Thursday 20 July 2017

Pool boss claims aerial assault by United would show his plan is working

Liverpool v Manchester United, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 8.0

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “It’s not about having to have the best players around anyway, it’s about doing the best with what you have.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: “It’s not about having to have the best players around anyway, it’s about doing the best with what you have." Picture: Getty Images for Premier League

Paul Wilson

We have already started to stretch our players," Jurgen Klopp says, bringing laughter from his press room audience. The Liverpool manager is not responding to yet another question about the intensity of his training regimes, but considering how his side might cope with Manchester United's height advantage in tomorrow's north-west derby.

"Seriously, though, I would imagine that if United start putting their tall players in the box they will be fighting for the result, and for that to happen it must mean that something we did must have worked pretty well.

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Click here to view full-size graphic

"We know about United's physical strength and we cannot do anything to change it, all we can do is try to avoid situations where they can use it.

"But we have strengths of our own and first we must concentrate on what we do well."

What Liverpool do well under Klopp is score goals. In the year since the German arrived in England, no Premier League team has scored more, and Liverpool went into the international break as joint top scorers this season, with league leaders Manchester City.

There may still be some defensive uncertainties, mostly surrounding the goalkeeping position and cover for the back-line, but going forward, Liverpool have some silky options.

Sadio Mane is already being described as one of the shrewdest signings of summer, even at a cost of £34 million, and before he picked up an injury, Adam Lallana was arguably the most improved player in the country.

Mane has three goals in six games for Liverpool and, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic has four in seven for United, the Swede was bought and is played as an out-and-out striker, whereas the former Southampton player operates from midfield.

Ibrahimovic has the height to trouble Liverpool in the air, and one imagines set-piece drills will be featuring heavily in Melwood training over the weekend, though Mane is just one of several home players with the pace and alertness to cause problems for United's defence.

A little hoarily, the former captain turned Sky pundit Phil Thompson is fond of likening the speed and surprise of Liverpool's attacking raids to a Red Arrows flying display.

Thompson has never been noted for impartiality, and he probably pinched the aerial motif from Claudio Ranieri's RAF imagery at Leicester anyway, but the point is that no-one is making any such extravagant claims for the speed and efficiency of United as an attacking unit.

Even if Wayne Rooney is left out to accommodate Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial, Ibrahimovic could not be described as a member of the jet set.

Klopp does not yet know whether Lallana will be fit for the United game, he has another doubt over Georginio Wijnaldum and has yet to discover whether Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino suffered any ill-effects on international duty with Brazil, but he is typically relaxed about the situation.

"It is the same for all teams when the internationals come along, so I cannot complain," he says. "At least in this instance we have a day extra to prepare, so at the weekend I will be able to see who is fit and begin to think of a team and a plan."

It is not quite the same for everyone, though. Klopp does not have to work out whether Rooney should feature in his attack, as Jose Mourinho does, and neither does he have to worry about what frame of mind his captain may be in after a week in which he lost his place in the England starting line-up.

The whole Rooney issue has been bothering United all season, ever since Mourinho, perhaps unwisely, insisted he would be using the player only as a striker, and as a result tomorrow's visitors to Anfield are still unsure about their best attacking line-up.

Klopp, in contrast, has acted with conviction, moving Christian Benteke out, keeping faith with Divock Origi, and bringing in Mane and Wijnaldum to act as a support cast for Daniel Sturridge.

Some Liverpool supporters expressed concern that a new striker was not brought in over the summer, though if Klopp had wanted a like-for-like replacement for Benteke, he would not have sold the Belgian to Crystal Palace in the first place.

It could be argued that Liverpool are placing too much reliance on Sturridge staying fit, a risky proposition given his record, though at this stage the statistics suggest Liverpool's multi-point attacking approach is working and the money raised from the sale of Benteke and Jordon Ibe has been well invested.

"I have the attacking options I want," Klopp says. "It's not about having to have the best players around anyway, it's about doing the best with what you have.

"Of course, I am pleased to have scored the most goals, even if I still remember most of the chances we missed. I am quite happy with the offensive part of our game, but even if we have scored a lot of goals, we still have to show we can score goals in the future."

Considering the differences between the sides ahead of tomorrow's clash, Klopp insists: "We don't feel we are in a good way and they are not, we only think about their quality, and they have big quality. If you have one second where you don't concentrate, you can lose the game in that second.

"That's just how it is. There's not a big difference between the teams."

There is quite a big difference in the two managers, though. They met only once last season, at Stamford Bridge when the Liverpool manager was still new to England, and with some focus on his approach from the sidelines, Klopp says: "I'm not as intense as I used to be when I was younger.

"Sometimes it still happens, but actually now at Anfield with the new stand there is much more space for all of us."

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