Wednesday 25 April 2018

Aidan O'Hara: Little case for defence in Klopp's blaming of officials

'Whatever message Klopp is delivering to his players in private clearly isn’t working, so, in the absence of changing the players, he needs to change the message.' Photo: REUTERS
'Whatever message Klopp is delivering to his players in private clearly isn’t working, so, in the absence of changing the players, he needs to change the message.' Photo: REUTERS
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

The new definition of insanity is repeating an old saying over and over again with the expectation that somebody out there hasn't heard it before. But then the Premier League returns, Liverpool try to defend set-pieces and it becomes difficult not to revert to the old expression about trying the same thing and expecting different results.

In the schoolyard, there used to be a rule that, rather than going through the rigmarole of taking a corner, a totting up process meant that any team who accumulated three of them was given a penalty, from which they'd usually score.

Had they had a choice on Saturday, Watford would probably have taken the corners, given that they only had three and scored from two of them.

Like most managers, Jurgen Klopp isn't particularly in the mood to answer questions when his team have just lost points to an injury-time goal, but if his public assessment is remotely close to what he says to his players in private, then it's little wonder nothing is changing.

"We were unlucky in the end," Klopp claimed in the TV interview. "The equaliser was offside. It's obvious because the linesman is on the line. He needs to see it."

The opening weekend of the season always sees 'owners', 'officials' and 'individual mistakes' as the excuses rolled out by managers, because, having had the chance to work with the players for six weeks in pre-season, when such glaring mistakes are made the only other person they could blame is themselves.

It's far easier and more self-serving to point the finger at the chairman for not buying a player you wanted; at referees for undermining the bunch of hard-working players you have, or at a particular mistake which, clearly, couldn't have been legislated for in training.

On Friday night, Leicester manager Craig Shakespeare bemoaned Mike Dean's inability to spot the ball hitting Mesut Ozil's hand in the build-up to Arsenal's third goal, even though two of his own players who had been right beside the incident at the time didn't even appeal. At least, however, Shakespeare had the decency to recognise his own team were subsequently culpable.

"Disappointed the referee didn't give it because he had a great view, but then we have to defend the corner given," said Shakespeare with a degree of honesty that might get him a rebuke from colleagues. "You would like him to give that, but once he gives it we have to defend the second phase better."

Klopp later admitted Liverpool have "to defend better," but doesn't seem too sure what to do about it.

"We did wrong and what do I want to do to sort it? Buy a new player in that position?," he asked. "I'm not sure if that really makes sense. One player cannot sort out the set-piece problem."

His assessment of the linesman's position and the difficulty of the decision had more clarity. Spotting whether the foot of the eventual goalscorer was fractionally ahead of the ball as it was struck was, according to Klopp, "obvious".

What was less obvious, however, is why Gini Wijnaldum wasn't able to clear a bog-standard corner which should have been headed away comfortably and had the home fans raging about why the delivery didn't beat the first man.

Instead, Wijnaldum made himself small, the cross became wicked and chaos ensued - with three Liverpool defenders inside the six-yard box and none of them goal-side of Miguel Britos as he bundled the ball into the net.

As part of their post-match analysis on Saturday, a Sky Sports graphic showed almost a third of all goals Liverpool have conceded under Klopp have come from set pieces (27 from 85); Manchester City were marginally better (20 out of 73), while Arsenal's regularly referenced soft centre was comparatively low at 18 out of 76.

In the studio, Jamie Redknapp demanded Liverpool sign Virgil van Dijk as he headed down the Analysis 101 route of demanding leaders, talkers and defenders who want to head the ball.

Next to him, Jamie Carragher was only short of taking out a Subbuteo table and lots of little men in red jerseys to explain to Redknapp that any player would struggle given the enormous structural faultline that exists when Liverpool try to defend.

As Carragher continued to make his point, Redknapp wore the glazed and slightly confused look of Homer Simpson when the man from the Witness Protection Programme was trying to get him to respond to his new name.

Like most ex-players, Carragher still imagines how he would deal with whatever situation he is watching in his role as a pundit and, unlike Klopp, the word "unlucky" rarely features in any reasonable analysis.

Every form of marking is useless if nobody does their job properly, but it's a stunning indictment of coaching for a team to concede so often from corners when it's the only situation that can be set up in training and relentlessly practised so that it stops becoming such a chronic weakness.

In an attacking sense, the level of video analysis is such that opponents can train all week against the exact set-up of their next opponent and target a particular area of weakness.

And if Klopp has decided that Roberto Firmino is the best option to fill the area in front of the goalkeeper, then that area can expect to see Christian Benteke charging into it from corners when Crystal Palace visit Anfield next weekend.

Liverpool's record against weaker teams meant they didn't have as good a season as they should have last time, but what every team in the league has is someone who can chip a corner into the box and players who can run into the space that has been left for them to exploit.

Whatever message Klopp is delivering to his players in private clearly isn't working, so, in the absence of changing the players, he needs to change the message.

Until then, as supporters are driven to the edge of insanity by repeated mistakes, he and the players can always blame the ref.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport