Saturday 21 September 2019

John Giles: Why Ireland's Declan Rice would be a good investment for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp and (inset) Declan Rice
Jurgen Klopp and (inset) Declan Rice

John Giles

WHATEVER way next week's Champions League semi-final Act 2 unfolds, the final in Kiev will be a clash of cultures. Old values will square off against an exhilarating but often rash brand of football.

If Madrid and Liverpool hold their nerve, we will get the final most neutrals would want to see but, either way, it will be a battle between those who favour balance and those who throw caution to the wind.

Nothing better illustrated the fantasy and frustration of Jurgen Klopp's vision than that 5-2 win over Roma; a team set up to attack but without any plan for defence.

After destroying Roma with football of the highest quality, Liverpool left me wondering whether six goals would be enough, a crazy thought to have after such a brilliant performance for a big chunk of the game, much diminished by the concession of two late goals.

It must be an emotional rollercoaster for Liverpool fans to sit through these games because the mistakes can come at any time and when they do, they arrive thick and fast.

Of course it is all too easy to forget about such things when Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane are on the rampage, but against good teams at this point in the top competition in Europe, mistakes are punished.

Before the second semi-final, the discussion was not about fantastic strikers such as Salah, the name which dominated before during and after Liverpool's win or front-foot football. Instead, all the talk was about how Sergio Ramos is as important to his manager Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid as Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes also seeks a balance between attack and defence and while it didn't work so well in the 2-1 home defeat to Real, this season's Champions League has taught us to be cautious, if nothing else, about writing any team out of the equation.

My instinct has always been to look for balance between attack and defence and it's the reason I have always defended Jose Mourinho against those who painted his Chelsea teams as boring.

Yet I can't but concede that for pure excitement, great skills and outrageous drama, Klopp's team is hard to beat.

They have put together some truly magnificent spells of play in recent weeks which have come, it must be said, at exactly the right time in the season.

It's no easy thing to bring your players to the run-in in the best form of the season, oozing confidence and determination. Klopp deserves praise for this.

Against that, he is unapologetic about the fact that Dejan Lovren often disobeys the basic laws of defending and he will never change his philosophy, even though it carries an obvious flaw which can lead to moments of wild, uncontrolled, backs-to-the-wall defensive chaos.

He was upset by losing two soft goals but Klopp quickly gets over such setbacks and stays on the front foot in all his press conferences, even if his explanations for poor defending have sometimes left me scratching my head.

It's a very brave way to be and I admire him for having the confidence and determination to drive on no matter what happens. He is convinced he is right and will stand or fall on his beliefs.

His front-foot football doesn't have time for a playmaker such as Luka Modric who could have put his foot on the ball and taken the heat out of Roma's late charge.

Also, good defenders who work well under pressure are well down his list of priorities.

I believe he would be better served if he had someone in the mould of John Terry to run his defence and perhaps we will see a move in that direction during the summer. To be fair, players like that are not easy to find.

Funnily enough, a lad like Declan Rice might be a good investment for Klopp because he seems to have the right instincts for defence but he's very comfortable with the ball.

I would not be a bit surprised, however, if Klopp's transfer dealings focus on attacking players and if stories doing the rounds for a while now about Salah and a huge bid from Real Madrid have any substance, he will be a worried man until the gate closes on the market next August.

Salah is a remarkable player who has a refreshing humility about the way he plays. His first thought after scoring is to go to the player who gave him the pass and then to celebrate the goal with his team.

I'm always slow to bestow greatness on any player and as many have pointed out this week, he has a long way to go to come even close to the achievements of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.

Salah is the reason Liverpool will go to Rome expecting to score next week and finish the job. As the man of the moment, he is brilliant and deserves all of the praise that comes his way.

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