Liverpool are going through what is known as a ‘bad patch.’
A heavy defeat by Manchester City has been followed by disappointing (and largely avoidable) draws at home to Sevilla and Burnley, before Tuesday night’s Carabao Cup exit at the hands of Leicester City. All in all, a bad ten days or so, but in times like these a sense of perspective really has to be called for.
The hysterical Liverpool fan on BBC Radio Five Live last Saturday calling for Klopp to lose his job over a few bad (note: bad, not season-ending) results, what can even be said to that other than patting him on the head and reminding him that this time seven years ago Roy Hodgson was valiantly leading the Reds to a League Cup defeat against League Two side Northampton Town at Anfield?
It can’t get any worse? It can always get worse.
Have the club had so much success over the past few years that this should be enough to warrant a man that was being held aloft after destroying Hoffenheim and Arsenal less than a month ago being cast on the Anfield scrapheap next to Brendan Rodgers, Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish?
Klopp deserves a fair amount of the criticism coming his way right now. In the two years he has been at Anfield the only defensive signings he has made are Steven Caulker (loan), Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan and Andrew Robertson. One was a stop-gap for a few months, one is a backup (and not a particularly strong one), one has been a qualified success and the the latter has shown promise so far but is up against an Alberto Moreno who seems to have discovered how to play football again.
The goalkeeping situation, meanwhile, is such that Simon Mignolet’s would-be replacement has been relegated to second-choice, while third-choice Danny Ward arguably looked more comfortable against Leicester than either Mignolet or Loris Karius would have.
The whole defensive setup is, to borrow a line from Klopp himself, ‘not cool.’ They seem to concede the same goals time and again, from set pieces or second balls into the box. Klopp himself even admitted that he is sick of conceding that type of goal. It put them the team under undue pressure against Sevilla and Burnley to concede the first goal like that, and the attack shouldn’t have to compensate for the mishaps of what is going on behind them.
Conceding the first goal means that the pressure on the front three to score magnifies. (It was a different situation on Tuesday as chances were wasted before the eventual goal conceded but that can be arguably be put down to the lack of an understanding between Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dominic Solanke and Philippe Coutinho/Ben Woodburn, but the overall point holds true.)
Rather than trying to put Liverpool ahead, the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are then having to put the team back on parity and that puts more pressure on them, and in those situations panic seems to set in really quickly. Having a defence that they can trust would relax the Reds’ attack exponentially.
That’s on Klopp. He placed his trust largely in the defence that was already at his disposal in the summer, he decided that nobody other than Virgil van Dijk would improve that backline and the strive for the perfect fit, while admirable, is going to cost them more points until he addresses it in the transfer market.
It has been argued (by Klopp himself even) that the system he plays means that soft goals are always going to happen. That’s a cop-out; having a defensive leader at the back mightn’t solve all of their problems but it would be a damn sight better than the confused, shaky mess they are right now.
The things is. Liverpool’s defence actually started to look pretty decent at the end of last season. Five clean sheets in the last six games suggested they had turned some sort of corner – so perhaps it’s not solely a defensive problem, but one of balance. Klopp’s side had to grind out results as they closed in on that top four place last year so it can be done, but finding the right blend of defensive steel and attacking flair seems to be his biggest issue.
All of that being said, some of the criticism of the manager over the past ten days has been wildly over the top. Sure, things aren’t particularly rosy right now but for the likes of Didi Hamann, Kevin Kilbane and Alan Shearer to suggest that Klopp hasn’t improved Liverpool from where they were under Rodgers is nonsense.
The immediate basis for this revisionism undoubtedly stems from that blistering 2013/14 season, when Liverpool came as close to winning the league as they had done at any point since the dismantling of the Soviet Union. Not to take away from Rodgers’ involvement in that season, but that was brilliant, disorganised chaos. It relied on Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling slotting into whatever formation they deemed necessary at the time and there seemed to be no semblance of a game plan or tactical structure other than attack all the time.
The flaws in this system were brutally exposed the following season when Suarez left, Sturridge was injured all the time, Sterling decided he didn’t want to be there anymore, and the less said about Mario Balotelli the better. By the end, they were nothing as a team other than possession football and blunt sadness, and Rodgers was fired for a reason.
Klopp has made mistakes as Liverpool manager and it is fair to say that the defence hasn’t improved in his time at Anfield (16 goals conceded in nine games just isn’t good enough), but the attack is far more organised and structured now, bar perhaps leaning a bit too much on Sadio Mane, and adding Salah to the mix is already looking like a brilliant move.
By its very definition then, Klopp has improved Liverpool.
Any perceived step backwards is going to make people jittery, it’s only natural, but Liverpool fans would do very well to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater as they knee-jerk wildly. Klopp led the side to two cup finals in his first few months at the club and delivered Champions League football in his his first full year; that has to count for something.
By all means criticise the manager for the current situation, but demanding everything be ripped up and started again is the sort of mentality that led to the appointment of Hodgson.
Be very, very careful of what you wish for.
In this week’s episode of the Mixer Irish football podcast, we chat to Sligo Rovers manager Gerard Lyttle, analyse Dundalk’s EA Sports Cup victory and review/preview the latest League of Ireland action.