Thursday 18 January 2018

Klopp's Anfield bow fails to live up to billing

Liverpool 1 Rubin Kazan 1

Emre Can slides in to level the score for Liverpool
Emre Can slides in to level the score for Liverpool

Jason Burt

There was a communion of Klopp and the Kop but this was not quite the spiritual gathering that Liverpool had hoped for.

There is, as Jurgen Klopp has warned, work to be done. A lot of work. The new manager had cautioned against the Messianic impulse by stating he could not walk on water. But he had hoped to surf the wave of Mersey optimism.

Against 10 men for much of this Europa League tie it was not the full-throttle, emotional football that the fans wanted to lap up and the new man wanted to deliver. It ended in frustration, a third draw in this group for Liverpool leaving Klopp in search of a first victory.

Suited, booted Klopp commanded the centre-circle before kick-off. He surveyed his own team. He surveyed the opposition. It gave the immediate impression of ownership. Of belonging, of charisma. And of focus.

A focus that was also there in his team selection which, given its strength, reflected that this was a competition he would be taking seriously. He will also have known that ending a first home game in triumph was important given the desire his arrival has unleashed.

There were more banners in the crowd, some with "I'm a Believer" emblazoned on them, and certainly more scarves. They were directed in hope but also in expectation. And the Kop was in great voice as You'll Never Walk Alone rang out.

But there was catch. Rubin may have qualified for this competition by default, after finishing fifth in the Russian league and being installed after Dynamo Moscow were ruled out for breaching Financial Fair Play, but there was a statistic that will have caused a pang of concern. They have lost just two of their last 21 games.

It showed. Liverpool did not lack intent. But neither did Rubin.

Emre Can skimmed the side-netting with a low shot but then the midfielder was caught out as he hurtled into a challenge and was rounded by Oleg Kuzmin, who then clipped a cross that was chested down by Marko Devic.

The striker held off Nathaniel Clyne and deftly flicked the ball with the outside of his foot to beat Simon Mignolet. Rubin were ahead. Anfield was stunned; near silent.

Liverpool summoned a response. A chance fell to Divock Origi, with Clyne's low ball cannoning off his shins, before Philippe Coutinho seized on a loose pass, ran at the defence but could only drag his shot back across goal and wide.

Not that Rubin sat back. Soon after, the Liverpool defence was again at fault, allowing Blagoy Georgiev time to bring the ball down and loft a shot that Mignolet superbly clawed away.

By now that euphoria had subsided. Instead there was an edge, but it was the wrong kind of edge. Until, wildly, it switched. Kuzmin, already cautioned, received a second booking and a red card for blocking off Can.

Down to 10-men Rubin immediately conceded. From the ensuing free-kick, Origi met Coutinho's delivery, heading back across goal for Can to lunge and force the ball over the line. Klopp's celebration was almost primal as he spun, fist-pumped and roared at the supporters behind him. The dynamic was back with him. And, he hoped, with his team.

They had pressed and harried but with little real sense of control; of possession and rhythm and it was no surprise to see Joe Allen withdrawn at half-time, with Lucas Leiva introduced. The change was cheered. Hopefully more for the appearance of Lucas, although, in truth, it probably reflected how much Allen had struggled.

Liverpool were lacking in incision. There was no question over work-rate and intent in a 4-3-3 formation, with Klopp constantly demanding his team push forward.

Three times shots from distance were charged down, Coutinho went close with two others efforts, as Liverpool became over-eager before Clyne did wonderfully well to break inside the area, running onto Lallana's flick but hesitated, unsure whether to cross or shoot, and the ball was bundled away for a corner.


Rubin were pressed back; entrenched. The pressure mounted further with the introduction of Christian Benteke, whose chance quickly came with Clyne crossing to leave the striker with time and space.

He elected to volley - it appeared prime for a header - and sent the ball high over the bar.

If he was wasteful then he was soon unfortunate as the impressive Adam Lallana teed him up for Benteke to stroke the ball back across goal only for it to strike the inside of the post and bounce out.

Goalkeeper Sergei Ryzhikov turned away Lallana's powerful drive, Benteke steered another effort over.

By now it was simply frantic, and in a rare foray, Rubin won a corner. Substitute Igor Portnyagin met it but headed wide. It ended in a draw. With that moment it could have been worse. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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