Wednesday 18 September 2019

Ronnie Whelan: Jurgen Klopp's tactics can't cope with pressure - and neither can his players

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

Ronnie Whelan

IT was a revealing weekend. A flood of goals reflected the ongoing degeneration of the art of defending and Antonio Conte’s Chelsea alone stand tall in that regard.

I think we can safely say now that Chelsea are the team to beat after nine wins on the bounce. The season has found its shape.

He is the form coach and his team has the look of a group of players riding a wave and unlikely to fall off.

It was a dogged enough win over West Brom but that’s how you win titles.

Elsewhere old habits reasserted themselves and for Liverpool fans, defensive solidity is something they can only dream about.

As if we didn’t already know, Jurgen Klopp has a problem with his defence and his goalkeeper and while he continues to deny this in public, in private he must be seething.

Each time a weak point emerges, Klopp brings the offending player under his wing. He did with Alberto Moreno and then dropped him and he may have to do the same with Loris Karius who has lost his confidence.

The goalkeeper should have done better for Dimitri Payet’s free-kick which cancelled out Adam Lallana’s early strike.

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Joel Matip is set to make a welcome return to Liverpool's defence

Joel Matip (pictured) was back against the Hammers and Liverpool, as we have seen so often this season with other teams, dominated the early part of the game to the point where Slaven Bilic must have been worried about the afternoon ahead.

It was ironic that it was Matip who was flat-footed by a deflection which exposed Karius and allowed Michail Antonio put West Ham in front.

Matip is the reason I thought Klopp had some chance of achieving some kind of defensive consistency this season and this wasn’t his finest moment. It was notable that Darren Randolph, who gifted Liverpool their equaliser when he flapped at a cross, picked himself up, dusted himself down and then made a truly wonderful save from Jordan Henderson.

I don’t know what Klopp should do about Karius, if anything. David de Gea got a similar hard time when he joined Manchester United first and took a season to adjust. Now he’s in the top three in the world.

It’s not as if Simon Mignolet is a rock solid alternative. I said last week that Liverpool haven’t had a world class goalkeeper for years and finding one should be a priority.

As I said, the top of the Premier League is not a place for a goalkeeper to make a name for himself. He should already have the stripes.

There were positives. Liverpool didn’t play badly, hit the post and had enough chances to win it.

But that has been the case in every one of the last four matches.

Recent games show that Klopp’s tactics, while continuing to produce a flow of goal scoring opportunities, cannot cope with pressure.

More accurately, his players can’t cope with pressure.

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger enjoyed the victory over Stoke

The big plus was the fact that Liverpool fought back to get a draw but they still dropped two more points to Chelsea and it has to be said, on Arsenal. The Gunners are in a purple patch and keep hinting that Arsene Wenger may just have found a balance which can take them past their normal crisis point in the New Year and remain real contenders.

The biggest loser of the weekend was fussy Pep Guardiola who hit Leicester in title form for the first time this season.

Manchester City’s inability to juggle Champions League football with the Premier League is still alive and kicking. It was a problem under Roberto Mancini, was not solved by Manuel Pellegrini and is still an issue for Guardiola.

Lurking in the background is Jose Mourinho who found a new hero in midweek in Henrikh Mkhitaryan and seems to have lost him again during a big win over Spurs.

Mourinho will be praying his new star’s ankle is not badly damaged because he brings something to Manchester United which we haven’t seen since Alex Ferguson’s time.

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