Sunday 18 March 2018

Feel-good factor engulfs Klopp but Liverpool still have so much to prove

Boss pointing to positives against the bigger sides, but his team now need to show proper consistency

Jurgen Klopp with Dejan Lovren
Jurgen Klopp with Dejan Lovren

Miguel Delaney

As he stood in a corner of Stamford Bridge, it seemed that Jurgen Klopp couldn't stop smiling, until he was asked about something that is actually a huge positive for his side. It was put to the Liverpool manager that his side had faced the three most difficult trips to London in their first five games of the season, and come away with seven points from those games, to make it 10 in total. They had beaten Arsenal 4-3, drawn 1-1 at Tottenham Hotspur and now defeated Chelsea 2-1 in what was perhaps their most complete performance of the season. It was then, however, that Klopp turned serious - but while realising he couldn't be too churlish.

"I still could say I am not happy with the one [point] at Tottenham, but how would it sound? It's like this. We have to play the football games we can. . . and it's deserved, all these points. We played spectacular football against Arsenal, were really well organised against Tottenham and [at Stamford Bridge] was a kind of mixture of those two games. It was good. We feel in a good way - but we have to prove it."

That, of course, is the remarkable thing about a result as otherwise impressive as this. Liverpool are still a team with so much to prove. Getting big wins against big teams, after all, is nothing new. They repeatedly did it last season, only to then drop points when they least expected it. Given that a trip to Burnley represents their only truly bad result this season, perhaps it is those more forgiving matches where they should be most expected to drop points.

That is what Liverpool have to prove, that they can develop that proper consistency, but there was a hint of why it has been an issue in one of Klopp's other responses. The German was asked whether the intensity they showed against Chelsea is sustainable.

"It's not about intensity," he responded. "It's about finding a solution for the opponent."

That's a telling comment, especially when one explanation often put forward for their inconsistency is that Klopp's approach works better against better teams. Because those sides look to attack them, there are more gaps for his fast-running game to exploit. That doesn't tend to happen when Liverpool take on weaker sides.

At the same time, this display felt a little different. It wasn't about reacting to Chelsea. It was about proactively overwhelming them in the first 40 minutes, in a way that would win any game if properly applied. The collective spirit Klopp creates could help that, as could those famous hugs. He really was beaming with pride when talking about that, as well as how much he loves to properly embrace his players after they have got a massive result. Those hugs - ranging from bear-hugs to chest-bumps - felt as much a part of the win as Liverpool's ferocious running, and have become as identifiable with Klopp as gegenpressing and his glasses.

"I enjoy it more. I'm really demanding to be honest, and I really ask a lot of them, so when you can really see how they fight, with the last drop of fuel in their machine, it's like pffff, and you go there and hugging them is the most easy thing to do. That's what makes it for them more enjoyable. We had a few wonderful performances tonight individually and that all led together to a really nice performance of the team. So for the moment it's good, how I said we have to prove.

"We are together, and we want to go this way together, and the more we believe in our way, the more likely it is we can go through whatever it will lead us to. I have no idea, but I think it makes football much more enjoyable when you really feel this togetherness because we are often enough alone. I love this really."

Antonio Conte was not loving it, though, after suffering his first defeat. The Italian also showed his serious side - away from the sideline - for the first time as Chelsea manager. Having been so conspicuously polite and nice in all of his media dealings so far, Conte actually echoed Jose Mourinho with the way he made a series of cryptic criticisms after the game about how he didn't want a repeat of 2015-16.

"I think that this season, the manager, the players, all the people who work for Chelsea must take their responsibility. I don't want to repeat a bad season like last year. I don't want that. For this reason, we must pay attention in every single moment of the game, in every minute. I'm the coach, so I must work more on this aspect. Now, it's not enough. Because this is not the first time this has happened. We must feel the danger in every single moment of the game, if we want to win and think like a great team."

Some close to the squad felt those comments could fairly be perceived at criticism of his players for not being better, and criticism of the club for not buying him better players. Conte got none of the primary targets he wanted. Even N'Golo Kante was second choice after Radja Nainggolan.

Conte didn't go overboard in praising Liverpool either, insisting both of their goals were really 'given away' by Chelsea - "the first after a free-kick that they took very quickly. And the second after a throw-in and a shot from long distance." That is possibly true, and Liverpool didn't actually make many clear-cut chances from open play, but then they were also deservedly leading 2-0 before Chelsea even had a shot on target. Conte also got his own selection wrong.

For Klopp, though, so much is going right.

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