Monday 20 August 2018

Jamie Carragher: 'Liverpool will not win the title this season. I don’t know when they ever will'

Strength of the Premier League is such that Klopp cannot solely be evaluated on whether he finishes the season on top

Philippe Coutinho was a popular player at Liverpool
Philippe Coutinho was a popular player at Liverpool

Jamie Carragher

Liverpool will not win the title this season. I am not convinced Jurgen Klopp will ever be able to bring it back to Anfield. I am not sure when my old club will win it again. I certainly do not see it happening in the near future.

These are not pleasant words with which to introduce myself as a columnist, but such is the current balance of power in the Premier League Liverpool must face a harsh reality.

It is no longer appropriate to evaluate the success or otherwise of a Liverpool manager based on whether he wins the league. The competition is too strong to set the bar so high.

There is no doubt the ultimate ambition remains the same as it has been since the last title in 1990 and the onus is on Klopp and Liverpool's owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) to banish such pessimism, but every season I find myself asking the same questions. How can Liverpool do it? How can they compete with three of the wealthiest clubs in the world? Given the history and expectations at Anfield, has Liverpool become English football's impossible job?

Manchester United, City and Chelsea are formidable on and off the park. They have financial strength and a winning culture Liverpool do not currently possess. For the last seven years FSG has tried to approach transfers in a studious way. It has yielded one League Cup. I think FSG are good owners, but to win the league their approach in the transfer market must be as robust as the big three, and I am not convinced they have the capacity to match them.

I know what people will say to this: "What about Leicester? They won it, so why can't Liverpool do that?"

Unbelievable

Let's get it right. Unfortunately for the game that was a freak. Look at Leicester's results before and since that unbelievable season. You can't build your hopes around repeating that.

When opportunities come along to push on in order to remain truly competitive at the top of the league - which tends to happen at Anfield once every five years - you have to grasp the nettle. Liverpool have not done so.

Last summer, Liverpool and United were in a similar position; preparing for the Champions League, knowing to go up a level and be serious title contenders they had to make the right signings.

United, in sixth, acted. Liverpool, in fourth, did not. This is a trend. It is typical of what happened when Brendan Rodgers and (under previous owners) Rafa Benitez and Gerard Houllier had their best sides. Houllier, Benitez and Rodgers were in a position where they needed one more step to give good teams an even better chance of winning the title. They could not do it. My fear is Klopp will be looking back at the summer as his opportunity spurned.

Instead, Jose Mourinho goes to Anfield on Saturday as a genuine challenger and Liverpool's lingering flaws remain glaringly obvious.

This is a fundamental difference between the modern Liverpool and United: one club recognised its weakness and fixed it, and the other is beset by the same problems.

United did not score enough goals so spent £75 million (€85m) on Romelu Lukaku. He was not United's first choice. They were pursuing Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata, but when those deals fell through Mourinho did not hang around. He did not wait a year for Griezmann. He wants the title now.

Liverpool conceded too many goals so wanted Virgil Van Dijk. They put themselves into a position where he was ready to join but messed up. Instead of lining up alternatives they spent the summer hoping Southampton would change their mind.

It was Van Dijk or no one, which led to the season starting with Liverpool continuing to concede soft goals, failing to win games they dominate, dropping points to teams in the bottom half. Liverpool cannot afford these mistakes on and off the pitch - not only to challenge for the Premier League but to remain in the top four.

This is why on the second anniversary of Klopp's first game as Liverpool manager, he is hearing the first murmuring of discontent. It is not that Liverpool are a poor team, or they do not have some outstanding players. Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane could play for any team in the world.

It is repeating the same error that provokes doubts. This week's injury to Mane will sour the mood further, but it is the defending that causes most concern.

No team have won the league conceding the number of goals of Klopp's side.

I have seen startling statistics demonstrating the inefficiency of Liverpool's defending. In the 111 games since Klopp took over Liverpool have kept 37 clean sheets. To put that in perspective, in one season under Benitez in 2005-06 we kept 33 clean sheets.

You cannot win the title defending like Liverpool.

It is often said the team with the best defence win the Premier League. This is actually a myth. It is not always the side with the best defensive record that win the league, but you can guarantee those with poor defensive records get nowhere near.

Only three times since the Premier League began have a side conceded more than 40 goals and won it. Manchester United did on each occasion, but they had already won the title and were cruising through their final games, gifting soft goals. The other season they had multiple goalkeeper issues.

You hear some saying Klopp's job is on the line at Liverpool, which is daft.

Klopp has done a very good job so far at Anfield and has taken the side in a positive direction. Qualifying for the Champions League in his second season, and reaching two finals in his first, were notable achievements. Alongside Manchester City there has been no more exciting side to watch since Klopp arrived on Merseyside, but that is as much to do with the goals against as goals for.

Klopp should be judged on realistic objectives. If by the end of his contract he has won three domestic trophies and qualified for the Champions League three or four times he has done as well as can be expected.

When many felt the League Cup and Europa League final in 2016 were just the start for Klopp, I worried they were finals that had to be won because they do not come around frequently. To me, it felt like massive opportunities were missed.

Between 2001 and 2009 the Liverpool team I played in won every trophy except the Premier League. Both Houllier and Benitez were sacked, yet I argued at the time - and believe it even more now - this was a golden era for a younger generation of Liverpool fans. Houllier and Benitez were successful managers. The problem is every Liverpool team is measured against what happened between 1963-90.

That is why the assessments of Klopp must consider the last 27 years and not the 27 years previously.

Klopp has time to build year-on-year working for owners who believe in gradual improvement - and that is cause for hope.

He signed a six-year deal in the summer of 2016 underlining the belief the board has in him and their intention to see through a long-term project. He is a development manager and will believe his way will bring success over time.

The problem in modern football is no matter how much you plan ahead the moods swing every time there is a bad result. I remember Benitez signing a five-year contract extension in 2009. He was gone in 2010. Rodgers signed a four-year deal in 2014. He left in 2015.

Regardless how noble the intention, withstanding pressure is easier said than done because the game has never been more temperamental, and the clamour for change gets louder every year without a trophy.

Despite my misgivings regarding the title, do not presume Klopp cannot be successful at Anfield.

The landscape has changed at Liverpool. Failure to win the Premier League can no longer be used as a reason to describe a Liverpool manager as a failure.

Telegraph.co.uk

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