Wednesday 25 April 2018

Klopp's men show more sweat than swagger as Reds run like never before

Tottenham 0-0 Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp embraces Adam Lallana after substituting the midfielder IAN KINGTON / AFP / Getty Images
Jurgen Klopp embraces Adam Lallana after substituting the midfielder IAN KINGTON / AFP / Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

From depressing to gegenpressing: the Jurgen Klopp era began with sweat rather than swagger, but there was enough to recruit more believers from the ranks of doubters.

Seeing footballers run until their legs buckle is peculiarly reassuring, even if the quality was lacking. Adam Lallana collapsing into his manager's embrace after the most active 80 minutes of his Liverpool career was an enduring image of a laborious afternoon at White Hart Lane.

Klopp acknowledged all his exhausted players with handshakes and hugs. A few would have preferred the tinsel towels you throw across those who have just completed a marathon.

"I am not sure how many games you saw like this from Adam Lallana? What do you think?" Klopp said. The only valid response was: "Never." Certainly not in the past 18 months. Klopp added: "I know him from Southampton and he can do 20-30 per cent more."

So much for the physical upgrade, what about the technical deficiencies?

Perspiration will not go far if attacking innovation is lacking. Like his Dortmund side, Klopp knows when to go full throttle, when necessary. He was at his most animated extolling the virtues of the squad he had been bequeathed.

"Coutinho? Do you not think he can play better football? Of course, he can," he said. "Lucas? You don't think he can play balls on the right and left side? Of course he can. Emre Can? Learning between running and passing. He can learn. Milner? The complete football player, the perfect professional, a machine, everything is there. We don't have to sprinkle magical dust on them."

A customary mime emphasised the point. Klopp sprinkled imaginary fairy powder. "And now you can play football," he said, words soaked in irony.

"I should teach them technical aspects? They know how to play. We have to help them to show it. This is not the biggest problem in life. We just have to create a situation where it is possible to do this.

"The most important thing is for the players to be prepared to be a little bit wild. You can run and then you can miss. No problem. Don't worry. Come back again. We can do better and will do better."

The difference between Klopp and his predecessors' statements on taking the Liverpool job cannot be underestimated. No sooner had Gerard Houllier, Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers arrived and they were talking about squad rebuilding and the high-earning deadwood they had to shift.

"I'm not a miracle worker," was their early message.

"I don't need to be," is Klopp's contrary perspective.

He defended his inheritance as if he had hand-picked these players. In some cases - as with the inexperienced striker Divock Origi - he staked his reputation on developing him by admitting he wanted to buy him at Dortmund. How the young Belgian's back must have stiffened on hearing those words.

James Milner said that Klopp's touchline charisma was like "having a 12th man". Not everyone was buying into it. Mauricio Pochettino, the ­Tottenham Hotspur manager, suggested the efforts had more to do with players impressing a new coach.

Not true. Liverpool ran, sprinted and tackled more than in any game this season. It was not the same as the vapid, lethargic performances typifying the start of this season and the end of the last one.

Pochettino had a similar galvanising impact at Southampton, but the Spurs coach admitted that a different profile of player slowed the process at White Hart Lane. Tottenham are improving, but this was a missed opportunity.

Simon Mignolet's three saves - two denying the excellent, but unlucky, Harry Kane - proved the difference, but after dismantling Manchester City, a chance for the hosts to underline Champions League credentials was lost.

Take out the Klopp factor and the Merseyside club were understrength and bereft of firepower, given the late withdrawal of Daniel Sturridge. No wonder Klopp was so satisfied.

"We Believe" was the banner in the away end, emphasising The Kop's conviction they have the right man as their leader. If Klopp stirs similar faith that his squad is Champions League material, then he is more of a magician than he thinks.

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