Tuesday 17 September 2019

Klopp 'couldn't be happier' as Reds prove they can win ugly too

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp congratulates goalscorer Trent Alexander-Arnold after the match. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp congratulates goalscorer Trent Alexander-Arnold after the match. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Gerry Cox

Pragmatism is not the first quality that springs to mind when assessing Jurgen Klopp's approach to managing Liverpool, nor is it the most "sexy" approach from a club steeped in the traditions of attacking play and winning trophies in style.

But the German has taken a methodical approach to closing the gap on Manchester City, changing tactics and formation to grind out results when necessary - and it is paying off.

Saturday's win at Watford was a case in point.

The Reds dropped two points to a stoppage-time equaliser at Vicarage Road on the opening day of last season, in line with their abysmal record of losing points from winning positions under Klopp.

But now they are still on City's coat-tails, two points behind in second place, after an important victory that was more functional than free-flowing, which did not worry Klopp.

Liverpool survived a strong penalty shout and stubborn resistance from Javi Gracia's men before finally taking the lead through Mohamed Salah in the final quarter, with a superb free-kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold and a stoppage-time header by Roberto Firmino giving the game a scoreline that exaggerated the difference between the sides.

Even when Jordan Henderson was sent off for a second yellow card in the 82nd minute, the result was never in doubt.

Watford were not that bad, Liverpool not that good, but Klopp's side are unbeaten in 13 league games and have made their best start to a Premier League season, with 33 points so far.

Instead of the all-out attack of last season, they had to work hard for victory and Klopp commended his side's patience.

"It was one of the most [mature] performances we had so far," he said.

"We stayed cool. Usually, if concentration drops, we play a sloppy pass, they have a counter-attack and it's 1-1.

"I couldn't be happier. We have to win football games. Some people compare a game against Watford with a game against Roma, but it's not the same.

"In their minds they think about the sort of football we played last season, but in some games we played not that nice football and didn't get a result, but nobody remembers it. That's why we had 25 points less than City."

Klopp knows that a miserly defence is the foundation of a successful campaign.

Liverpool have conceded only five goals in the league, a club record at this stage of the season.

The additions of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker have made a difference, but there have been other changes.

Firmino is playing in a deeper position, which has limited his goalscoring but unlocked the Brazilian's creativity.

"In the last game against Fulham, 20 German coaches were in the stadium and when I saw them for a drink afterwards, they were saying, 'Bobby Firmino! What a player!' because of the small things he's doing," Klopp said.

Liverpool face a different test at Paris St-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday and are likely to take a more measured approach than the one that took them to the final last season.

Klopp recalled the semi-final, first leg against Roma: "We had a flying start, and to be 5-0 against Roma is brilliant - then we conceded two and made it really exciting! We need to develop."

Watford won their opening four league games but they have managed only two victories since and although their players bemoaned Jon Moss's decision not to give a penalty when the game was goalless, Gracia was gracious in defeat.

"I prefer not to speak about referee's decisions.

"But the game was closer than the scoreline," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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