Analysing the German’s tactics
After a fantastic start to the season against Arsenal last week, Liverpool today fell to a disappointing 2-0 loss against Burnley today at Turf Moor.
It was a game that was dominated by Liverpool in terms of possession and efforts on goal, however, today you couldn’t say Liverpool were ‘unlucky’. They simply didn’t fashion enough clear-cut chances and, really, didn’t look like scoring.
You can read the match report here, written by myself as unbiased as I could possibly make it. After a performance like that, it’s very hard not to write an essay’s worth of criticism from a fan’s point of view. But here I don’t want to talk about the team’s performance as such, I’m going to focus more on Jurgen Klopp. It’s clear to see the amount of positive changes he’s brought to the club since his arrival nearly a year ago now, but some decisions he’s making at the moment are puzzling myself and I know are puzzling other fans.
This isn’t a piece written to slate the manager. Every manager makes controversial and strange decisions sometimes, and as someone who works in the media, it’s my job to explore the choices Klopp is making, give my views, and try to assess why he is making these choices.
We’re lacking a left-back, Jurgen!
The first thing confusing me is the clear need in the side for a new left-back. Our ‘first choice’ for the spot, Alberto Moreno, is surely in the last-chance saloon when it comes to his Liverpool career. Gary Neville claimed ‘you might as well start a goal down’ when the Spaniard starts after his shambolic performance in the Arsenal game, where he gave away a rash penalty and was at fault for the Theo Walcott goal, along with a list of other basic mistakes. Today, James Milner was passed fit and was instated as the starting left-back, but that didn’t work either. Milner was no where to be seen unless by the corner flag in the Burnley half, and even then, his crossing supply into the box this afternoon was worse than useless.
Yet, Liverpool at the moment are being linked with no left-back options in the transfer market. Klopp has taken the decision to sell Brad Smith to Bournemouth for £6million, and loan out Jon Flanagan to our hosts today, Burnley, for the season. And yet, we find ourselves with just 2 options in the position, either a temperamental Spanish walking disaster who could cost us a goal at any moment, or an experienced England midfielder who has better things to do than fill in that spot.
After the sale of Christian Benteke to Crystal Palace for £32million was completed this morning, Liverpool are now £11million in profit for this summer’s transfer window. Why on earth have we not dipped into the market again for a new, solid left back choice? At the back, it’s now the last piece of the jigsaw. Nathaniel Clyne at right-back, despite being at fault for the first goal today, is a top player who has qualities going forward and defending. Our centre-back choices are what I believe to be the strongest options we’ve had for years, Dejan Lovren is a nailed on starter after really growing into a strong leadership role over the last 8 months or so, while Ragnar Klaven, Joel Matip and Mamadou Sakho are all really good choices to partner him. So an athletic, pacy left-back who is also a quality defender is what the defence is yearning for, and I do not understand Klopp’s logic behind not buying one. The money is there, the need is there, and there are certainly options out there, so why wait?
The only feesable solution I feel Klopp could have without spending is waiting on the recovery of young Joe Gomez. Despite picking up a nasty injury, he started his Liverpool career very brightly and from what I read shortly after Klopp’s arrival, the German was very impressed with what he was seeing from the young defender. So, is this the reason Klopp hasn’t decided to spend? Is it wise to pin all our hopes onto a 19 year old and not have a solid backup? I would hope to see this addressed before the transfer window closes at the beginning of next month.
He clearly wasn’t match-fit, Jurgen!
The second issue that I believe needs to be raised was the decision to play Daniel Sturridge today. One thing from Daniel’s performance was made absolutely clear today, that man is not match-fit. Obviously, Sadio Mane was not available today and should hopefully be back available for the trip to Spurs next weekend, but I assumed that the signings we had made were to make sure that we had options in every position to cover every injury. Why didn’t Divock Origi start today? Why wasn’t Danny Ings in the squad? Sturridge’s fitness affected his performance, which really did affect the team today. The England international played far too deep to receieve the ball, and once he had the ball was very wasteful. We can maybe assume that what he’s seeing in training from Daniel is convincing Klopp that the striker is ready to start, but a training pace is very different to a Premier League match pace.
The changes need to come sooner, Jurgen!
Which moves me onto another issue, not just today, but something I’ve noticed over Klopp’s tenure as boss. Making changes too late. Building on the point about Daniel Sturridge, it was clear at half time that Daniel wasn’t making an impact, and at 2-0 down, a different approach needed to be taken. Yet, the decision to replace Daniel Sturridge for Divock Origi was not made until the 64th minute. Why waste that 14 minutes after the break? It’s very clearly not working, so why not try something fresh right from the beginning of the second half? What’s even worse is that this change was only Liverpool’s first of the afternoon, and the following double change came another 14 minutes later. This was possibly the most frustrating thing about the whole game. Jurgen’s decision to wait until that late to introduce Marko Grujic and *sigh* Alberto Moreno was a decision I just couldn’t get my head around. No progress was made after the break, we were no closer to breaking Burnley down, we were no closer to getting a goal to get us back into the game. So why wait until there are only 12 minutes to play to add Grujic (who, by the way, created a good chance and put in a good shift) and Moreno when those changes could’ve easily taken place 10 minutes beforehand?
He was a decent Plan B, Jurgen!
So, like I said before, Danny Ings wasn’t in the match-day squad for Liverpool today. Our substitute striker was Belgium’s Divock Origi who didn’t do a terrible job but wasn’t anything special either. However, a better option to come off the bench today would’ve been someone with a more direct approach. Someone who was good in the air, strong, and could grab a goal by getting into the right place at the right time.
Someone like…Christian Benteke. That guy we just sold to Crystal Palace. Fair play to the club for getting the money we paid for him back, but if we’re not going to use a fully-fit Daniel Ings, why didn’t we sell him, who is a similar striker to other options we have, and keep the big 6ft 2 guy for emergencies like today? I wrote an opinion piece (read it here) not too long ago about this very subject, questioning whether Liverpool should sell Benteke, and I concluded that it would’ve been wiser to keep him, summoning examples of games where it would’ve been quite useful to have either him, or a player of his style in your side. I even made examples of games where he won us points last season, thanks to coming on late in games. His style isn’t ‘pretty’ football, but sometimes it gets you points you maybe don’t deserve. When it comes to breaking teams down who are defending a lead, Liverpool have struggled with this for many, many years now. Last week we relied on a wonder goal at the Emirates to pull ourselves level, which is never going to happen every week. And believe me, there will be games this season where we’re 1-0 down with 10 minutes to go, and we’ll be wishing we had a Benteke to roll the dice for us and save us a point, probably against Man United.
We know Klopp will have had a big say over the sale of Benteke, with him commenting before the Arsenal game that ‘6 strikers (in the squad) are too many’, and with it becoming more and more clear that Klopp is very influential when it comes to incoming transfers, unlike how it seemed with Brendan Rodgers.
Jurgen Klopp is a fantastic manager who is good for Liverpool and is good for the Premier League, and I have no doubt in my mind will bring many successes to Anfield over the next several seasons. My mind is allowing me to dream of top 4 finishes, title challenges, and maybe one day, a league title. Every now and then, we see glimpses of what Klopp is developing with the team, we see how the side can become unplayable in some of the big games (away at Arsenal last week being a fine example), but we’re also seeing examples at how the
team can crumble, particularly when we concede goals early at the start of either game. We never properly recovered from the early goal today, and the other example I can think of off the top of my head is the early second-half goal Sevilla scored in the Europa League final, and we crumbled there too.
I have no doubts that the good times will come, even with the strong competition around us in the league, but right now some decisions that Klopp is making just don’t make sense. Maybe the guy has a plan and it will all become clear by May. I really, really hope so.
By Ben Kelly – @benkelly_10