Saturday 16 December 2017

Ronnie Whelan: I was disturbed to hear Jurgen Klopp say he had miscalculated the strength of his squad

Read Ronnie Whelan every Monday in The Herald

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Ronnie Whelan

Ronnie Whelan

I’M at a loss to explain why Liverpool have dived off the edge of a cliff other than to fall back on something I’ve been saying about the club for years. A weak squad won’t win much.

I would start by offering some very early congratulations to Antonio Conte and his players who have done their job very well and can only throw the title away now.

I don’t see that happening. Italians know how to hold on to a lead.

Chelsea don’t struggle against weak team or strong teams. They pretty much beat them all and that’s the way to win a title.

If I think back to the start of the season and the general consensus that this would be a much different Premier League then the last, I must admit to being firmly in that camp.

We were all very badly wrong. I thought it would be tight with three or four teams fighting for the title but this is turning out to be a virtual carbon copy of the 2015/16 season.

For Claudio Ranieri, swap Conte and for Leicester, swap in Chelsea and you’ve got the picture.

Ranieri found a willing group of players when he arrived at the King Power Stadium, lads who had been moulded by Nigel Pearson into a tight unit.

He was smart enough, after some early tinkering, to leave well enough alone and just organise them to be good defensively.

I think Conte also found a very willing group at Stamford Bridge.

These were players who had been through a nightmare the previous year and had some very tough questions asked about their professionalism. Chelsea were ripe for a good manager like Conte to take in hand.

Conte has worked with a very small group of players and has been reasonably lucky to date with injuries but each time they looked vulnerable because of personnel issues, he steered them through with some ease.

I wish I could say the same about Jurgen Klopp but the results and the performances don’t lie. A few weeks back, I was disturbed to hear Klopp say that he had miscalculated the strength of his squad.

Klopp made an assessment in his first six months and then again in August last year and he expressed satisfaction with the group.

That means he examined the club in minute detail from the top to bottom, from the most promising Academy teenager to the senior match day squad and reckoned he had enough.

Not just for the immediate task of securing Champions League football but ultimately the title, based on the strength of those coming through and no doubt, the players he had in mind as transfer targets.

After Liverpool lost to Wolves last Saturday week, he admitted that he got it wrong and an equation he was comfortable with is now firmly in the red.

I’m not sure where he starts. I would have said that the first thing he must correct is the glaring goals deficit. Conte has Costa, Wenger has Sanchez, Mourinho has Zlatan, Pochettino has Harry Kane, Guardiola has Aguero and now Gabriel Jesus but Klopp has nobody.

He spoke after the Wolves game of getting all his best players back for the Anfield encounter with Chelsea and sure enough, they looked good against Conte’s team.

But then along comes Hull City and the wheels come off again.

This idea that Liverpool are fine against bigger teams and not so fine against “lesser teams” is a red herring.

You’re either good enough to beat teams or you’re not and if Liverpool can’t beat Hull, Swansea or Wolves then the only conclusion I can reach is that they are playing way above themselves when they take on someone like Chelsea.

The other possibility does bear thinking about too much. If these players really are good enough and can’t deliver against “lesser teams” complacency has to be considered.

But I don’t see that. I see bad football and I see bad decisions but I see effort from everyone. There is no lack of commitment.

Which then brings us back to where I started.

They are not good enough and when Klopp said he couldn’t defend his players after losing to Hull, I think that’s what he meant.

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