Saturday 21 October 2017

Ronnie Whelan: I just don’t understand why these Liverpool players lose a grip on the basics

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Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool will not let Champions League qualification slip through their fingers
Jurgen Klopp insists Liverpool will not let Champions League qualification slip through their fingers
Ronnie Whelan

Ronnie Whelan

NOW we’re all sweating. I can’t believe Liverpool lost that game against Crystal Palace and opened the door wide open to the Top Four for any team with the confidence to take it.

Whether Liverpool can take their opportunity or not is anyone’s guess because every time Jurgen Klopp seems to achieve some kind of stability, something like this happens.

I just don’t understand why these players lose a grip on the basics when they get a lead at home.

Just a few weeks back, after really solid wins over Stoke and West Brom, Klopp seemed to have worked it out. They were good, professional performances and well-earned points.

He called it adult football before this game but I just call it common sense when you’re leading and do the things you need to do to tie it up.

It doesn’t help that Klopp continues to insists that Liverpool defend set-pieces with a zonal marking system. This  is costing the team goals and is clearly not working in the way he intends it.

In that context, it should be no surprise that Liverpool struggled against a team like Palace, with a manager Sam Allardyce who has built a career on set-pieces.

What is maddening is that the players had the job half done after Philippe Coutinho’s thunderbolt. With a goal in the bank, however,  it seemed like they all relaxed in the nice weather and the urgency that was present in the first part of the game evaporated.

Christian Benteke celebrates scoring the winner with his Palace team-mates at Anfield. Photo: PA
Christian Benteke celebrates scoring the winner with his Palace team-mates at Anfield. Photo: PA

It rubbed salt in the wound that Christian Benteke was the man who punished Liverpool’s brittle defence twice and significant that a few hours earlier, Manchester United gave a lesson in doing exactly what they needed to do to wrap up three points against tricky opposition at Turf Moor after they got their noses in front.

United have precious momentum now and are closing in on two routes to the Champions League, something which I felt was very unlikely just a few weeks ago.

But I have to take my hat off to Jose Mouirinho once again. He is almost physically cajoling this group of players to every result and it is great to watch.

I’m not a great fan of publicly naming and shaming players and as I said before, it’s a sign of poor leadership within the dressing room that he feels he needs to but it’s working.

Luke Shaw was the man of the match against Anderlecht, Marcus Rashford got the goal that won the tie and yesterday, Anthony Martial scored a top-class opener against Burnley and had a good day overall.

He’s the one I thought would resist Mourinho’s megaphone motivation but I was wrong and his response against Burnley was top class.

The injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic means that Mourinho has to trust these lads and because their strength is in pace and stretching defences, United look like a much more dynamic team without him.

Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke scores the winning goal. Photo: REUTERS
Crystal Palace's Christian Benteke scores the winning goal. Photo: REUTERS

I would also point out that Mourinho singled out players for a tongue-lashing who I believe he thinks have a future at Old Trafford.

If you think back, Bastian Schweinstieger and Morgan Schneiderlin were never given the full public treatment simply because Mourinho saw no point.

But he sees Rashford and Martial as the sharp end of United strike force for years to come and both players have responded very well to his sharp criticism.

Mourinho is scrambling, taking each game as a puzzle and hoping against hope that he can keep Eric Bailly fit until the end of the season.

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