Friday 17 January 2020

Jurgen Klopp never fully satisfied with his record-setting title chasers

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp

Tom Morgan

Jurgen Klopp turned on his heels to rush down to the video analyst while the referee still had his mouth on the whistle at half-time of Saturday's 1-0 victory away to Tottenham.

The man at the wheel of this winning machine, still roaring towards the Premier League title at breakneck speed, had spotted a few smudges on the bodywork. Pity the poor video analyst tasked with finding the alleged defensive faults.

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No clues on exactly what was shown during the interval slide show, but Andy Robertson later insisted Klopp had big points to make. "You can be the best footballer on the park," he said, "but if you are standing up in the stand you see a lot more than you do on the pitch."

Liverpool - now on a ridiculous 61 points from 21 games thanks to Roberto Firmino's first-half winner against Spurs - are built on a defensive base to match any in English footballing history.

But, having slashed goals-conceded rates from a goal a game prior to last season to a rate of 0.67, Klopp remains impossible to please. "It is only one or two clips now and again, just stuff we can do better in the second half," Robertson said of the slide show.

For those not in red, it appeared to be 65 minutes before a Liverpool defender put a foot out of place. Robertson, himself, committed the rarity of miscontrolling the ball, lunging overzealously into a challenge on Tottenham's Japhet Tanganga.

Roberto Firmino netted the winner for Liverpool (John Walton/PA)

No interference from VAR, however, and Liverpool march on. "Operation Perfection" has even prompted the Scotsman to go dry. "I don't drink during the season," he says, "but don't get me wrong, off-season, I have a couple of weeks - I'm Scottish, after all!"

This was a fixture to underline a stark difference in fortunes since Liverpool defeated Spurs to win the Champions League in Madrid.

Liverpool have gone 38 league games without defeat since they lost at Manchester City last January, while Spurs, in that same period, have lost 16 matches, including three to Klopp's team.

However, aside from another woefully below-par Christian Eriksen performance, Tottenham gave Liverpool a game and Jose Mourinho said he had taken some pride in his side, at times, narrowing the gulf between them.

He did acknowledge, however, that his team would have collapsed had Liverpool sustained the same level of intensity in the final 15 minutes, when Son Heung-min and substitute Giovani Lo Celso missed excellent chances. Tanganga, the 20-year-old defender from Hackney, was particularly impressive, given his workload on a Premier League debut.

"It couldn't be a bigger match and he played well - first on the right against [Sadio] Mane, then on the left against [Mohamed] Salah, and I thought he was fantastic," the Spurs manager said.

"(But) if we try to play the way we did in the last 20 minutes from the start, I think we would collapse," the Portuguese said. "We are speaking about probably the best team in the world. They are in a condition to play a big FA Cup match with the second team and we are a team in difficulties."

For Klopp, meanwhile, the records keep tumbling. Liverpool are the first team in Europe's top five leagues to win 20 of their first 21 games, and there was a chance for the manager to reflect on how his side had improved since his first game in charge against the same side in October 2015.

Liverpool stayed in the same hotel as they did then and he felt like he was in "a time machine, nothing had changed". "But the team has changed obviously," he said.

"We have tried to do it piece by piece... It just happens, step by step. We have had defeats, and massive defeats, so getting a proper knock and not staying down, getting up again, that's all character-building and that's how we did it."

Jordan Henderson, his captain, was watching, injured, from the dugout in Klopp's first game - and he said the penny dropped for the team soon afterwards. "The intensity levels were through the roof straight away," the midfielder said.

Robertson believes the matches ahead will just keep getting tougher.

"We are not celebrating that we are champions," he said. "We are just celebrating a nice win. Long may that continue, and then in May maybe we can start to celebrate." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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