Have I been too harsh on Klopp?


Anfield, photo by SteHLiverpool. http://www.flickr.com

Jurgen Klopp said he was looking forward to a “perfect Sunday” after Liverpool’s comfortable 2-0 win over Spurs on Saturday evening. The German has had few ‘super Sundays’ to enjoy of late, such has been his side’s wretched form in 2017.

The previous week, Liverpool lost away at Hull with a thoroughly abject performance, following which I took to Facebook to vent my frustration. I posted: ‘Liverpool starting to show a rather worrying resemblance to Man U under van Gaal.’ A friend whose opinion I respect on all matters football replied simply: ‘harsh.’

It was a harsh assessment but I still think a fair one. One of Klopp’s mantras is that performance is all since results can’t be controlled. That’s true enough but some of the performances in the last few months have been dire, especially at home against opposition who set out and set up to frustrate.

To some extent it’s a compliment to Liverpool that teams arrive at Anfield intent on ‘parking the bus.’ Sadly, the response of the home team has too often been to double park alongside it; plenty of possession, total territorial supremacy, but precious little damage to the aforementioned bus.

Have Liverpool made progress under Klopp? Yes, undoubtedly. There remains, rightly, more optimism about the future than in the final days of the Rodgers regime. And yet it was revealed recently that Klopp and his predecessor had almost identical records over their first 54 games in charge of the club.

It’s progress but it’s stuttering, unsteady and yet to be fully convincing. Those calling for the German to get on his bike are ludicrously premature (I don’t see any better candidate to take over) but the fact that the suggestion has even been made shows how far Liverpool still have to go in fulfilling their ambitions.

The short-term ambition is Champions League qualification this season and that’s far from a certainty given how competitive the race for the top four is. The resurgent Manchester United have everyone except Chelsea glancing anxiously over their shoulders.

Winning the title never seemed like a very realistic prospect for Liverpool this season and they won’t do so with the current squad. Klopp has begun to mould it to suit his preferences but more radical surgery still needs to be performed.

As a minimum: Mignolet should be sold – he’s a fine shot stopper but exhibits almost no command and authority; a new left back is needed – Milner’s done a sterling and committed job but each passing week demonstrates further that it’s not his natural position; Lucas is not a centre back and should never be played there (surely the ‘Lucas as makeshift defender’ hypothesis has been refuted on enough occasions by now); and playing a genuine centre forward on a regular basis would seem, to me at least, like an old fashioned idea that never should have fallen out of fashion.

The surgery needed on the squad goes well beyond the cosmetic and will come with a hefty price tag. Klopp seemingly assumed that a keyhole operation would suffice but the harsh winter that he’s just endured must surely have persuaded him otherwise.

Next summer’s shopping will be much easier and more pleasant if he’s doing it in the Champions League aisle. The Europa League will not tempt the calibre of player that Liverpool need to attract in order to become genuine title contenders domestically and competitive with the biggest clubs across the continent.

Managerial careers are made and broken in the transfer market, those bi-annual windows of opportunity through which they must reshape their squads. Klopp is (rightly) confident in his ability to develop players once he starts to work with them but it’s important that he finds the best available raw material.

He also needs to demonstrate greater tactical flexibility. His high-energy pressing game works best as a counter-attacking strategy and it’s therefore not a surprise that it’s proving more successful against better sides that have more possession. When Liverpool are forced to create their own attacking momentum, in situations where they face teams happy to sit back and concede possession, they look slow and ponderous.

The opposition is increasingly confident of being able to nullify Liverpool by limiting the ability of Klopp’s side to catch them on the counter-attack with fast breaks. That is a very similar issue to the one that Manchester United had under van Gaal and it’s one that Mourinho is only slowly being able to rectify – aided by astute signings such as Ibrahimovic.

To be fair to Klopp, he has responded to the recent ‘crisis’ in a calm and composed manner. The dispassionate analysis he provides in the aftermath of games is in stark contrast to his somewhat hysterical demeanour on the touchline.

Indeed Klopp recently insisted to journalists: “We will have to take all the criticism from everywhere. You can write what you want at the moment.”

Here, I have. I doubt the Liverpool manager is reading this but if you are Mr Klopp, I hope you consider it harsh but fair.

The mystery of the vanishing Van Persie

Van Persie. Photo by: JJ Hall www.flickr.com

Van Persie. Photo by: JJ Hall

There’s a lot of speculation that Robin van Persie may be dropped for Manchester United’s game against Hull today. The flying Dutchman – scorer of that sensational header at the World Cup – has returned to earth with a bit of a bump this season.

His form has been indifferent at best and he has just three goals to his name in this campaign. It’s all a bit surprising given that it looked as though he would be one of the obvious beneficiaries of Van Gaal’s arrival and he now has players such as Di Maria creating chances.

In the game against his old club Arsenal last weekend, Van Persie only touched the ball 13 times and two of those touches were corners (I’m always suspicious of centre-forwards who take corners, it just doesn’t seem right to me somehow). His performance was described by his manager as “very bad” and my Manchester United supporting brother has been using similar but stronger terms to describe his performances all season.

I’ve never entirely bought into the hype surrounding Van Persie. He’s a very good footballer and a fine finisher on his day but he’s always had a tendency to fade out of games and I’ve never felt as though he’s had the overall influence on his sides that you would expect from a player of his quality. He often seems isolated on the pitch.

Both his parents are artists but he conceded in an interview with the Daily Mail a few years ago that he doesn’t see things the way they do. “They can look at a tree and see something amazing, whereas I just see a tree,” said Van Persie. Indeed, we’ve all had that issue from time to time Robin.

Later in the same interview he said: “When I look at a football pitch I suppose, yes, I see it as my canvas. I see solutions, possibilities, the space to express myself.” It would appear that those solutions and possibilities are becoming harder to see, the blank canvas a more intimidating prospect these days for the Dutch master.

Van Gaal suggests that “for Robin, it is a question of confidence” and that’s likely to be the case for any striker who’s not scoring many goals, especially one playing in a team with so much attacking potential.

It would be folly to write Van Perise off but I suspect that we’ve already seen the best of him. At Arsenal he was a big fish in what was an increasingly shrinking pond and while his first season at Old Trafford was excellent, the rest of the league performed exceptionally poorly for that Manchester United squad to win the title so comfortably.

If Manchester United put him up for sale, I wonder how much anyone would pay for him now?