Saturday 29 April 2017

Ronnie Whelan: Klopp and Liverpool have no excuses in Champions League dogfight

Read Ronnie every week in the Herald

Roberto Firmino, left, and Philippe Coutinho rescued Liverpool
Roberto Firmino, left, and Philippe Coutinho rescued Liverpool

AFTER the first-half of Liverpool’s visit to Stoke on Saturday, I took a quick look at the run-in and I have to say, my heart sank.

Scattered across Jurgen Klopp’s path for the next six weeks are the kind of clubs that good teams look at and say “three points” but have been Liverpool’s weakness all season.

By the time the game was over, the whole picture had shifted into positive territory.

In fact, you’ve got to say that Klopp and his players have been handed a golden opportunity to do what Manchester United and Arsenal are looking increasingly unlikely to achieve.

And if they don’t accept the gift they have been given by the random selections of a computer, I would have to ask some serious questions about the manager.

To be honest, I hadn’t looked too closely at the final fixtures for all the teams but Manchester United and Arsenal’s schedule immediately caught my eye.

The Gunners are trailing seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City and play Crystal Palace tonight in Selhurst Park.

Record

Philippe Coutinho celebrates scoring his side's first goal during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool on Saturday
Philippe Coutinho celebrates scoring his side's first goal during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool on Saturday

If they don’t get anything from that, Arsene Wenger’s proud Champions League qualification record will be on very thin ice indeed. Even if they do, Leicester, Spurs and Manchester United lie in wait in the coming weeks.

Jose Mourinho also has a monumental problem on his hands to make the top four and his talk of needing a big summer transfer window now seems to rely on whether United can win the Europa League.

A solid 3-0 win over Sunderland moved United ahead of Arsenal and pulled the gap to Manchester City in fourth back to four with a game in hand.

But there’s no doubt that Mourinho has drawn the short straw. He must face Chelsea at home and City, Arsenal and Spurs on the road before the dust settles.

Antoine Griezmann’s agent has already highlighted the fact that his man will not be heading for a club which cannot provide the highest level of football and Mourinho must be sweating.

With a fixture list like that to overcome, complicated by Europa League action against Anderlecht on Thursday before they meet Champions-elect Chelsea, it is not fanciful to imagine them struggling to make the top four.

So what all of this amounts to is that Klopp and his team will have some serious explaining to do if they don’t finish at least fourth.

He is struggling to find a balance still and has made some big mistakes in the search. He tried three at the back again against Stoke and it didn’t work.

Jurgen Klopp ponders his options as Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho prepare for action. Photo: Reuters
Jurgen Klopp ponders his options as Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho prepare for action. Photo: Reuters

He has looked at the run-in and sees a lot of teams that will give him trouble and seem to be able to defend so much better than Liverpool.

Confident

I want to see a confident Liverpool team that knows what to do in situations where they are in front against weaker teams and given the right signal from the manager, know what to do to shut a game down.

That must come from the manager. Even in my day, when I was surrounded by lads who knew instinctively how to settle into that kind of defensive pattern, the word had to come from the dugout.

I look at Liverpool and I don’t see that happening on the touchline. Klopp must look hard at himself for reasons why his team cannot put smaller clubs like this away.

Herald Sport

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport