Jürgen Klopp

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Robbie Earle talks Man City, Liverpool ahead of massive match

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Prior to Liverpool’s trip to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City this Sunday, ProSoccerTalk spoke with Robbie Earle about the makeup of each side.

Q: How would you compare Manchester City’s and Liverpool’s goalkeeping situations?

Robbie Earle: It’s probably an area where I think both teams could and should do better and probably need to strengthen. If you look at City, it’s Claudio Bravo or more likely [Willy] Caballero will start, but it seems like City are starting their second-string goalkeeper. There was the high-profile exit of Joe Hart out of the club and then they bring in Claudio Bravo who is having a tough time with things. Then you have to go to the second string, but I think Caballero has provided a little bit of stability back there.

For Liverpool obviously we have the high-profile omission of [Simon] Mignolet and [Loris] Karius got in. Then Karius dropped and Mignolet regained the spot. In an ideal world I’d say for both clubs to be as successful as they want to be, they might need to upgrade in both those departments. It’s almost a draw in the goalkeeping departments.

Q: What are your thoughts on the backlines of the two clubs?

RE: The two clubs in some ways are very similar and I think the high-profile managers are both better attacking than defending in the way they play. You know on any given good day they can tear anyone apart in the Premier League, but it’s that consistency in defending. Again you look at City, there have been so many changes with a back four, back three, different partnerships. I feel a bit sorry for John Stones. He made a big-money move to Man City, there’s a lot expected and he’s had so many partners: [Pablo] Zabaleta, [Bacary] Sagna, [Aleksandar] Kolarov, [Nicolas] Otamendi, Fernandinho’s played there. You know the one guy they probably wanted to get him next to in terms of learning and where they saw their first choice center backs would have been Vincent Kompany. He’s spent very little time on the pitch so I feel a little bit sorry for John Stones. He’s had to grow up really quickly and become at times the focal point of a defense where he’s still at the stage of his career when he is learning the game and understanding about his decision-making. City, I think over the next 18 months, will see a few big changes in their defensive setup and personnel.

Liverpool are similar. No disrespect to James Milner but they’ve gotten away with playing a midfield player at left back. [Joel] Matip is the John Stones of Liverpool in that he hasn’t had a regular partner. It’s been a very changeable thing that back four and it’s an area of the pitch I think that’s very important. I’m still not sure Liverpool have got it quite right in terms of the personnel. I still feel that they’re going to need to go spend and buy a top draw center back and left back. We’re at the stage where Lucas Leiva, a player that probably couldn’t get into Liverpool’s midfield, is playing in the back four. That tells you where they are really.

Q: How do you think the midfields of Man City and Liverpool match up?

I’d say Liverpool are probably a little more athletic, certainly if [Jordan] Henderson is playing. It looks like [Emre] Can might play against Man City, but when you think of [Georginio] Wijnaldum and [Adam] Lallana both have started to show that they can score goals and have more productivity. Lallana has dropped off a bit, he was on a really hot run a few weeks ago, but they come with an energy and a vibrancy that if you don’t match it, if you’re not prepared to go toe-to-toe, they run all over teams from that area of the pitch. I think you have to at least match that.

[ MORE: Liverpool embracing underdog role v. Man City ]

City will try to do that more with technique and ability. It’ll probably be Fernandinho holding. At the moment it looks like they’ve played Yaya [Toure] next to him or [Kevin] De Bruyne and David Silva slightly advanced of the holding midfielder playing. De Bruyne and Silva both are great technicians, will keep the ball and that’s where they can keep it away from Liverpool. Liverpool’s midfield are all better with the ball than they are without it, but you can probably say the same thing about Man City, so possession and who has control of the game in that central area is probably going to be the key to the game.

Q: Which group of forwards do you trust more?

RE: You’d probably say as we are talking now, City are more in form with [Sergio] Aguero who’s a proven master marksman in the Premier League. His goal record stands for itself. And then in the wide areas [Leroy] Sane is getting better and better. We did a little piece on him a couple of weeks ago in terms of his positioning, his ability to create goals, to score goals from the left hand side. Then you have Raheem Sterling on the other side. Those three probably right now are in slightly better form than [Roberto] Firmino, [Philippe] Coutinho and [Sadio] Mane who are very different in the way they play.

It’s more about movement, it’s about clever, front-foot play between those three, but what I would say with those three is generally on the big days, their record against the top six is five wins and four draws. Those front three have come good on those days when they’ve needed them to. The front three are excellent in creating chances for each other and lots of interchanging. Mane will come from the wide positions, Firmino drops deep and Coutinho finds those seams inside. Their movement and intelligence is what will threaten the defense and it could be a game where, although both teams’ defenses are the weaker part of their game, who defends better on the day will win.

Q: Do you have a preference between Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola?

RE: They are very different. Klopp is much more open, in your face, heart on his sleeve, emotional on the sideline. He’s the driving force at Liverpool. I think he’s the most important member of the Liverpool squad. If Liverpool are going to finish in the top four, Jurgen Klopp is going to have to be outstanding in his coaching.

[ MORE: Joe Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks]

Pep Guardiola has to get a better understanding of the Premier League and what it requires week in and week out and I think it’s coming. It’s not just the big games which you know they are probably up for, but days when they play Burnley and Bournemouth and those places that sometimes they can have a banana skin. He’s a lot more considerate in the way he behaves and acts on the training field. In terms of who’d you have, it’s a difficult one. Pep’s a little bit more on the intellect and intelligence but I like Klopp. If I was a player, I’d have to say Klopp.

Q: Who wins this weekend’s match?

RE: It’s a tough one. For no other reason than form and their record against the top six teams, I just don’t think Liverpool will get beat. I think at worst Liverpool come with a draw. They’re good against the best teams and they’ll have a week of preparation whereas City have played in the Champions League. I just think Liverpool will at least get a draw, if not a win. So, I’ll slightly favor Liverpool, but with no real certainty. City could end up winning three-nil and I wouldn’t be surprised.

Klopp: Liverpool embracing underdog role at Man City

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Jurgen Klopp has had his fair share of tangles with Pep Guardiola, and the Liverpool boss says Man City’s loss to Monaco in the Champions League should not be viewed as a team in poor form.

Klopp says Man City could have won “easily” in the UCL second leg, and that his side will be the underdogs at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: Everton could sell Barkley ]

Liverpool has been almost impenetrable against the top sides of the Premier League, with six wins and four draws versus the Top Seven so far.

From the BBC:

“We don’t go there as favourites and that’s a role that’s not too bad.

“If you are passive they will play around you. It’s a real tactical challenge.”

Liverpool beat Man City 1-0 at Anfield on New Year’s Eve, a sluggish affair with just three shots on goal. Will Sunday be more entertaining?

Premier League clubs battle for 16-year-old Sessegnon

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Ryan Sessegnon is just 16 years old, but he’s already highly coveted.

The Fulham left-back became the first player born after the turn of the millennium to score in any of the top four English leagues, and he immediately turned the heads of some of the Premier League’s top teams.

Sessegnon scored a double against Championship leaders Newcastle last weekend, and his value to Fulham was made painfully obvious when manager Slavisa Jokanovic denied the youngster a chance at a hat-trick as he prohibited Sessegnon from taking a late penalty, one that Tim Ream missed. Jokanovic likely wished for Sessegnon to stay out of the headlines, but the damage had already been done.

Premier League teams have been swirling around the youngster for months, with rumors of interest from teams like Tottenham and Liverpool earlier in the season. Sessegnon isn’t a regular for the Whites, instead splitting time at left-back with Scott Malone, but a recent spell of good form has seen his stock rise considerably. His pace and ability to pick out a pass has teams salivating, despite his stick-like frame.

With Fulham on the cusp of a playoff spot, it’s possible that Sessegnon could see Premier League action next year without a move, but should the Whites miss out on promotion, there will be a summer of tension as the Championship club looks to keep hold of its young talent.

Liverpool seems the most sensible destination of the teams mentioned, as Jurgen Klopp has been searching for a long-term solution while James Milner continues to deputize on the defensive line. Still, the question remains whether Sessegnon is ready for a step up to higher competition. Two summers ago Fulham saw Patrick Roberts – another undersized youngster – leave for Manchester City, and while he remains a future option, he still has yet to make a serious impression on loan at Celtic. City has time for Roberts to develop, but Liverpool’s left-back situation calls for slightly more urgency.

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino got an up-close look at Sessegnon during the 3-0 Spurs win over Fulham in FA Cup play a few weeks ago. Other teams mentioned as tracking the 16-year-old include Everton and Newcastle, with the latter looking set for the Premier League next season. Sessegnon would compete with 25-year-old Paul Dummett at Newcastle, while the Toffees could be looking for a long-term replacement to Everton mainstay Leighton Baines.

It would seem that, as it is with highly coveted playmaker Tom Cairney, Fulham’s best hope to keep hold of Sessegnon seems to be promotion, but if that doesn’t happen, the sharks will smell an opportunity to poach yet another talented youth product off Motspur Park.

PL Sunday preview: Liverpool chasing top-four, hosting Burnley

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With fewer than a dozen games left to play in Jurgen Klopp‘s first full season in the Premier League, a top-four finish is there for the taking.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Ahead of Sunday’s clash with Burnley at Anfield (Watch live, 12 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Liverpool sit two points clear of fifth-place Arsenal (the Reds having played a game more already) with 11 games to go in the 2016-17 season. After a truly horrendous start to the 2017 calendar year (winless in their first five PL games) threatened to derail Liverpool’s chase for a second top-four finish in eight seasons, Klopp’s men bailed out the sinking ship with a pair of wins, over second-place Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal, in their last three league games.

Through the final day of 2016, no side in the PL had scored more goals (46 — four more than any other side) than the Reds, but it was their leaky defense (21 goals conceded — most of any side in the top-six at that time; they sat second ahead of New Years Day, six points back of runaway leaders Chelsea) which had already precluded them from a genuine title challenge.

“I don’t want to make it too philosophical — it is obviously the case we are inconsistent,” Klopp said this week. “I know we don’t have to doubt the attitude, and the kind of attitude we usually are looking for was here against Arsenal; they were really motivated and you cannot play like this if you have any issues.”

[ MORE: Arsenal beat Lincoln to reach FA Cup semis | Man City also through ]

Burnley (31 points) are already more than three-quarters of the way to the magical 40-point mark which will all but guarantee their safety from relegation (as few as 36 points could result in a 17th-place finish this season), though Sean Dyche‘s Clarets are winless in their last four PL games (two draws).

INJURIES: Liverpool — OUT: Jordan Henderson (foot), Daniel Sturridge (hip), Danny Ings (knee surgery), Adam Bogdan (knee surgery); PROBABLE: Roberto Firmino (knock) | Burnley — OUT: Johann Gudmundsson (knock), Steven Defour (hamstring), Jon Flanagan (loan from Liverpool); QUESTIONABLE: Joey Barton (hamstring)

Klopp reacts to critics: “Yes, we know how to play”

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As covered in our top PL story lines, Liverpool has a lot to prove when it comes to its attitude against league lesser lights.

The Reds are unbeaten against the top teams in the Premier League, but have lost to several teams in the relegation battle.

[ MORE: Mings angry at suspension ]

One of those teams is Burnley, who beat Liverpool at Turf Moor way back in August. Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has certainly heard his critics grow louder since that 2-0 decision, those who say his gegenpressing is his only tactical idea.

It’s no surprise that he has some thoughts on the matter. From Sky Sports:

“People say I don’t have a Plan B or whatever [but] yes, we know how to play,” Klopp said.

“We have to cover specific spaces and make the right decisions. We can’t just say we can only concentrate on counter attacks, set pieces, whatever. It’s an all-round challenge.”

Klopp came to the Premier League with much acclaim, and few doubt his skills and tactical genius as a manager. Yet there’s little doubt the Reds have failed to find answers from perceived low motivation matches, and that’s down to a mix of players and manager.

The Reds need a solution, and Saturday can exorcise several demons.