Cold feet. That’s what Jurgen Klopp said might have caused Alisson Becker to gift Manchester City two goals in Sunday’s damaging Premier League defeat for Liverpool. “It sounds funny but could be,” the German coach added, blurring the line between what may have been a throwaway wisecrack or a sincere excuse.
It’s become difficult to truly know what Klopp puts Liverpool’s dreadful recent form down to such is the number of excuses he has come up with this season. Indeed, the Reds boss has taken aim at the media, referees and the TV broadcasters among other things for the troubles experienced by his team.
Just two days before Liverpool’s season-defining Premier League clash with City, Klopp attempted to attribute the resurgence of Pep Guardiola’s team to a perceived scheduling advantage. “We haven’t had a break,” the Liverpool boss complained. “I think City had a two-week break for COVID reasons.”
City, however, were only afforded eight free days due to the postponement of their fixture against Everton due to a number of positive Covid-19 cases. Liverpool, on the other hand, had an eight-day break after their 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace on December 19 and another nine-day break after their 4-1 win over Aston Villa on January 8.
Rather than coming up with more unfounded excuses, as he did against City, it’s time for Klopp to take some responsibility for the way Liverpool’s season has unravelled. It’s true the Reds have faced some adversity, with injuries to key players hindering them over the course of the campaign, but the German must also reflect on what he himself could have done differently.
After all, Manchester City have had their own injury issues this season. Guardiola has been without his first choice centre forward Sergio Aguero for the vast majority of the campaign, with Gabriel Jesus also sidelined for months. Kevin de Bruyne, widely considered City’s best and most important player, was also missing for Sunday’s trip to Merseyside.
And yet Guardiola has repurposed a number of his players to cover up these deficiencies. Ilkay Gundogan, for instance, has been moved higher up the pitch, with the German midfielder now in the goalscoring form of his life. Phil Foden was deployed as something of a ‘False Nine’ in the away win over Liverpool. Ferran Torres, a winger by trade, has also been used in this way at times this season.
Klopp has used midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson as central defenders following injuries to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, but the way Liverpool play out from the back has been disrupted. The supply line to their attack has been largely cut off. This is where Klopp has failed to come up with an alternative approach. That is on him, not the media, referees, TV broadcasters or his goalkeeper’s cold feet.
Klopp might not currently have the players to play his way, but Liverpool still have the personnel to compete at the top of the Premier League. Their squad remains one of the strongest and deepest in the English game at this moment in time. Of the 11 players that started against Manchester City, only Curtis Jones could be considered a fringe figure and the 20-year-old was one of the Reds’ best performers on the day.
Coming into the 2020/21 season, the pressure was on Guardiola to prove he could do something different with his City squad. The Catalan has done this, but now the onus is on Klopp to make a similar point to his City counterpart. Even when Liverpool’s injured figures return, the German must evolve his team to keep them moving forward. No excuses.
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