Monday 25 March 2019

John Aldridge: Jurgen Klopp needs to address the fact that Liverpool have no leaders

Read John Aldridge every week in The Herald and Sunday World

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

John Aldridge

Can Liverpool win trophies playing the Jurgen Klopp way?

It is a question we had to answer after watching the latest incredible match featuring arguably the most exciting team in the Premier League on Friday night.

While Manchester City are playing great football and deserve to be hailed as champions-elect, Liverpool are just as thrilling as Pep Guardiola’s side in the final third.

The front four of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino are serving up football as exciting as anything I’ve seen from a Liverpool team in 50 years watching. It is that good.

They can take any team apart when their opponents want to play football and they’re not forced to break down teams team like West Brom, Everton or Manchester United, who play for a 0-0 draw before games start as they are afraid of their attacking power.

There are so many teams in the Premier League now playing the Jose Mourinho brand of football, which basically adds up to winning at any cost and sacrificing entertainment in the process.

If United fans are happy watching that crap every week it’s up to them, but I would much rather support a team that sets the pulse racing and Liverpool certainly do that.

The rest of the Premier League should have been saying thank you to Liverpool and Arsenal because the match we witnessed at Emirates Stadium is precisely why English football is so popular worldwide.

From first to last, it was a feast of football and while both teams have big flaws, that’s what football used to be all about.

It is probably harder to win major trophies using those tactics, but ask any football fan if they want to watch their team attacking or mastering the art of defending and 99 per cent will take the first option.

Of course, winning sides need defensive stability and this Liverpool team has shown far too often that they lack that quality with the current players in the team.

After establishing a dominant position in the game, Liverpool should have been able to move into a more conservative mode in the second half, but Klopp and his coaching staff just don’t seem to encourage that.

When the win is there for the taking, get ten men behind the ball, make sure the full-backs stay in position and avoid bombing forward looking to score more and more goals.

The holding midfielders should sit and not show too much ambition because Arsenal were always going to commit too many forward in that situation and Liverpool had the pace and power to hit them hard on the break.

Instead, Klopp’s side opened the door for Arsenal with some big  mistakes  at the back and once more, we find ourselves talking about another defensive meltdown.

I don’t remember seeing a team that folds as dramatically as Liverpool when the defence is put under a bit of pressure, but there are no leaders in the team and Klopp needs to address that problem.

They are all too quiet, no one organises that back line when panic sets in and it is a problem that keep occurring.

Questions will be asked of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet as he made a horrible error to allow Granit Xhaka’s shot to beat him and the individual errors that keep costing Liverpool need to be eradicated.

Klopp said ahead of the Arsenal game that he does not need to sign defenders to sort out the glaring problem in his team, but I suspect he was just saying that in public to back up his players.

He can hardly come out and say he needs a new keeper or new defenders as that would undermine the players he needs to rely on for now, but some of his players proved conclusively once again on Friday that they are not up to the job at the highest level.

A big strong centre-back would have been able to steady the ship when Arsenal got a sniff of Liverpool blood, but this team do not have an ability to deal with a crisis and it continues to undermine their efforts.

The frustration for all Liverpool fans is made all the more acute as we can see how close they are to being a brilliant football team and that is why I want to believe Klopp’s brand of football can be successful if it is tweaked a little.

Let’s see what happens if Liverpool sign Virgil van Dijk from Southampton next month and maybe look to bring in a new keeper and a full-back next summer.

Changing the personnel is the first priority for Klopp and it also maybe needs a slight shift in mentality as well as game management is an issue Liverpool need to add to their game.

You look at Manchester City winning at Old Trafford a couple of weeks back and they were running the ball into the corner in the final minutes to see out the game.

Liverpool would probably have had six players in the United half in the same scenario and while the Klopp ethos  is a recipe for wonderful excitement, he has to turn his team into winners in 2018.

So in answer to my opening question, I want to believe the Klopp way can be a winning formula for Liverpool moving forward and City’s success with their free-flowing style suggests it can work in the Premier League.

The truth is we should all believe open and expansive football can still win in the modern game as Mourinho-style football is not what anyone wants to see.

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