Thursday 8 December 2016

Kevin Palmer: Recurring flaws cancelling out frequent brilliance for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool

Published 13/01/2016 | 22:32

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino scored an impressive brace at Anfield tonight. PA
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino scored an impressive brace at Anfield tonight. PA

This was another night when the flair and flaws of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool were given a very public airing.

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A thrilling 3-3 draw against a potent Arsenal side whose status as Premier League title favourites was cemented with their electrifying display at Anfield represented decent reward for Klopp’s battling side, but there are a series of recurring flaws in their make-up that need to be resolved before the The Kop congregation can dare to dream once again.

Joe Allen’s late leveller for the home side was merited one of those special nights when Anfield rocks like few other stadiums in world football, with so much of what Klopp has done to revive the team he intermitted from the discredited Brendan Rodgers back in October.

Liverpool were a match for Arsenal for most of the game and their colourful manager deserves credit for the tactical tweaks that helped his side to salvage a point in a game that appeared to be slipping away from them once Olivier Giroud fired his brilliant second goal to put the visitors into a 55th minute lead.

If Tuesday night’s sensational 3-3 stalemate between Newcastle and Manchester United was a contender for game of the season, well we had another to rival that title as Liverpool and Arsenal turned on quite a show at Anfield.

What a spectacle this was. It was breathless stuff from first to last, with Klopp’s celebrations as Allen blasted the final, decisive shot of the game confirming his delight with what he had seen.

Yet Klopp will not need to be told that there are still gaping holes in a Liverpool side that have not backed up their  thumping away wins against Chelsea and Manchester City with convincing consistency in the weeks since.

The glaring deficiencies Rodgers failed to micro-manage during his time as Liverpool manager may have been camouflaged his successor in his first few weeks at the club, but they are still bubbling under the surface of a team that lacks the never-say-die energy Klopp demands from his players.

Injuries to Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho denied Liverpool a chance to take on Arsenal with their full artillery and their recent injury crisis at the back was a concern, yet Klopp should be concluding that there are players in his ranks that lack the A-list quality he will need to take Liverpool back to the big-time.

While Arsenal had the brilliant Olivier Giroud to call upon to give their attacking invention some cutting edge, Klopp named a team that lacked a natural striker, as he again left Christian Benteke on the bench. The big Belgian's long-term future at the club appears to be in doubt after this latest snub.

What of Roberto Firmino, who served up two sumptuous first half goals to confirm that the Brazilian has an X Factor to makes his presence in this side essential so long as Klopp can get consistency out of a player.

However, he has tended to perform only when the opposition are of a lofty enough status to prick his interest,

The brilliance of Firmino’s strikes, especially his second that sailed perfectly over a sprawling Petr Cech, were joyous to behold, but can he be relied upon to dig deep when the ride turn against Liverpool. Is he a ‘wet night in Stoke’ kind of guy? The jury remains out.

Then we get to the sticky problem of keeper Simon Mignolet, who again appeared to be at fault for at least one of Arsenal’s goals in a week when there has been speculation that he will sign a new contract with Liverpool.

The Belgian stopper remains an unconvincing spectator every time a set-piece is thrown into the Liverpool box, with his failure to command his box as Giroud stabbed home his first goal after 25 minutes another blot on his copy book.

It may be harsh to suggest Mignolet was at fault for Aaron Ramsey’s opener, but he was beaten on his near post with a fizzing shot that may not have beaten the keeper with world class credentials. Surely Klopp needs to look at his keeper situation and aim for more.

Adam Lallana remains an unimpressive bystander in the Liverpool midfield and even if Klopp admires his work rate, he needs to deliver more than just hard work if he is to justify his place in the Liverpool side.

That said, there are plenty of positives for Liverpool to take into Sunday’s potentially season-defining game against Manchester United.

Jordan Ibe is a wonderfully promising talent down the flank, with Emre Can and James Milner ticking many of the boxes Klopp wants in his combative midfielders.

From the misery of Rodgers, a light can be seen at the end of Liverpool's dark chamber. This is not a complete rebuilding job for Klopp to undertake, as many of the parts he will need to get Liverpool winning again are in place. His job now is to identify the missing pieces of a jigsaw that he is already starting to construct.

Liverpool will fancy their chances of creating plenty of chances against Louis van Gaal's United side after their shaky defensive display against Newcastle on Tuesday evening and while the areas Louis van Gaal’s men will target this weekend are all too obvious, time is not on Klopp’s side to find a solution in the final 17 games of this wonderfully unpredictable Premier League season.

At least Liverpool under Klopp have a heart and a soul that was lacking in Rodgers final days at the club and they can believe that 2016 will be the year when the long fallen giant of English football can start to clamber back to where they feel they belong.

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