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On Friday, football fans were treated to an early Christmas present, but instead of Santa, it was Arsenal and Liverpool who handed the gift.
The 6 goal thriller at the Emirates Stadium is one of the best games of this season’s Premier League campaign. But on the contrary to the neutrals Liverpool players, manager and fans will feel disappointed after surrendering a 2-0 lead in a game that perfectly sums up the positives and negative aspects of the Merseyside club.
In the first half, Liverpool was on the front foot. They controlled the game and were organized enough in defense. This was illustrated by their 1-0 lead at halftime and the fact that they prevented Arsenal from having a single shot on target.
The second half resumed in the same manner until Salah’s strike to put Klopp’s side 2 to the good. But if you thought the game ended when the Egyptian’s curling effort diverted off of Mustafi and sailed past Peter Cech you would be wrong.
In the 5 crazy minutes that followed, in a manner that almost mirrors Liverpool’s Istanbul heroics in the Champions League final, Arsenal took the lead after scoring 3 goals. A lapse of concentration by Joe Gomez allowed Alexis Sanchez to head in the first goal. Simon Mignolet’s unfathomable attempt to parry away Xhaka’s strong strike with only one hand proofed costly and the score was leveled.
Mesut Ozil grabbed the 3rd and the Gunners were in dreamland. That was of course until Liverpool’s best performer on the night; Roberto Firmino grabbed the 3rd for his side.
You can moan about the lack of defensive assertiveness in some of the goals both sides conceded. However, there is no denying the quality in attack and how pleasingly enthralling this game was.
It is certain fingers will be pointed at Klopp for Liverpool’s inability to see out a lead and rightly so. The German manager has failed to bolster the defense in the previous window and he will take the blame for that.
Speaking after the game Liverpool’s veteran midfielder James Milner had this to say
“We’ve got to see the game out. We’ve got to become more boring. All the goals were our fault. We need to sense when it’s time to keep the ball more, to tighten things up.”
You can’t help but nod along to what the England player said. Poor defending has been Liverpool’s Achilles heel under Klopp. But it’s important to ask why the manager has insisted on working on his front line rather than spend time sorting out his defense before criticizing.
Klopp has always insisted that he believes in training more than transfer. He has placed so much faith in defenders and goalkeepers who are still struggling to return the favor.
In his high energy, high-speed type of football forwards plays a more eminent role than the defenders. The whole point of Klopp’s strategy is to hunt down the ball as soon as you lose it and start attacking. That has paid dividends in the attacking aspect, but when the pressing doesn’t work his defense has been exposed on numerous occasions.
Liverpool’s transition from attacking to a defending shape hasn’t been as smooth as the reverse. The quality of the players at Klopp’s disposal has also been another factor for the poor defensive track record.
At Borussia Dortmund Klopp was able to call upon two reliable defenders in Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic. These are players he worked with for a long period of time and players he was able to morph into his footballing philosophy. But that transformation window has passed when it comes to the likes of Dejan Lovern. The Croatian can no longer be molded into Klopp’s desired defender.
This is where Klopp has erred; his unwillingness to find a defender who would fit his system. But, the level of criticism he gets because of it has been wayward and misleading. Even when it is not particularly a tactical problem or directly his fault, he has been thrown under the bus whenever Liverpool players make silly mistakes.
That happened during the Reds’ 4-1 loss to Tottenham and the same time of the ‘pin everything invariably on the manager’ analysis is resurfacing following Friday’s game.
For Klopp to play more defensive means to abandon the exhilarating attacking threat his team poses. Of course, everything works well when it is balanced but Liverpool is a work in progress.
The level of impatience has been puzzling. For a club that has lost its way for so long Klopp has been a breath of fresh air since day one. So those urging to call his Liverpool stint underwhelming and poor should take a step back and think.
There are two ways in which the critics I am refuting are wrong and it has been a problem in the social media fuelled modern day football. These days a certain belief or conclusion is made instantly and held for a lengthy period of time, despite the level of evidence that says otherwise.
The second one is the fact that previously acquired notions are used to explain everything that follows. Take the Liverpool vs Everton game for example. Jurgen Klopp in a shrewd and learned attempt to prevent injury problems that might arise during the hectic festive period started Solanke and Chamberlin in place of Mo Salah and Coutinho.
The reaction that followed depicts the aforementioned problems. ‘You play your best team in a derby’ was what many people kept saying. The game ended 1-1. Liverpool failed to take advantage of the more than plenty opportunities they created and had to settle for a single point following a controversial penalty decision that left Klopp fuming.
The headline had already been set. Although the draw had very little or nothing to do with the rotation Klopp implemented many pundits tried to make the case that Liverpool failed to win because ‘Klopp needlessly rested his best players.’
The likes of Jermaine Jenas and Robbie Fowler even absurdly suggested to Klopp that he should only rest the players if they had a knock. Excuse me? Isn’t the whole point of rotation to avoid knocks and injuries? What merit is there for taking a precautionary measure once the damage has been done?
In a similar manner, there are people waiting to tell us how Klopp ‘failed’ or ‘underwhelmed’ because he didn’t win a trophy in a team that hasn’t sniffed glory for a long while.
Those people are ready to pull out raw stats to tell us how Klopp acquired less point than his predecessor Brendan Rodgers. Those ‘experts’ have fallen so far away from the point that it would be futile to convince them otherwise.
So instead of doing that, I will say this:
Even if Klopp doesn’t win any trophies at the end of his Liverpool tenure he still will be able to leave behind a better side than the one he inherited. And if that is not a sign of progress I don’t know what is.
To borrow a quote from Klopp’s statement ‘It doesn’t matter what people think when you arrive but what they think when you leave.’ Klopp’s time at Liverpool shouldn’t merely be based on the number of trophies he did or did not win but on how he made them an enjoyable team to watch from the broken one he initially found them to be.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but give me Liverpool’s entertaining 3-3 draws any day of the week than boring, headache-inducing 0-0 draws.
Written by Brook Genene
Follow Brook on Twitter @brookge
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