Wednesday 21 November 2018

Comment: Jurgen Klopp shouldn't be immune from criticism - some of Liverpool's obvious problems came back to bite them

Real Madrid 3 Liverpool 1

A crestfallen Jurgen Klopp can’t bear to look as he walks past the trophy in May. Photo: Getty Images
A crestfallen Jurgen Klopp can’t bear to look as he walks past the trophy in May. Photo: Getty Images

Miguel Delaney

Jurgen Klopp was obviously disappointed, but trying to put a brave face on, before even his enthusiasm gave way to some irritation.

For his part, after losing the biggest game in club football for the second time in his career, the Liverpool boss had seemingly 'earned' the right to one of the most bizarre post-Champions League final press conferences there can have been.

The goalkeeper in tears after the final whistle. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
The goalkeeper in tears after the final whistle. Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Many journalists from international media seemed to prefer asking questions that were really just compliments wrapped in questions, with Klopp himself making fun of this.

"Thank you for the first part of your speech," he said to one journalist and almost rolled his eyes at one question about how he'd lost but again won admiration for his football.

At the end of it, the Uefa press officer began stating "one more compliment, congratulations to Liverp…" before Klopp just cut him off. "I don't need any more compliments."

Much of this was obviously down to a competitor's basic disappointment at losing, and a distaste for being patronised.

(FromL) Real Madrid's Brazilian midfielder Casemiro, Real Madrid's Spanish defender Sergio Ramos and Liverpool's Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino jump for the ball. Photo: Getty Images
(FromL) Real Madrid's Brazilian midfielder Casemiro, Real Madrid's Spanish defender Sergio Ramos and Liverpool's Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino jump for the ball. Photo: Getty Images

Klopp sees himself as more than that, and rightfully so, but there's more to it.

Despite what some rival managers might think, the German is no bullshitter, especially not in that regard. He doesn't want to be praised for failure, and probably knows he didn't deserve compliments for this specific game.

There's even the possibility he was frustrated with himself, and the very justifiable argument he arguably deserves criticism.

While that criticism should be greatly caveated by the idea he mostly deserves overwhelming praise for this whole season, and that most of the run is down to the managerial alchemy that so makes him absolutely the right boss for Liverpool, much of this match is also on him.

Real Madrid's Spanish midfielder Isco (L) vies with Liverpool's Scottish defender Andrew Robertson. Photo: Getty Images
Real Madrid's Spanish midfielder Isco (L) vies with Liverpool's Scottish defender Andrew Robertson. Photo: Getty Images

That isn't down to the somewhat overplayed underperformance of six defeats in seven finals either.

Many of those finals were when Klopp had the inferior or financially weaker side, as was the case here.

There's also the inescapable fact that, while Liverpool lost their best player and greatly suffered the consequences, Madrid wouldn't have suffered from that at all.

Had Cristiano Ronaldo got injured, they could have just brought on the player who succeeded him as the most expensive in the world… something they did anyway to just go and win the game.

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (L) vies with Liverpool's Liverpool's English midfielder Jordan Henderson. Photo: Getty Images
Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo (L) vies with Liverpool's Liverpool's English midfielder Jordan Henderson. Photo: Getty Images

That's a huge gap in resources, and Klopp has generally done superbly to get Liverpool to that level and this stage, but not on the stage on this occasion.

This was one fixture where they didn't quite help themselves, even if the injury to Salah made it such an extreme situation.

It's just that, for a manager whose great ability is getting teams to ravenously perform so far above themselves because they so fully believe in themselves, the injury seemed to really get to them. The entire tone of the match changed.

It is revealed in those widely circulated stats about touches in the attacking third before and after Salah went off, but could also be blatantly seen in the performances.

That is of course eminently forgivable in the circumstances, but it just stands out because Klopp's motivational abilities make him stand out.

What really made Liverpool's issues task harder on the night were some longer-standing issues.

Even allowing for the gap in resources, and the necessity for Klopp to make compromises and who he buys and where because of that, a lingering feeling persists that he could have created a better bolstered squad after three years in the job. They should have a touch more options.

Questions could also be raised about how he tactically responded to the Salah injury, but that was complicated by the personnel available, and he did at least try something different with Adam Lallana.

It didn't quite work, but that happens, especially in circumstances like this.

The biggest criticism, though, should revolve around the game's biggest talking point beyond Gareth Bale: Loris Karius.

Klopp knew of the issues, and had wanted to buy an upgrade anyway, but let the issues continue. It ended up costing him far more than a January signing might have.

Yet, Liverpool lost the club game's biggest fixture to the biggest club on the planet only after a significant injury, a wonder goal from one of the most expensive players in the world who came on as a substitute, and unfortunately one of the worst goalkeeping performances ever seen.

Any criticisms within that are relative, but that's not to say they shouldn't be made.

Acknowledging them is the only way improvements are made and Klopp is well aware of that.

Klopp knows what needs to be done.That's why he knows not to be too downbeat, or irritated.

By 6am the morning after the final, he was captured singing with Liverpool fans.

To take words from another song that has soundtracked their run, they're not going to stop. Not yet.

After Jurgen Klopp's charismatic call for one more game of "big-balls football" came the balls-up.

Liverpool lost this extraordinary Champions League final not because they were out-played by a Real Madrid side who were making history with a third successive triumph but for reasons to regret; for reasons that will be a maelstrom of frustration on a backdrop of cold, hard reality after a remarkable and joyous campaign.

Having arrived in Kiev showing the rest of Europe how far they had come, Liverpool left having been exposed as to how far they still need to go.

All three goals conceded were ridiculous, of course. One because it was quite probably the best scored on such an occasion - but it was sandwiched between two that seemed to define the game as much as Mohamed Salah's gut-wrenching injury.

There were 20 passes in the move which ended in Gareth Bale's brilliant over-head kick but this final will forever, also, be unfortunately associated with goalkeeper Loris Karius and a worrying collective shock that Liverpool suffered at the loss of Salah. It will be associated with rivers of tears.

But consider for a minute what it must have been like for the players to see Karius blunder in this way? And then also be punished by Bale with his unstoppable goal.

Add to that the sickening injury to Salah, their talisman, through an act of professional cynicism from Sergio Ramos and it was devastating.

Klopp had pondered on the hand of fate in such fixtures and post-match he spoke of Liverpool suffering from "minus luck", such was the collection of set-backs.

Klopp has not watched a re-run of the 2013 Champions League final when his then Borussia Dortmund lost to Bayern Munich.

This felt even more painful, but the Liverpool manager needs to watch it again.

It would be easy to catalogue the defeat as freakish - freakish both from Karius's behaviour and Bale's brilliance and also coming up against Real who can leave an £85m record signing on the bench and then bring him on to deliver a 13th European Cup and a fourth in five seasons.

First and foremost, Liverpool are emphatically moving in the right direction under Klopp who has over-achieved.

But he has also now lost six successive finals and has to consider what that might say about his management and his approach.

He went into every one an underdog, he reached every one in impressive circumstances but he has not won any.

So Klopp must examine himself - and will - and also the psychology of his players and their mental resilience.

The loss of Salah after Ramos executed the football equivalent of a rugby spear-tackle hurt them more than it should.

Without the Egyptian, Liverpool, who had been dominant in the early stages playing that 'big-balls football', lost their momentum.

They retreated in an alarming manner. Real sensed it and ruthlessly responded.

It did not help that Klopp had so little to hit back with from the bench with a roster of substitutes that included three defenders, two of which are not good enough, a midfielder who is leaving having run down his contract in Emre Can, a young striker in Dominic Solanke and the man turned to as the manager was forced to replace Salah. Adam Lallana was patently unfit.

It meant Liverpool's lack of depth was cruelly exposed and, although Naby Keita is arriving - with Can leaving - and Nabil Fekir is being pursued to add creativity, there needs to be more and Klopp needs to be ruthless to not only demand it but execute it.

It was Lallana who faltered as Isco was given the chance to open the scoring, only for him to lift his shot against the crossbar.

Then Karius reacted quickly to collect a through ball only to bowl his throw-out against Karim Benzema's outstretched leg with it rebounding and trickling over the goal-line.

The immediate response was impressive as Dejan Lovren headed goal-wards from a corner for Sadio Mane, who later hit the base of the post with a low shot, to react quickly and volley home from close-range.

Shattered

That volley was nothing to what Bale did just 123 seconds after replacing Isco and the Welshman will have sensed Karius' shattered state of mind as he sent in a speculative 30-yard drive that was spilled into the net to end any resistance.

After all the talk of Liverpool's defence that unit of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Andrew Robertson and Lovren was their strength even if it was Mane who was the stand-out performer.

It was a desperate, desperate shame. As Klopp declared: Liverpool are back. But the manner of this defeat is a test.

After 2007, 2016 and now 2018 the wait for another European trophy goes on. Liverpool appear closer but just how close? Time will tell. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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