Premier League Playback: Key questions for Klopp at Liverpool

1 Comment

KLOPP’S INSTANT IMPACT

Whistling like a German kettle on the sidelines at White Hart Lane, Jurgen Klopp was full of that “full throttle” approach he expects from his players.

During his debut both in charge of Liverpool and in the Premier League, Klopp impressed with his passion on the sidelines as he gesticulated furiously in a circulations motion with his right hand while whistling ferociously every single time his side gave away the ball. The result? Liverpool’s players slotted straight back into their positions as if they were sheepdogs being controlled by a shepherds whistle. In just four days of training with his new squad, Klopp already seems to have got them on his side.

[ MORE: Three things we learned

Plenty of questions still remain following his first outing. Overall, a 0-0 draw away at Tottenham Hotspur probably won’t be the liveliest of his Liverpool career but Klopp will see it as a decent result at in-form Spurs. Missing Danny Ings (at least for six months), Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke (all likely to be back this week) from his lineup, Klopp placed Divock Origi in attack and the 20-year-old delivered a performance where his pace caused Spurs problems and he was unlucky to see his header come crashing off the crossbar and out after a blistering start to the game from Liverpool. Origi impressed Klopp, who revealed he tried to sign him for Borussia Dortmund in the past but how he uses him, Sturridge and Benteke remains to be seen. It’s a huge question as right now it seems to be a case of one striker from three.

[ MORE: Klopp cool, praises attackers ]

Keeping up that “full throttle” start for an entire 90-minutes will be tough but speaking to the media after the game, Klopp declared himself more than satisfied with his first point as Liverpool boss but did reveal some of the answers to how his team didn’t manage to get a win.

“The problem of the game was that when we had the ball we were not cool enough. We didn’t use our skills. We were a little too hectic or eager. Something like this,” Klopp said. “We didn’t see the option as much but it is normal. You start like this, you got the ball from this space and you should open your view and you can play it this side because Tottenham is a zonal defending team. We didn’t use these situations but we had our moments. A very good corner [Origi’s header against the bar] and some other situations where we could have been a little better but for today it is really okay. After three or four days it was brilliant. Now we have our own experience together and we can go on working.”

Klopp is renowned for having his team work hard and press high up the pitch. The 4-3-2-1 — Christmas Tree formation, as it’s commonly known — system worked well on Saturday with the players at his disposal. However, with key attackers set to return from injury you’d be hard-pressed to believe that Klopp won’t line up with two up front when Southampton come to Anfield next Sunday for his first home league game in charge of the Reds. In midfield the trio of James Milner, Lucas and Emre Can worked tirelessly, with Klopp yelling “Yaaaa. Come on!” when Can rattled into a challenge in the first half. He praised that narrow midfield three afterwards and during the game he was very positive and constantly cajoled his side and applauded even their mistakes. Let’s see if he does that in a few months from now

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Some pretty impressive stats emanated from Liverpool’s opening performance under Klopp. They became the only team to outrun Tottenham this season, as their boss Mauricio Pochettino is another fierce proponent of high-pressing. Liverpool also completed more sprints than Spurs, 50 more to be exact, and although they ran out of steam after their exhilarating opening 25-minute spell to the game, Klopp’s boys did gain a second wind in the second half after Simon Mignolet denied Harry Kane and Clinton N'Jie when Spurs were on top.

It will take Liverpool’s players some time to live up to the high-paced demands of Klopp, but Saturday proved that they are not too far off how he expects them to play and approach games. Their fitness levels will need to be worked on and that is not easy to implement midway through a season. Now is the time to be patient as there are plenty more hurdles for Liverpool and their new manager to negotiate and plenty more questions to be answered. We got a taster of what’s time to come from Klopp, and judging by the German-inspired flags proudly waved by their fans, they already approve of “The Normal One” during a rather normal first game in charge.

Premier League Schedule – Week 9

Result Recap & Highlights
Chelsea 2-0 A Villa Recap, watch here
C Palace 1-3 West Ham Recap, watch here
Everton 0-3 Man Utd Recap, watch here
Man City 5-1 B’mouth Recap, watch here
N’castle 6-2 Norwich Recap, watch here
Saints 2-2 Leicester Recap, watch here
Swansea 0-1 Stoke Recap, watch here
Tottenham 0-0 L’pool Recap, watch here
Watford 0-3 Arsenal Recap, watch here
WBA 1-0 Sunderland Recap, watch here

CITY’S OUTSIDERS STEP UP

Without leading scorer Sergio Aguero and chief creator David Silva for the next four weeks through injury, Manchester City’s second-string attackers were expected to step up and deliver the goods against Bournemouth on Saturday. They did. Impressively. Raheem Sterling scored his first senior hat trick in the first half and Wilfried Bony struck twice to humble Bournemouth 5-1 and keep City top of the Premier League with 21 points from a possible 27.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Going into a huge Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Sunday, big question marks were hanging over City and how the likes of Sterling, Bony and Kevin De Bruyne could handle the pressure in the absence of the two players many believe are the best attackers in the Premier League. The fact that summer acquisitions Sterling and De Bruyne cost City $150 million in transfer fees alone tells its own story. Their strength in-depth is greater this season which is a big reason why they are many people’s title favorites.

De Bruyne was particularly outstanding on Saturday, as the Belgian international is settling into life at City extremely well. His ability to run at players from a central position was fully utilized by Manuel Pellegrini at the weekend and with the pace of Sterling and the strength of Bony having the Cherries in a spin, City could have had eight or nine. In truth, they took their foot off the gas in the second half with a big UEFA Champions League game coming up against Sevilla on Wednesday in Group D play, then United to come next weekend in the 170th derby. Vincent Kompany is also likely to return after being an usused sub and rested against Bournemouth and it’s a big week for the Citizens to prove they now have the cover, especially in attack, to deal with the absence of Silva and Aguero. If they can get positive results against Sevilla and United, the early season PL leaders can feel very good about the months ahead. Plus, it’s always handy to have ‘Dav the Wizard’ and Kun Aguero to slot back in whenever they’re needed…

HAZARD’S BENCHING HARSH?

On Saturday Chelsea got back to winning ways, as Jose Mourinho’s side beat a lackluster Aston Villa outfit 2-0 at Stamford Bridge. Diego Costa bundled home the opener and his shot cannoned off Alan Hutton and past Brad Guzan for another in the second half to wrap things up. That was the game. It was pretty straightforward.

The main storyline to come out of the Bridge was not what happened on the field but more about who spent most of the game off of it. Mourinho raised plenty of eyebrows when Eden Hazard was left on the bench for the visit of Villa but afterwards he described exactly why the Belgian wizard, who is the reigning PL Player of the Year, was left on the bench.

“I left out Hazard because we are conceding lots of goals. We need to defend better,” Mourinho said. “When you don’t have the ball, quality means nothing and what means [thumps chest]… you have or you don’t have. It was just a tactical decision, leaving super quality on the bench, but bringing tactical discipline and hoping that the team could be solid. Willian and Pedro did amazing defensive work and allowed the midfield players to be very comfortable. I continue that way, or he comes in our direction and tries to replicate the same work that Willian and Pedro did.”

Tactical. Really?

In the games Chelsea have been been dreadful in this season, and that’s been plenty of them, Hazard has been the one player who has shown he can beat a man and has that extra bit of quality. Sure, Pedro and Willian deserve chances to shine but this is Eden Hazard, the man who tore apart opposition defenses in the PL at will last season. If anybody deserves an extended run in the team it is him. Mourinho may have got the desired defensive work out of Willian and Pedro — we all know Hazard struggles with tracking back, as it was proven when Chelsea lost to Atletico Madrid at home in the UEFA Champions League final in 2013-14 season — but by publicly ostracizing Hazard and calling out his work-rate, the latest mind game from Chelsea’s manager may have grave consequences and cost the Blues their best player in a season where they desperately need him to regain his best form and lead them back into the top fourth. This is either brilliant management or madness from Mourinho. I suspect the latter.

FOUR-MIDABLE WIJNALDUM; MAGPIES WARY

Georginio Wijnaldum smashed in four goals for Newcastle on Sunday, leading the Magpies to their first win of the season in a pulsating 6-2 victory over Norwich City. In his ninth PL game in charge of the club former England boss Steve McClaren finally got a win but he knows Wijnaldum’s clinical finishing can’t paper over the cracks. Newcastle scored with all six of their shots on target and Wijnaldum now has six PL goals for the season as the marauding Dutch midfielder is looking like one of the bargains of the summer as he’s perfectly timed runs from midfield are causing opponents havoc.

[ MORE: Standings | schedule | stats ]

In an incredible first half Newcastle went 1-0 up but Dieumerci Mbokani equalized, then they went 3-1 up but Nathan Redmond pulled another back to make it 3-2 at the break. Redmond hit the post in the second half and Newcastle kept dropping deeper and deeper. In truth, the scoreline flattered McClaren’s side. Apart from Moussa Sissoko and Wijnaldum’s brilliance, plus a thumping volley from Aleksandar Mitrovic in front of his adoring fans, Newcastle still have plenty of issues to resolve as they aim to get out of the relegation zone. At least McClaren knows it as he failed to lose sight of the bigger picture in the postgame press conference, which cannot be said for most managers when you score six goals in a much-needed win.

“It’s Newcastle, is it possible to make any sense?” McClaren told reporters. “That’s what we are fast discovering. But I think that was just reward. I’m so pleased for the players, so pleased for the fans. Like we have said all along not to get too down and after tonight, we are not going to get high. There’s a lot of work to do, but it shows today when it comes together what we are capable of doing.”

Next up for Newcastle, the small matter of facing a Tyne-Wear derby against the team who sits bottom of the PL table: Sunderland. Buckle up. With Sam Allardyce in charge for the Black Cats and narrowly losing his first game in charge away at West Brom in controversial fashion, this is going to be a rambunctious derby next Sunday with three points, momentum and local pride on the line at the Stadium of Light.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here. 

La Liga: Sevilla held at Osasuna, Getafe maintains UCL fight

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sevilla was held to a 1-1 draw at 10-man Osasuna on Sunday, giving both Real Madrid and Barcelona space at the top of the La Liga table.

Munir El Haddadi put the visitors 1-0 up just 11 minutes in, but Ezequiel Avila struck just before halftime to share the points. Sevilla was held to just two total shots through the opening 45 minutes, and despite Osasuna defender Oier Olazabal being shown a second yellow card with 29 minutes to go, Sevilla still managed just 11 total efforts through the 90 minutes, with four on target.

Getafe continued its battle for a top four spot as they won 1-0 on the road at Eibar. Angel Rodriguez bagged his eighth goal of the season to secure the win, cropping up in the 67th minute to finally put Getafe through. They had been turning the screw for some time, forcing Marko Dmitrovic into a pair of big saves just before the opener which came from an absurdly tight angle after Angel had rounded the goalkeeper. The win leaves them fourth, level with Real Sociedad on 27 points.

They were allowed to close the gap after Real Sociedad was held scoreless in a 0-0 draw at 14th placed Real Valladolid. The visitors put just two of their 14 shots on net, and dropped to fifth thanks to Getafe holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Athletic Club also fell back in the race for a top four spot, dropping a 3-2 decision on the road at Real Betis. Joaquin scored a first-half hat-trick, with all three goals coming in the opening 20 minutes to give him five in his last three games. Inaki Williams brought Athletic Bilbao one back before halftime from the spot, and Yuri Berchiche made things interesting with a minute to go, but that was all they could muster as the visitors fell to sixth on 26 points, above Atletico Madrid on goal differential with the two yet to play head-to-head.

Celta Vigo made it interesting as Iago Aspas scored a man-down goal, but Leganes held on for a 3-2 win over the 10-man visitors. Oscar Rodriguez had a first-half brace to help the hosts to a 3-0 lead, but Nestor Araujo and Aspas helped Celta Vigo make things interesting. Still, a 71st minute second yellow card for halftime substitute Gabriel Fernandez hampered the visitors in their efforts for a comeback, leaving Celta Vigo in the relegation zone, a point back of safety, with Leganes is four points behind them in 19th.

Gerrard reacts to Rangers’ Old Firm heartbreak in final

Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Steven Gerrard lined his Rangers side up for success, but fate was cruel to the Liverpool legend.

Rangers lost the League Cup Final to their Old Firm rivals on Sunday despite out-shooting the Bhoys by a 16-5 margin, winning a penalty, and playing almost a half-hour up a man.

[ RECAP: Rangers 0-1 Celtic ]

“To a man we were very good … by much the better side,” Gerrard said. “But unfortunately that’s not what gets you a trophy.”

But Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster stopped Alfredo Morelos’ penalty, three minutes after goal scorer Christopher Jullien was offside on the lone goal of the game.

Scotland doesn’t yet use VAR, and Gerrard doesn’t love VAR but he likes it more than he likes Scottish officials.

“There were three Celtic players standing in offside positions but unfortunately we play in a country where there is no VAR,” he said, via the BBC. “I’d be a liar if I said I was 100% in favour of it, but the one thing I do know is that officials up here need support.”

Now he has the task of getting his men to rebound ahead of its biggest non-derby in ages, as Rangers need at least a draw against Young Boys at home on Thursday to advance to the Europa League knockout rounds

“It’s a bit raw right now… It’s up to me to pick the players up. One thing I will say is I’ll stay with these players on the evidence of today because they gave me absolutely everything. We might have to suffer a bit short-term. I need to pick them up a bit physically and mentally for Thursday which is huge but our day will come on the evidence of today.”

Gerrard has done a very good job with Rangers, who are two points back of Celtic in a two-horse race for the Scottish top flight title. Celtic has won eight-straight titles to improve their total to 50, four less than the Rangers.

Serie A: AC Milan on winning streak, Fiorentina woes deepen

Getty Images
Leave a comment

AC Milan secured its first winning streak since mid-September as Krzysztof Piatek and Theo Hernandez led the way to a 3-2 road win over Bologna.

Piatek was the first on the scoresheet, opening the scoring from the spot after the Polish striker was bundled over on the break by Mattia Bani. He utilized a heavy stutter in his run-up, but wrong-footed Bologna goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski for the conversion. Hernandez was next up, latching onto a perfect through-ball from Suso that sprung the former at the far post.

Bologna pulled one back before halftime on a Hernandez own-goal, but Giacomo Bonaventura restored the two-goal lead just seconds after the restart. Nicola Sansone’s late penalty made no difference in the result and Milan sits 10th in the league table, level on points with Torino.

Fiorentina slumped to its fourth straight loss as they fell at Torino 2-1. The visitors were soundly beaten on goals by Simone Zaza and Cristian Ansaldi, only able to grab a consolation strike from Martin Caceres in stoppage time. They put just four of their 17 shots on net and had very few true chances until Caceres’s late goal. With the loss, Fiorentina drops to 13th in the table, just five points above the relegation zone. Vincenze Montella’s job is on the line, having just returned to the club in April for a second stint in charge after the departure of Stefano Pioli.

Cagliari failed to pull away from Roma with a 2-2 draw on the road at 14th placed Sassuolo. A comeback was required after falling down 2-0 before halftime. João Pedro brought the visitors one back just six minutes after the break, and Daniele Ragatzu rescued the point as he snuck one in at the near post a minute into added time. They also survived what could have been the game-winning goal as Domenico Berardi clattered the crossbar from the penalty stop on a chance that would have put the home side 3-1. Instead, Cagliari moves level with Roma on 29 points, clinging to the fourth Champions League spot on goal differential.

Genoa survived the final 13 minutes with just nine men, securing a 2-2 draw with Lecce that keeps them in the hunt for Serie A safety. Goran Pandev and Domenico Criscito had put Genoa 2-0 up before halftime, but they had coughed up the lead by the 70th minute. Still, things could have been worse as Kevin Agudelo was sent off with 20 minutes to go after conceding a penalty, while Pandev was given his marching orders in the 77th minute. The goals in this game were spectacular, with Pandev’s opener coming from nearly 40 yards out as he chipped Lecce goalkeeper Gabriel who was off his line, while Filippo Falco scored a fine curler to mark Lecce’s first on the hour mark.

Brescia topped SPAL 1-0 to leave the latter at the bottom of the Serie A table, with the lone goal coming via Mario Balotelli in the 54th minute as he collected a bobbling ball on the break and fired it in at the far post. The win was critical, moving 19th-placed Brescia to 10 points on the year, two from safety.

Parma defeated Sampdoria 1-0 on a 21st minute goal from Juraj Kucka that left Claudio Ranieri‘s squad just a point off the relegation zone.

Nuno expresses pride in Wolves achievements after Brighton draw

Leave a comment

Nuno Espirito Santo has expressed his pride in what Wolves has achieved so far this season after the 2-2 road draw at Brighton & Hove Albion.

The team reclaimed sixth place in the Premier League table with the point from the Amex, and while Nuno knows there were moments to improve on, he still believes the team is headed forward and looks back fondly on where they’ve come from.

[ RECAP: Wolves, Seagulls draw ]

“We are very proud of what we are achieving day by day but we want to keep on going,” Nuno said after the match. “We need to compete and prepare ourselves for the last game in the Europa League.”

He pointed to mistakes that led to Brighton goals, ones he believes a little tactical instruction should snuff out. “I am proud of how we stayed organized. We did not do well when he had to restart the game after the 1-1, we should not have played a horizontal pass that was intercepted.”

The head man was frustrated by one key thing, as his winger Adama Traore was fouled four times, all coming in the second half. “He’s a strong boy,” Nuno said. “Everybody can see that. No matter how strong you are, if you are being kicked it’s impossible.” He was seen having an animated conversation with the fourth official during the later stages of the game, with two of the four fouls drawn in the final 10 minutes as the visitors pushed for a winner.

The draw against Brighton was no anomaly – Wolves has achieved its impressive table position despite just five wins on the season. The key for them has been avoiding losses, with just two defeats on the year. They have drawn a shocking nine games, with the previous eight all either 0-0 or 1-1 before Sunday’s 2-2 finish. That leaves Wolves with an 11-game unbeaten streak, with the last loss coming in mid-September.

Nevertheless, Nuno knows the toughest part of the season is on the horizon. “The hardest part of the fixtures is going to start now. It will be tough for everybody.” Wolves has a match against Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham next weekend before a festive season that sees the club play Norwich, Man City, Liverpool, and Watford between an eleven-day span.