Monday 22 January 2018

Klopp shaken by Kop's title chase jitters

Fernando Llorente rises highest above the Liverpool defence to score his second goal in Swansea’s win at Anfield. Photo: Reuters / Ed Sykes
Fernando Llorente rises highest above the Liverpool defence to score his second goal in Swansea’s win at Anfield. Photo: Reuters / Ed Sykes

Chris Bascombe

The problem with Liverpool is they were too good at the start of the season. Rewind to last summer, and reasonable aspirations were set to challenge for fourth.

Liverpool 2 Swansea 3

While Liverpool's squad improved, so, too, did everyone else's - all comfortably outspending the frugal Jurgen Klopp.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge in action with Swansea City's Jack Cork. Photo: Reuters / Ed Sykes
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge in action with Swansea City's Jack Cork. Photo: Reuters / Ed Sykes

Then, Klopp's side started doing eye-catching stuff, such as winning away at Arsenal and Chelsea, outplaying Tottenham Hotspur and battering mediocre opposition at Anfield. Naturally, the stargazing began and Klopp is not a manager inclined to warn supporters to give up astronomy.

There was a shift when Liverpool went top last November. The enthusiasm surrounding an Anfield title challenge was balanced with fear. Klopp referenced it on Friday, recognising how often the failed bids of 2009 and 2014 impacted on the psyche of supporters. It is rather like Liverpool have developed a phobia to title bids.

Fatalism pitched its tent and the nadir came with this defeat against Swansea in a stadium in the midst of an early-afternoon slumber (message to Anfield hierarchy: accepting early kick-offs diminishes home advantage).

Few connected to Liverpool believe they can catch Chelsea now and the prophets of doom arguing it is days and opponents like this that have been the club's undoing sounded wiser than they would have wished on Saturday evening.

Swansea City's Martin Olsson in action with Liverpool's Dejan Lovren. Photo: Reuters / Ed Sykes
Swansea City's Martin Olsson in action with Liverpool's Dejan Lovren. Photo: Reuters / Ed Sykes

Klopp is now fully acquainted with the considerable load of three decades of baggage and faces a challenge to ensure it does not distract him as it did many of his predecessors. He signed for seven more years last July with the intention of improving layer upon layer with careful planning and an uncompromisingly studious approach to transfers. To him, it is not just about being much better over the course of this campaign but planning for next year, too.

Wherever Liverpool finish in May, their points tally will be startlingly higher. They already have 14 more points than this time last season, which is the truest barometer rather than their current changeable position.

For those in a hurry there is a counter-argument that Liverpool should have done more to seize this moment, regardless of how unlikely it seemed in August; gamble on a player who could make the difference in the next six months. Recruit someone to prevent debilitating defeats such as this one to Swansea.

"You do that in January and you end up spending £35million on Andy Carroll," say the pragmatists.

Swansea City's Lukasz Fabianski saves from Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble
Swansea City's Lukasz Fabianski saves from Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge. Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble

Mantra

"Or, maybe you spend £22m on Luis Suarez," argue those living the "here and now" mantra.

"I understand it is absolutely normal, people ask whether we should have brought players in. The situation is yes, on the one side pretty simple, but on the other hand it is pretty difficult," said Klopp.

"It is not that we don't want to bring players in. We do. But the thing is, the players we want because we think they can help us, the clubs don't sell. It is not about money in this situation, it is the winter transfer window.

"Clubs are saying 'no, we have half a year to go, we cannot find another player like this, we prefer to take money in the summer, than a few pounds more in the winter than whatever'. You see the situation [needing replacements at this stage], it's tight, it's close, we know that, but if the right decision is not possible in signing the right player, then you cannot make the wrong transfer. It is not as if there are 20 players out there who could make this team stronger, who are running around and are available. That is the situation."

The problem is not simply Liverpool's failure to sign more players, but those that Klopp presumed would offer more when needed - such as Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Emre Can - have not contributed enough.

Swansea City's Kyle Naughton (left) and Liverpool's Roberto Firmino battle for the ball. Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Swansea City's Kyle Naughton (left) and Liverpool's Roberto Firmino battle for the ball. Photo credit: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

While Liverpool's form is in decline, Swansea's Paul Clement is proof of how quickly sound management and a couple of new additions can swell belief.

Swansea defended well and accepted the gifts on offer, but the organisation and application of the Welsh side set it apart from that which Clement inherited.

Fernando Llorente's two goals at the start of the second half were expertly taken, and Gylfi Sigurdsson has looked a class act throughout a troubled campaign. He ensured the Liverpool fightback led by Roberto Firmino amounted to nothing.

Not many would leave the comfort of sitting alongside Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich to take on a club in Swansea's precarious position, but Clement has plenty to prove after his peculiar dismissal by Derby County last season.

"I felt good in the role of head coach before and when I went back to Bayern I had a brilliant experience but I knew inside me I wanted to be a head coach," said Clement.

"There is big satisfaction coming here and winning. We had a really good week in training, both on the pitch and in the video room, and to come to a team which has such a fantastic record here and to put in that kind of performance is a really nice feeling."

For Swansea, there is renewed hope of survival; for Liverpool, the next 10 days will help determine if another season of promise can go the distance. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport