Tuesday 25 April 2017

Klopp still dissatisfied but reasons for optimism abound

Liverpool 2-1 West Brom

Liverpool's Sadio Mane (right) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game Photo: Dave Howarth/PA Wire
Liverpool's Sadio Mane (right) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game Photo: Dave Howarth/PA Wire

Chris Bascombe

It takes more than an easy-on-the-eye victory over West Brom to leave Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp fully satisfied.

The German saw his side dominate the Baggies at Anfield, with man-of-the-match Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane giving the hosts a deserved 2-0 lead at half-time.

But they failed to add to their tally in the second period and a late Gareth McAuley goal resulted in an unexpectedly tense finish.

"My problem is I don't know the last time I was satisfied, maybe 2012 after we won the double with [Borussia] Dortmund...for five seconds," he said.

However, he added: "I was pleased with the performance, pleased with the result and nobody was injured. It was a really good game from my side. It's what we have to do. That's how life is - you have to use your skills or it is a waste of time.

"But this kind of football is not a guarantee of something, there's different things in different games and you need to be ready all the time. In other games we will be more under pressure and we need a plan for this. The work never stops."

So, what gives Klopp grounds to be optimistic?

Coutinho is taking his game to another level

Liverpool's talent drain was becoming an annual event. From Xabi Alonso to Javier Mascherano, Fernando Torres, Jamie Carragher, Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard, through to Raheem Sterling, there were more farewell parties than a series of Strictly Come Dancing.

The fear last summer was that Coutinho would be the next to go, the long-held suspicion being that a career path has been mapped out for the Brazilian, and Anfield is a pit-stop until Barcelona need him.

Fortunately, no club is yet prepared to pay £50m (€56m) and the maestro is improving every week.

When Coutinho plays well, there is no more attractive side in the Premier League than Liverpool.

The attacking quartet he forms with Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana has made this the most productive Liverpool side since Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

"Just look at the squad. We've got dynamic players, technical players, clever players and quick players," said Lallana. Coutinho already has four goals this season. Adding consistency has elevated his game and Liverpool's potency.

Rumours of defensive frailty are exaggerated

If Jose Mourinho sarcastically described Liverpool's attack as a "wonder of the world", it is the blunders they commit when defending set-pieces that raises doubts about their long-term title credentials.

Klopp has made a habit of turning his back whenever his side has a penalty. Their supporters feel the same whenever opponents win a corner, and West Brom gave themselves hope of claiming an implausible point when they took advantage of one.

Klopp, however, will not listen to broader criticism of his defenders. "I've heard this a few times and I lose respect when people say this," he said.

"We have no defensive problem. If people say we have some issues with set-pieces, how can I say they are wrong?

"I think 70 or 80 per cent of the goals we have conceded are from set-pieces. But they are all different and we are still working on it and we defended against United brilliantly, and against West Brom it was so difficult."

There is some merit to Klopp's protest, and although the set-piece deficiencies will continue to cause concern, so far they are not stopping Liverpool winning games.

Anfield is living up to its reputation once again

For the last two seasons, Liverpool's home form has been dreadful. Heading into this campaign they had won just 18 of their 38 previous league games in front of the Kop. It was a fortress built of straw.

That started to change towards the end of last season, and buoyed by an extra 8,000 seats, Liverpool are starting to make home advantage count. Of their last 12 home Premier League games they have won seven - three out of four in this campaign.

Most significantly, visiting sides at Anfield this season have scarcely looked capable of entering the hosts' half, let alone winning.

This ensures that new goalkeeper Loris Karius might need to take a decent book on to the pitch with him to keep his mind occupied until there is a corner to defend (preferably a paperback offering helpful advice about catching corners).

For the first time in years, Liverpool bought well

There was some consternation when Liverpool's summer transfer business yielded more in sales than they had spent on recruits.

Perhaps those obsessed with net spend would rather Liverpool had joined the bidding for John Stones for £48m (€54m) rather than make the shrewd free transfer of Joel Matip.

There will also be a mass deleting of tweets from those initially bemused when Mane cost £32m (€36m).

Matip could be Liverpool's greatest free transfer since Gary McAllister.

He has already excelled against Diego Costa and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and for all West Brom's late pressure, the centre-half remained unflustered.

"In Germany there are not too many teams [who play like West Brom], but there were a couple of sides who played like this - hitting balls really high," said Matip.

"It's a different type of game when you play against these teams, but you have to respect the way they play."

Irish Independent

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