Sunday 25 August 2019

James Lawton: Optimism of Klopp has illuminated Real misery surrounding Benitez

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Daniel Sturridge has declared himself fit for tomorrow's game against his former club but Jurgen Klopp is still to decide if he is ready to return

James Lawton

If the big trophies were the consequence of mere style, a certain approach to life and an understanding that football is only part of it, there would be still more reason to believe that Jurgen Klopp is heading for a fertile spring.

At least that was pretty easy to believe when Liverpool's new manager re-surfaced yesterday.

You might have thought that, if the recent defeat by Crystal Palace indeed happened, it was in another age and on another planet.

"Two weeks ago is long enough after the Palace game," he said.

Long enough for what, precisely? Most of all, he suggested, to go back to the basics of what you intend to do.

And, in his case, it is, self-evidently, not only to re-make a football team but impose new values of confidence and aggression.

The more he settles in at Anfield, the more you are reminded of the presence which so animated his previous club, Borussia Dortmund.

Certainly, he could hardly have appeared less intimidated by tomorrow evening's date at the home of Premier League leaders, Manchester City.

Yes, a good a team, with formidable players, he agreed, but then all the more reason to relish the collision.

Klopp claims that he and his players are learning about each other and how better to accelerate the process than to properly engage the best of opposition.

Emre Can celebrates scoring the first goal for Liverpool with Adam Lallana Reuters / Phil Noble

And, on the way, perhaps to help provide a certain perspective to Emre Can, a potentially major force, and certainly a talented one, who as a member of the German squad was caught up in the horrors of the terrorist attacks on Paris.

The manager took the player aside when he arrived back from some of the most dislocating moments of his life.

"Yes," said Klopp. "I've spoken to Emre Can about Paris. It was a terribly difficult situation but it's life for all of us."

Klopp is a football man who cries when faced with both the joys and the pains of life and it's plain that such feeling informs a dialogue with players he believes he has to lead and encourage and, maybe also, liberate from some of their worst fears.

In football it is mostly a matter of conquering a terror of failure - developing an attitude of mind which, he believes as an article of faith, will surely empower players of sufficient talent.

Such an approach is somewhat in contrast to that of his Champions League-winning predecessor Rafa Benitez, who bizarrely but perhaps not entirely surprisingly given the nature of Real Madrid, has come under immediate pressure after losing just one La Liga game - to Sevilla.

Former Liverpool FC manager Rafa Benitez

The fact is that Benitez, for all his previous background of involvement in the lower tiers of the club's system as a young coach, looked an uncomfortable fit at the Bernabeu when he replaced the amiable, and worldly, Carlo Ancelotti.

Ancelotti negotiated the ego-ridden Real dressing room to the point of winning his third Champions League.

It was a performance of some subtlety and at its heart was the nursing of Cristiano Ronaldo's belief that he was so vital to all that happened around him.

Benitez has never displayed the same willingness to compromise his belief that, as the coach of the team, it is he who knows best in even the smallest details.

Former Manchester City and England goalkeeper Joe Corrigan, a coach at Anfield for 10 years, recently gave a graphic, if unflattering picture of the Benitez approach.

"To be fair to Benitez, he did win the Champions League title in Istanbul, though it was largely with Gerard Houllier's team. In the end, he spent more money than Houllier while chasing the Premier League title and I must say I wasn't a great fan of his style.

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"One day I watched him running a training session at Melwood and it really did look like a schoolteacher at work.

"He was moving players by inches if he thought they were out of position. If someone was a foot out by his calculation, the game had to be stopped and that player had to move."

Benitez may, of course, redeem himself with victory in tomorrow night's El Clasico but, if the storm continues to gather, we will not have to look too deeply for the heart of it.

It surely lies in Ronaldo's reported comment to the club president that "we will win nothing with this coach".

Certainly it appears that Benitez is struggling to win the battle for the hearts and the minds of a dressing room notorious for an inflated idea of its own splendour.

Both City manager Manuel Pellegrini and the embattled Jose Mourinho found the task heavy and ultimately futile going.

Klopp, of course, is unburdened by his own team's sense of spectacular achievement. Even so, he appears to be effectively mending some of the hurts and disappointments of a turbulent past.

PIC STURR (Read-Only).jpg
Daniel Sturridge is injured yet again

Daniel Sturridge has declared himself fit for tomorrow's game against his former club but Klopp (pictured) is still to decide if he is ready to return.

Klopp said: "When you see Daniel in training and he does something you say, 'ooooh, nice,' but he's been out four and a half weeks.

"He is as fit as he can be after such a long break. But he is not a 100 per cent fit. His quality is outstanding but everybody needs training. As a striker, sometimes five minutes are enough."

At City and Chelsea Sturridge's high talent never seemed to be accompanied by a clear idea of where he was going.

Now, though, he declares, "I'm fit and ready to go and it's going to be a great time for me. It's been great under the new manager.

"It's an exciting time to be at the club and I'm enjoying working with him and in his style of football. It's important for us to understand what he wants us to do."

The injury-prone England forward missed the start of the season after returning from hip surgery and has made just three appearances so far. A knee injury in training followed by a build-up of fluid in the joint means he has yet to play for his new manager.

City striker Sergio Aguero also hopes to be back for tomorrow evening's game at the Etihad after six weeks out with a hamstring injury. The Argentine suffered the injury against Ecuador and has not played for City since he scored five in 20 minutes against Newcastle United at the beginning of last month.

Aguero, who returned to full training this week, said: "I hope I can play in this game. I'm doing everything in my power to get to the match in top condition."

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