend a corner would be a start.
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Independent News Service