Friday 23 June 2017

Lambert's perfect game-plan exposes Klopp's lack of depth

Liverpool 1 Wolves 2

Wolves’ Andreas Weimann scores his side’s second goal to ensure victory in the cup tie at Anfield
Wolves’ Andreas Weimann scores his side’s second goal to ensure victory in the cup tie at Anfield

Chris Bascombe

History will record Wolves' victory over Liverpool as an FA Cup shock, but the most damning verdict for Jurgen Klopp is that few were surprised.

The sight of a Championship club celebrating victory over a Premier League titan is what replenishes this competition, but from the moment Klopp's team-sheet was printed, Paul Lambert must have sensed the possibilities.

Liverpool's Oviemuno Ejaria competes for the ball with Wolves' Matt Doherty Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
Liverpool's Oviemuno Ejaria competes for the ball with Wolves' Matt Doherty Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

How his side grasped them. They were marvellous; Liverpool abject. Add Lambert's impressive Anfield record - unbeaten as a player and manager with Celtic, Norwich, Aston Villa and now Wolves - and it was hardly a surprise when Richard Stearman headed the visitors ahead within a minute. Liverpool never looked like they would recover.

"I've had good results here with Norwich and Villa in the Premier League, but that was the best," said Lambert. "That surpasses everything because of the gulf in the league between the clubs."

Lambert understandably drew attention to those senior Liverpool players who ended up trying to save the tie - as well as the numerous changes to the Wolves side - but there is no doubt Klopp's initial selections influenced the outcome.

Take away the name, take away the status and ignore the venue. This was a pale imitation of Liverpool.

Liverpool's Joe Gomez in action with Wolves' Nouha Dicko. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Liverpool's Joe Gomez in action with Wolves' Nouha Dicko. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Wolves could have won it by half-time given the number of counter-attacks exposing Liverpool's defence. Another former Villa man, Andreas Weimann, doubled the lead with what proved the winner just before the interval. Although there was an inevitable reaction towards the final whistle, and Divock Origi's goal with four minutes left momentarily restored Anfield hopes, it was the meekness of Liverpool's exit from their second cup competition in four days that should most alarm the club.

Klopp made nine changes from the side beaten by Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final in midweek - his priority is the visit of Chelsea on Tuesday - but it served only to prove what was evident against Plymouth in the last round and in Liverpool's laboured form in the Premier League when key men are absent. The Anfield talent pool is shallow. The majority of these players were not good enough under the last manager and the same applies now.

Klopp's contention he does not have 'blind faith' in his squad will need an urgent review. He may take comfort from the experience for some of his younger players - both Ovie Ejaria and Ben Woodburn should be absolved from any criticism - but having lost one chance of a trophy in midweek, he was expecting too much if he thought these players could avoid calamity.

The manager left himself open to criticism, although those decrying Klopp's attitude to the FA Cup miss the point. If you want full-strength teams, ask the FA and Premier League to stop conspiring against each other with the fixture schedule, thus making it impossible for managers to use rotation as an excuse.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge with Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp before coming on as a substitute. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge with Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp before coming on as a substitute. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

The problem is not that players were given a rest to prepare for Liverpool's most important game of the season in three days' time. The problem - one which many foresaw last August - is the gulf between Klopp's first-choice picks and the deputies.

Clubs such as Liverpool must be equipped to compete in four competitions, presuming they expect to be in Europe. Even Klopp's favoured 11 has ceased to function with the loss of one or two pivotal players, so the number of changes here signalled trouble.

"I am responsible and I feel really responsible because I thought we could do better and we couldn't," said Klopp. "You learn more in these situations. If somebody asks me if this is the lowest point of my LFC time, I can say it is not possible to be lower.

"It is not right to judge people in a very bad moment. If we have to go through the history of Liverpool, better sides lost against worse sides. We know what we have to change, only we have to show it. I cannot explain every single thing. I don't look for excuses. Whatever you write, whatever you say is absolutely OK."

Lambert's game-plan was perfect, although once again - and this is not intended to sound churlish to a very good manager - he did not have to look far for it. Every team coming to Anfield knows what to do. Defend and wait.

Stearman's header after 55 seconds was a bonus, but for the rest of the game Liverpool did what they have been doing for a while: plodded across the pitch exchanging passes where it made no difference, before losing possession and hoping in vain that the opponent would squander their chance on the counter-attack.

Wolves would have extended their lead sooner had the excellent Helder Costa kept his composure having run the length of the pitch to work a one-on-one with Loris Karius. Instead the shot bounced off his toe and harmlessly wide.

No matter. Wolves took advantage again four minutes before half-time, Costa again the engineer as he outran Alberto Moreno before finding Weimann. The Austrian had the formality of walking past Karius and tapping in. "Costa's performance does not surprise me," said Lambert. "He is a big, big talent."

Philippe Coutinho was sent on and finally Liverpool showed some urgency, but despite Origi scrambling in a corner on 86 minutes, Wolves' rookie 'keeper Harry Burgoyne was largely untroubled.

Lambert's impressive record at Anfield continues while Klopp welcomes Chelsea this week seeking to avoid rewriting history.

Not since December 1924 have a Liverpool team lost four home games in a row. A campaign that promised so much already feels like it is heading towards another period of Anfield reconstruction to avoid the same mid-term calamities next season. (Telegraph)

Telegraph.co.uk

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