Monday 17 December 2018

Klopp may omit Shaqiri from Red Star cauldron to avoid Serbian hostility

Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA
Jurgen Klopp. Photo: PA

Jamie Holland

Jurgen Klopp is considering omitting Xherdan Shaqiri from Liverpool's squad for tomorrow's Champions League match against Red Star in Belgrade.

Klopp is concerned that Shaqiri's inclusion might be a distraction given the hostile reaction the player could expect to receive from Serbian fans. The 27-year-old was born in Kosovo, a state whose independence is not recognised by the Serbian government.

When Shaqiri made a point of celebrating his heritage - he wore the Kosovo flag on his boot when playing for Switzerland in the World Cup - he was accused of provocation. Although Red Star fans were banned from Anfield when the teams met a fortnight ago, those who found their way in jeered whenever Shaqiri took possession. It was a preview for what would be in store tomorrow.

Upbeat Liverpool go to Belgrade with Klopp upbeat despite falling two points behind Manchester City in the title race, the manager believing too much is being read into the outcome of games at this stage.

"Your job is to make a final of each game so, if we lose at Arsenal, then the whole start was average or worse," he said.

"If we lose at Belgrade then it's football. It can happen. We have to have to look at that a bit calmer. It's important. It will not be a children's party in Belgrade. It will be tough and we have to be ready for that.

"But it's our life. It's not a problem, we take it and analyse and go in the next game, find the right line-up and everything is good."

Klopp was generally happy with Liverpool's performance at Arsenal, but there was the hint of a deeper regret as he discussed the manner of Alex Lacazette's equaliser. "The one time we don't close the half-space, they score," he said.

All of the evidence indicates that Manchester City are again likely to post over 90 points - and probably closer to 100.

If that's the case, it means any more slips like this - no matter where it is, and who you're playing - will be costly for Liverpool.

Five points from matches at Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal is a highly respectable return - not least for the fact Liverpool are unbeaten in those games, with good performances to match.

It's just that, from their own three big-six away games - against Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal - City have two more points.

Klopp has plenty to ponder from Saturday's match - not least the performance of Fabinho, who got overrun in midfield.

The Brazilian has effectively played in two different roles in the last two games - and this for a player still adjusting to the team and the league.

There is also the sense that Liverpool's previously scorching attack isn't yet anywhere close to fully firing this season.

There's just a flatness to them,and they're still playing in individual bursts rather than the collective storms they produced last season.

On Saturday, Arsenal set the intensity and pace that Liverpool did last season. On the plus side, their defence - last season's problem area - is now the team's best-working unit. The rest of the team will undoubtedly develop, but the fear is that City won't be hanging around.

That's why, though there was no winner on the pitch at the Emirates, there might have been a winner off it.

Irish Independent

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