Monday 11 December 2017

Liverpool team spirit revived by Jordan Henderson's clear the air meeting

Determination is the game for Jordan Henderson as he gets the better of Son Heung-min. Photo: Reuters / Carl Recine
Determination is the game for Jordan Henderson as he gets the better of Son Heung-min. Photo: Reuters / Carl Recine

Chris Bascombe

There was a clear-the-air summit at Liverpool prior to their return to the entertainment industry and hounding Tottenham Hotspur out of the title race.

Yes, another one. Anfield has hosted more of these than the environment agency, but this was different.

Manager Jurgen Klopp knew nothing about it, as captain Jordan Henderson convened the squad to demand collective action to end a dismal two months.

Good on him. There comes a point when these talented young men must decide if they are happy floating around the top six - occasionally losing semi-finals or finals, impressing one month and infuriating the next - or start fighting harder to develop the mentality of winners.

The same question should be asked of Tottenham as they meekly lost ground to Chelsea.

We must wait before determining if Henderson's intervention last week defines not only his captaincy, but also Klopp's reign.

At the very least, it should be a turning point in this season's quest for Champions League qualification.

"It was the team captain who got us together. He wanted it to happen," explained Adam Lallana, whose performance in Saturday's 2-0 victory underlined why a new contract beckons.

"The manager can say as much as he likes and what attitude he wants, but we have to do it. Credit to Jordan for calling the meeting, credit to everyone for participating and credit to everyone for performing.

"It wasn't just him who spoke, the senior players spoke, the non-senior players, everyone. It was good, and refreshing.

"As long as it is not personal, just purely professional, there is no harm reminding each other what we need and what we want from each other.

"It was very open and I came out of that meeting knowing that every one of those players is together and intent on turning things around."


The response was heartening and thrilling - and utterly maddening. Is it any wonder Liverpool supporters are tormented when the mood gauge swings so violently between despair and rapture?

Lallana knows the manner of this victory was reaffirming to doubters as much as believers.

Klopp's impressive record against the top six was enhanced. What happens against the next relegation contender in a fortnight will be as revealing.

"The minute we have a couple of bad results, we are going to keep on answering critics and proving people wrong," said Lallana.

"But losing together can help you in the long run. This run we have been on has brought us closer.

"We didn't have any excuses for our performance against Hull and no excuses for not beating Swansea at home. It is about us proving that we don't just perform against the top teams.

"We know we need to be more consistent. The way we performed here was remarkable."

Tottenham's players need a similar epiphany.

There are inescapable similarities between Mauricio Pochettino's and Klopp's hopefuls, although the obvious contrast is that while Liverpool excels against those at the top, Spurs look suspiciously like flat-track bullies.

Pochettino echoed Klopp's view on what separates the champions in waiting from pretenders.

"Chelsea have a lot of players that know what it means to win and we are creating a winning mentality," said the Spurs coach.

"Sometimes it is not only about pushing the player to train and run, sometimes it is about coping with the competition.

"We are building the project over the last two years. The club is in a special situation - building the new stadium - and there are many things which are important when you analyse the team.

"If you compare Tottenham with the other sides competing for the top four, maybe you say, 'wow, Tottenham deserve a lot of credit'. "

In terms of the title, Antonio Conte was the winner, no doubt relieved Sadio Mane was not around from the start of the recent Chelsea game here to scamper his defenders into submission.

His two first-half goals were the very least that Liverpool deserved in a dominant opening, in which they seized the initiative and should have scored more. They would have done were it not for Hugo Lloris.

It gave Klopp's team the belief that they could win this game and their hard running meant that Tottenham were never really in the hunt for a comeback.

Spurs were guilty of some naive defending, giving Liverpool the chance to counter-attack for the first time in six weeks. You could not help but wonder if the visiting scouts had paid any attention to their opponents' recent home matches.

Mane, surely the quickest man in the Prem ier League, punished them twice within two minutes.

The first goal demonstrated his raw pace. Ben Davies was losing so much ground on the Liverpool striker as he went through on goal that, even when the left-back raised a tentative arm to try to reach out and foul his opponent, the gap was already too big. Mane stumbled as he went to pull the trigger, but his agility meant that he could still lift a shot over Lloris.

The second goal originated with a throw-in deep in Liverpool's half and then a long ball forward.

After Mane had dispossessed Eric Dier, Lloris made good saves to deny both Lallana and Roberto Firmino, before the Senegal international finally beat him.

Klopp versus Pochettino should one day become a title contest, and Champions League qualification is a fair reflection of fine progress in their second year with promising but developing teams.

For now, for both clubs, the disparity between the good and wretched days remains too excessive. © Daily Telegraph, London.


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