Friday 24 May 2019

Jurgen Klopp blessed with so many leaders at Liverpool but the challenge is to keep everyone happy

The main Mane: Jurgen Klopp embraces Sadio Mane after his two goals helped see off Cardiff. Photo: Reuters
The main Mane: Jurgen Klopp embraces Sadio Mane after his two goals helped see off Cardiff. Photo: Reuters

Simon Hughes

When asked about the views of the outside world and how it collides with his own, Jurgen Klopp offered a withering response, stating: "That is our life - ignoring useless news."

As his Liverpool team evolves and grows stronger, the challenge becomes different. They are not necessarily problems, but they are things for him to consider.

Like how, for example, players like Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and even Georginio Wijnaldum must feel when new signings come in and some supporters - in their attempts to welcome them - react by pushing those that have been there much longer aside in the excitement of it all.

Cruel messages on the social media pages of Lallana and Henderson suggest that they are already viewed as a sort of natural wastage, as the Red tank pushes on.

Lallana started for Klopp on Saturday and was substituted with half an hour to go. Though he was unlucky not to score in the first-half when his arcing header was cleared off the line, he had been removed by the hour mark having scurried up and down the right wing in an unfamiliar position without creating much.

It did not help Lallana that his replacement, Xherdan Shaqiri, had an impact; securing Liverpool's victory by scoring beautifully in front of the Kop with his first goal for the club.

Considering Henderson wasn't even involved and that in his absence, through injury, Liverpool have scored eight goals in a week, there is now a clamour for Fabinho to start regularly. The Brazilian does not begin games at breakneck speed, but has eased himself into each of his opportunities, with his pickpocket tackles later helping Liverpool win possession and counter-attack with a pace that sees opponents crumble.

Though Wijnaldum has arguably been Liverpool's most consistent performer all season, it does not help him either that there is no particularly outstanding feature to his game.

He is an all-round, seven out of 10 midfielder who seems to be appreciated more inside Liverpool's dressing room, where his leadership skills were reflected last week when a vote at Melwood to establish the team's new third and fourth captains saw him finish only behind Virgil van Dijk.

There are different ways of looking at the purpose of this vote and one of them relates to Henderson and his deputy James Milner, a pair who surely now know their positions in the starting XI are not guaranteed.

Broadly, it not only confirms that Klopp is confident about the depth of options available to him, but also that he has transformed a dressing room once criticised for not containing forceful leaders to one which now has an abundance of personalities.

Andy Robertson was made Scotland captain in September and he is not even in Liverpool's top four - and neither are any of the front three, who take so much of the acclaim when Liverpool perform at their best; players who could be received as captains because they inspire by what they do. Mohamed Salah captains Egypt, of course, and so does Sadio Mane with Senegal.

Klopp was adamant that nobody will feel left behind under his guidance, but credited his players for their common sense in appreciating what needs to happen for progression to be marked down as truly successful.

He thought back to a moment last season before a Champions League game when the camera lenses of photographers waiting for Liverpool to go out and train were focused on just one person.

"We were standing inside and I said we could go out naked except for Mo and they would not notice," he smiled.

"It is not a bit of a problem. Footballers are used to it. We are a smart team. They are not jealous or whatever. Everybody who comes in, meanwhile, is like, 'wow it is so much better than what we had before'. How can anyone forget Gini Wijnaldum? It is impossible. For the team, it will not happen. Outside, you can not imagine how less we care about it.

"Mo had a fantastic run last year; this year it starts with people asking why he does not score," Klopp reflected.

"For the boys, it should only be important what I think. They like it when new players come in. We brought them in to make us better in specific situations. They really are fine. We have these choices, that is the most important thing."

As Klopp spoke from the bowels of Anfield, a couple of hundred yards away down Walton Breck Road, Liverpool supporters were celebrating another victory.


They are always trying to find clever ways of shoehorning the names of their most adored players into recognised songs. The upstairs floors in the Twelfth Man shook as lyrics relating to the defensive capabilities of van Dijk were belted out to the tune of Dirty Old Town. This will catch on.

Van Dijk's enormous presence in the team now means that when opponents like Cardiff score to make it 2-1, there are fewer nerves.

Klopp believed that Liverpool "controlled the game, but we didn't control it exactly like we had to" and he was right to assess that Callum Paterson's goal actually ended up helping Liverpool extend their lead.

It gave Cardiff hope they could equalise and in their attempts to push forward Liverpool remained confident and were able to exploit the gaps. There was no panic and Klopp's team have reached a stage of development where they have encouraged a calmer Anfield.

"It was not a world-class atmosphere and not a world-class game, but what I like is that we really act together," Klopp concluded.

"It was not a game where you always need the crowd on their toes. You wish they enjoy the game, and I think they enjoyed the four goals, the result and the position in the table. That's good, but there is space for improvement. We are in a good moment as a club and with a connection with the crowd. The boys deserve that trust and faith."

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Leinster's succession plan, Munster's missing piece and the art of contract negotiations

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport