Thursday 26 April 2018

Ronnie Whelan: Jurgen Klopp's straight-talking in defeat is refreshing

Read Ronnie Whelan's column every Monday exclusively in The Herald

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was frustrated by his team's performance in defeat at Newcastle
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was frustrated by his team's performance in defeat at Newcastle

Herald Sport

Nobody is immune to being beaten. It hardly needs to be said but Jürgen Klopp is not invincible and we’ve known for a long time that his squad has a brittle quality which emerges under pressure.

On the face of it, there was no pressure at all on Liverpool for this game against Newcastle but these players have an unhappy knack of backing themselves into a corner when they should be on the front foot.

But that’s the project Klopp took on and for me, the most important thing he has said since he got the job was in the first week when he identified this character defect.

I was even happier to hear his slightly blue description of the defeat by Crystal Palace. It showed to me that his mind is working and that he is trying to figure out why performances like this come out of nowhere.

I would imagine he had a similarly blue private reaction to this defeat and that Liverpool’s love-bombed players will see a different Klopp in the next few days.

His press conference after the game should be shown to anyone on a UEFA coaching course who wants to know how best to meet the media when your team has been played badly.

No excuses just a simple summation of the game we all saw and no attempt to paint a bad day as anything other than that. Straight-talking hasn’t been the norm at Anfield.

It was a bad day for sure. When you’re a player, this is the type of result which makes you wake up in the middle of the night thumping the pillow.

All the momentum was with Liverpool but they handed it over at the gates of St James Park and allowed a team battered and beaten by events to find a way to rally and beat them.

There was a strong element of complacency and very little leadership on show and that has been a problem now for several years.

Instead of piling into Newcastle for the first 20 minutes with a high pressing game and accurate sharp passing, players in red shirts rolled the ball around and waited for something to happen.

Klopp found a way to make these players believe for seven out of the last nine games and they were more than happy to row in with him but the backbone he strapped onto to them over the last three or four weeks wasn’t enough for this game.

There was plenty of talk about Klopp picking the wrong team for this game but I can’t agree. I just think it was a bad performance from at least half of the players he did pick and it lets them off the hook to focus on the bench.

Sure, he went without Can, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lalana, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho but he is juggling players and a schedule which will test the depth of his squad to the limit.

After hammering Southampton 6-1, Klopp was praised for the way fringe players like Daniel Origi were able to slot in perfectly without weakening the team. Everyone was on message and a squad which looked light in almost every area suddenly seemed so much stronger.

Now, because Liverpool have lost one game with a poor performance by players more than good enough to beat Newcastle, all that goes out the window and Klopp made the wrong selection.

It’s ridiculous. He hasn’t been at Anfield long enough to understand how best to rotate his squad and knowledge like that only comes with time.

It’s not as if he hasn’t been busy trying to get his best striker on the pitch and turning around a situation which was very bleak on the morning after Brendan Rodgers was sacked.

So let’s keep everything in perspective, something Ireland fans should be doing too when names pop out of table-tennis balls next Saturday in Paris.

I see an awful lot of teams that didn’t look any better than Ireland did in the final third of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign and only a half dozen you would want to avoid at all costs.

The top teams are in the top tier and Martin O’Neill will only have to deal with one. In that context, I wouldn’t be a bit unhappy to draw England.

After that, there’s a big wedge of teams with very little to choose between them which makes me think that we could be in for one of the most competitive finals tournaments ever.

Herald Sport

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