Saturday 14 December 2019

A VAR way still to go for both Liverpool and Klopp

Jay Rodriguez celebrates as Joel Matip scores an own goal at Anfield. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Jay Rodriguez celebrates as Joel Matip scores an own goal at Anfield. Photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Chris Bascombe

It is two weeks since Liverpool extended an unbeaten run by ending Manchester City's. Now what? Not quite a season in tatters, but the most calamitous, demoralising sequence of Jurgen Klopp's reign.

Just beaten the best team in the Premier League? Don't worry, they will lose to the bottom two next.

Just scored an exquisitely constructed goal? Fear not, they are going to concede a shabby one from a corner shortly.

Liverpool paid £75m for a centre-half to help stop that sort of thing.

Turns out VAR came to their aid more than VVD as they were beaten 3-2 by West Bromwich Albion, even if waiting for officials to reach a decision seemed like a saga longer than the Virgil van Dijk signing.

The easy accusation is that it is the players, the club or Klopp himself, embracing the hype after a win such as that over City - or the 18-game unbeaten streak that victory was perched on - and feeling that the groundwork for a successful era is done.

Klopp insists such smugness did not exist. "Nothing in training gave me a sign that the boys misjudged the success or result against Man City, or the performance," he said.

"We are really serious people and we took it, I think, in the right way, but then we had two games and we have to show that we can do better."

In fairness, most noise around good form comes from outside, but some of Klopp's decisions do foster perceptions of complacency.

What is the point of recalling goalkeeper Simon Mignolet when his Anfield career is ending?

If Loris Karius is to prove he is capable of being No 1, no opportunity to allow him to make a save or two should be spurned.

In defence, four players who have never played as a unit unsurprisingly resembled four players who have never played as a unit.


"It's not allowed to concede goals like we conceded. That's it. But that has influence on the whole performance," said Klopp.

Yet targeting the back four lets others off the hook. Klopp substituted two-thirds of his midfield.

The sight of Emre Can being outclassed by Grzegorz Krychowiak would be surprising if the same thing had not happened in their Premier League meeting in December or in the Europa League final of 2016 against Sevilla.

West Brom defended in the second half, but they penetrated in the first, Jay Rodriguez's two goals showing the form that once earned him England recognition.

"You'd be lying if you were a player and never thought there is a World Cup at the end of the season," said Rodriguez. "For me, that is an amazing dream."

Alan Pardew must watch his West Brom side and wonder why they are in trouble. He wants to build on this momentum by adding a striker in the next 48 hours.

Klopp, by contrast, has declared himself satisfied with his resources. However, he is astute enough to know this result raises questions about his - and it is his - patient transfer policy.

Ambitious clubs usually buy from a position of strength. Whatever the circumstances, Liverpool have developed an unhealthy habit of doing the reverse - selling their best players when they appear to be doing well.

Judgment must be reserved until the end of the season, but to go out of the FA Cup like this hardly garners support for the idea there is no one attainable who can make this squad stronger for the next six months.

If Daniel Sturridge goes in the next two days, Liverpool will end this window significantly weaker than when they entered it.

To use a Klopp phrase, that makes no sense. Watching the fluctuations in this Liverpool side, not much does.

Rodriguez's brace and a Joel Matip own goal gave the visitors victory, with Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah responding for the hosts.

That, however, only tells half the story of an extraordinary game dominated by the use of VAR, the new video technology system currently being trialled in English football's cup competitions.

Referee Craig Pawson referred to VAR for three key first-half decisions - ultimately ruling out one West Brom goal, delaying another and awarding a Liverpool penalty, which was subsequently missed by Firmino.

While all three decisions were proved to be correct, the time it took to reach them - nearing eight minutes in total - and the confusion caused led to much post-match debate about the pros and cons of the new system.

Klopp was not as concerned with VAR's teething problems as his Baggies counterpart Pardew, though did believe that the system should have punished Ahmed Hegazi for a late and dangerous challenge on Firmino.

VAR can be used for incidents involving straight red cards, whether the match referee has shown one or not, as long as the official's error is "clear and obvious".

"Harsh challenges should be picked up," Klopp said. "I'm not 100 per cent sure but I think, if the video assistant referee is not responsible for something like that, we should think over the rules again because the ref needs help in a situation like this.

"It's the start of it (VAR)," he added. "It's normal that it's a little bit rusty but I think it will be OK."

Klopp now turns his attentions to tomorrow night's Premier League match against Huddersfield and he admitted: "We have to do better. We've played two games in a row in which we didn't perform like we can. Look at both games and you have to say that was not good enough." © Daily Telegraph, London.

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