Monday 19 February 2018

Klopp gets reality check as Liverpool slip again

Liverpool 1-1 Southampton

Christian Benteke heads Liverpool into the lead
Christian Benteke heads Liverpool into the lead
Saido Mane bundles the ball home for Southampton's equaliser at Anfield
Christian Benteke celebrates scoring for Liverpool
Liverpool's Lucas Leiva tries to stop Ryan Bertrand's advance

Chris Bascombe

It is tempting to imagine Jurgen Klopp settling into the manager's office at Anfield and finding a farewell message from his predecessor. "You need a striker and a defence that can keep regular clean sheets," it might have read. "But we spent all the £300million already. Good luck."

After another draw, this time with Southampton, Klopp has learnt in three games what Liverpool regulars whispered when trying not to puncture the optimism of his unveiling three weeks ago. The dossier telling him that there is a top-four squad hiding somewhere at Anfield must have been severely doctored.

Beneath Klopp's colourful language and quotable witticism is wisdom. "We need to be patient, but the others will not wait for us," he said.

With each post-match analysis, the German coach is issuing a more robust reminder of how the rebuilding work at Anfield is not restricted to the new main stand.


Southampton were symbolic opponents for his first Premier League game on home soil, deservedly taking a point but also showing how much better they have invested the dividends from the proceeds of the sales of players sent to Merseyside.

No one watching Saido Mane and Graziano Pelle will doubt, by default, that the Saints would have spent the Luis Suarez money more wisely than Liverpool. The review of the managerial situation at Anfield may be over for the foreseeable future, but the assessment of why Liverpool are stuck in mid-table must extend beyond the dugout.

John W Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon were all here to see their side pluckily trying in vain to overcome and then resist a classy Saints side. The thank you card for the £60million must make its way from the south coast to Boston on an annual basis.

This was the kind of scruffy, tension-ridden afternoon Anfield has become too accustomed to. There was plenty of endeavour - one suspects that will be compulsory under the new Liverpool manager - but not enough attacking quality. The one moment that stood out yielded a gorgeous goal for Christian Benteke courtesy of James Milner's cross and a picture-perfect header. The Belgian hung in the air on 77 minutes before connecting with a ferocity that ensured the ball bruised the net.

The celebrations were such it felt like it could be a defining early moment in Klopp's reign, even if the overwhelming sense was a question why had it taken so long to play to the target man's strengths.

No sooner had Liverpool retreated to a counter-attacking formation than familiar flaws were exposed, when the hosts were unable to defend a well-delivered set-piece from James Ward-Prowse. Gaston Ramirez's header found Mane at the back post and he nudged in the equaliser. On the balance of play, it was fair.

Mane ruined his afternoon with a late red card for a second caution, but Klopp must have been watching his persistent forays into Liverpool territory with an envious and (perhaps) quizzical look when he considers how Southampton's team was constructed.

Klopp's enthusiasm was undented, attributing his side's inability to hang on to psychological baggage. "We could see and learn tonight - we did not give up physically, but we did not believe anymore that we could turn this result around," he said.

"That's a problem, that we are not calm enough in the moments when we have the chances - the last pass and so on. I don't understand this pressure in these moments, but the guys feel it, you can see this.

"We have to be patient. We have to work. It's not an illness, we can change it. I can enjoy these games and working in this atmosphere."

The measure of how far Southampton are advancing is that Ronald Koeman was only moderately satisfied, believing his players could have offered more in attack.

"It's positive we are not beaten away on the road," the Dutchman said. "Out of five games - including at Chelsea and Liverpool, which are difficult away games - it tells you how we have grown as a team. Everyone is happy but also a bit disappointed we didn't create more goals."

Klopp has set no targets for his debut his season. He is astute not to do so, but the club's pre-season target of returning to the Champions League looks increasingly fanciful.

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