Be a man, not a mouse, Klopp

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp.
PHOTO: Reuters

Juergen Klopp's honeymoon isn't over because it never really started.

He's more of a begrudging stepdad than a sexy, new suitor, still picking up the pieces of the failed marriage between Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool.

Not only has he inherited someone else's kids; he's also been lumbered with the child-maintenance payments.

The awful 1-0 defeat by Manchester United on Sunday offered further confirmation that charisma alone cannot win trophies.

Nor can it conjure a striker from thin air, fix a stodgy midfield or mend a broken defence.

Decisions are still required. The unruly offspring of an unsuccessful predecessor still needs guidance and discipline.

Klopp will not be blamed for the mistakes of the men who went before him, but he will be held accountable if he betrays his principles going forward.

The German played safe at home to United. He swopped Jordan Ibe for Lucas Leiva. Liverpool's line-up and strategy looked like the work of an imposter.

Klopp seemed more mouse than man, conservatively stuffing the midfield and leaving Roberto Firmino isolated. He was preoccupied with a threat when there was none.

United offered nothing, until their timid opponents presented them a winner and that poses another problem.

Klopp may be absolved of responsibility when it comes to personnel, but Liverpool's appalling defending at set-pieces is a gaping fault that lies with the manager.

The Reds have now conceded seven times this season from set-pieces - the kind of statistic usually found on pockmarked school pitches.

Indeed, no Premier League side are more vulnerable to the conventional corner, with simple balls swung towards the box, than the robotic Reds.

Klopp can lament his lack of defensive resources, leading him to make the bizarre loan signing of Steven Caulker.

And Kolo Toure, almost 35, knows that his best days are behind him, with feet of clay below him.

Nevertheless, Liverpool's issue with positioning and awareness, which were typified by their startling ability to lose both Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney in the six-yard box, should have been addressed in training.

Ironically, the quick, instinctive movement that drives Klopp's counter-pressing has been entirely absent in his back four.

RECKLESS

Perhaps the 3-3 draw with Arsenal, where any resemblance of competent defending was swiftly abandoned in favour of a reckless free-for-all, convinced Klopp to hold the fort.

But Liverpool's tactical caution allowed United - the most artistically sterile United side faced by Liverpool in decades - to grab a foothold they didn't deserve.

Once the bitter aftertaste of an unlucky loss subsides, the Anfield faithful must acknowledge the self-inflicted elements of defeat.

Christian Benteke may not be the man for all seasons at Anfield, but surely he'll have to do for this one until the human sick note, also known as Daniel Sturridge, shakes off his latest ailment.

On the rare occasions that Liverpool arrowed a long, diagonal ball against United, the pass was so often wasted.

Benteke's bulk does make him less suited to Klopp's nifty counter-pressing, but his muscular frame might have at least threatened United's paper castle.

If Klopp really cannot accommodate the burly Belgian, then there is little to be gained in leaving him on the bench.

Benteke represents high-profile collateral damage for Liverpool's infamous transfer committee and their weapons of chequebook destruction, so he'll probably stick around until the end of the season before quietly shuffling off.

But how does that help Klopp? He faced an abject United and still lost. Replacements are needed now.

With characteristically poor timing, Rodgers revealed at the weekend that he never had control of his signings. It was a shameless bit of blame-shifting for a job- seeking manager, but a pertinent reminder for Klopp.

The German must be granted a degree of transfer autonomy similar to that enjoyed at Borussia Dortmund or the end result cannot possibly be the same.

Liverpool require at least a striker and preferably a centre back to grant the Reds a fighting chance of Europa League qualification.

Klopp doesn't always need to play to the gallery, but he shouldn't play to the opposition either by shoehorning in extra midfielders and neglecting set-piece defending.

Most of all, he must remain true to the principles that made him such an appealing acquisition in the first place.

Sunday's game was a wearying story of mice and very few men, the only surprise being that the German looked like a meek member of the former.

His coaching career has been one of calculated risk and that shouldn't change.

The last thing Liverpool need right now is another tentative manager who plays it safe.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 19, 2016.
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