Sunday 19 November 2017

Prosaic start to Reds' pressing engagement

Klopp satisfied but the scale of task facing new boss all too apparent in stalemate at the Lane

Jurgen Klopp: 'A charismatic and plausible manager whose influence could be glimpsed here, even at this embryonic stage'
Jurgen Klopp: 'A charismatic and plausible manager whose influence could be glimpsed here, even at this embryonic stage'

Dion Fanning

Another opening, another show. Twenty-two photographers huddled around the Liverpool dugout before kick-off at White Hart Lane yesterday. They were, of course, waiting for Jurgen Klopp, the latest character added to the cast of the long-running series called the Barclays Premier League.

No league generates back-stories like the Premier League. It may not be the best league in the world, whatever that means, but it is peerless in its ability to generate narratives that might not have much to do with football. At times, it's an advantage if they don't have much to do with football.

Nearly two hours after Klopp's arrival on the bench, the influence and limitations of a manager, especially a manager who only had a few days to work with his players, were obvious.

Klopp's team had fought hard for a scoreless draw but it was a game which revealed the lack of talent in both the Liverpool and Tottenham sides, and it would have added weight to the argument that Klopp is burdened with too much expectation.

Arsene Wenger was two years younger than Klopp when he arrived in England. Wenger had won the league title in France but his appointment at Arsenal was greeted with 'Arsene Who?' headlines.

Klopp's achievements are arguably greater but nobody is unknown any more and any mystery usually adds to the expectation rather than dampening it.

Yet it's not as bad a position for Liverpool to be in as some have suggested. If the club wanted to manage or lower expectations they could have given the job to Neil Warnock or reappointed Roy Hodgson.

Instead they have a charismatic and plausible manager whose influence could be glimpsed here, even at this embryonic stage. Klopp didn't make a substitution until the last ten minutes of the game, which may have been a reflection of the lack of quality on the bench, but it was also a simple way of impressing upon his players that when they have finished running for Klopp, he expects them to run some more.

There was a hint, too, of a ruthlessness previously lacking in the side and when substitute Jordon Ibe casually strolled back towards the manager when he received a signal to come on, Klopp was as vocal in his frustration as he had been loud in his praise to others during the game.

This was Liverpool's first clean sheet since another scoreless draw in north London in August against Arsenal was supposed to herald an encouraging reshaping of Brendan Rodgers' side.

It didn't work out that way so the Liverpool players here were desperate to impress a new manager, even if, as Mauricio Pochettino pointed out, much of the effort that the players put in could be expected from any squad hoping to make an impact.

Klopp said he was "satisfied" at the end of a match. "I didn't have the biggest expectations for the game," Klopp said afterwards and, in that, he may have been in a minority.

As the game unfolded, it was hard not to think of the excitement that surrounded the appointment of Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane with Ireland and the realisation, as their first match began, that they would not actually be playing, that the players were still the same.

Klopp will be able to shape his squad to a far greater extent but the lack of quality in his side was evident as was their palpable desire to implement his methods. They ran from the opening seconds when Adam Lallana and James Milner won the ball high up the field in the Dortmund fashion, and it was immediately clear what Klopp was demanding from his new side.

After about an hour of gegenpressing, some of the Liverpool players looked gegenknackered but they kept going.

Emre Can's stamina has been questioned in the past but he kept running yesterday even when his shoulders started to sag and his head began to wobble like a marathon runner hitting the wall. He was part of an effective midfield alongside Lucas and Milner, while Lallana also quickly understood what was required.

When Can closed down a Spurs player in front of the dugout to win a throw, Klopp roared his approval. Over the course of the game, he went through his range of gestures and whistles, even joking with Philippe Coutinho after he had misplaced a pass.

Liverpool had been tigerish for much of the game. There had been gegenpressing and there was old-fashioned hunting in packs but the problems often arose when they had won the ball back and wondered what to do with it.

"The start was brilliant," Klopp said afterwards. "The problem of the game when we had the ball we were not cool enough. We didn't use our skills. We were a little bit too hectic and we didn't see the right option."

Klopp spent some time on the sideline with both his arms raised above his head and his index fingers pointing to the sky, looking like one of the Gibb brothers but he wanted his players to see the space on both the flanks.

With that edginess infecting Liverpool's attacking play, the best chances fell to Tottenham with Simon Mignolet saving brilliantly in each half, first from Clinton Njie and then from Harry Kane.

Pochettino is creating a side that is hard to beat. Spurs have lost only once - on the opening day at Old Trafford - and their last home league game was the victory over Manchester City, but this was their fifth draw in the league this season.

Pochettino was happy that his side had limited Liverpool to one chance and that came early when Divock Origi headed against the crossbar.

Origi started after Daniel Sturridge picked up an injury in training which wasn't 'really serious', Klopp said.

"When I came here and thought about Liverpool, I thought 'Ok, four strikers of this quality - cool'. Now I have one," he said, smiling. "I like Divock. I don't think about players I don't have because it doesn't make sense."

There are times when little about English football makes sense. Jurgen Klopp's introduction to the Premier League was all about excitement and expectation.

The story as it unfolded yesterday at White Hart Lane was more prosaic, but that doesn't mean later episodes won't be gripping.

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