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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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.
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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.”
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.
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.
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