MANCHESTER — The pressure is now on Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool, as their lead atop the Premier League table was cut to four points after losing their first game of the season at Manchester City.
A 2-1 defeat at the home of the reigning champs is hardly a low point for Liverpool, but this was a pivotal game in the story of the 2018-19 season.
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From Sadio Mane‘s shot which hit the post and was somehow cleared by John Stones, to shots cleared off the line late on and Leroy Sane’s game-winner hitting the post and going in, Klopp’s men just didn’t get the rub of the green as their 20-game unbeaten run to start the season was ended.
Asked by Pro Soccer Talk in the press conference after the game about the pressure now on his team to react to this defeat, Klopp’s belief in his players was unwavering.
“I have so much faith in my players you can’t imagine. If someone had told me after both games after Man City we were four points up, I would have paid money for it like you cannot believe. It’s something that is not possible. You wanted to tell us if this happens, if that happens, Pep said something similar very nice, that their season would be over if they lose tonight. Football is like this. If we win this and are 10 points ahead and from that point win no game any more, then nothing happens. For us it is really important that we just take it game by game, because there is no other chance.”
Yet he knows the coming months will be tough.
Klopp has lost 10 of his 25 games in the month of January as Liverpool boss, and how his team reacts to this damaging defeat with the whole world questioning their title credentials will tell us how much more about them than their 20-game unbeaten run to start the season.
His team selection for the game at City showed how cautious Klopp was about losing, with James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum starting as the midfield three. They were overrun by Man City’s midfield trio and the initiative was handed to Liverpool’s opponents early on.
Liverpool’s manager complained about Vincent Kompany‘s robust, lunging tackle on Mohamed Salah in the first half but admitted City had more control of the game in key areas. He knew his team had missed a big chance to pull clear of City and Tottenham.
The pressure is on, but Klopp seemed frustrated that everyone expects his team to know how to clinch a title and trophies when they haven’t been in that situation before.
Liverpool haven’t won a league title in 29 years and Klopp and his squad have yet to win a trophy together. And he knows that experience is crucial to getting a team over the line.
“If we would have won the title five times in the last 10 years, then we could go 100 percent, but we don’t have the experience. Why should we behave like somebody who won all the time?” Klopp said. “It is true the club hasn’t won it for a long time. We never won it as a team, that is how it is. We want to finish the season as good as possible. We can do that. We are still in a pretty good position, so it is all fine for us. Not in the moment, it feels really bad, but it is only a moment. Then tomorrow morning, we wake up and still feels average, then we have an opportunity to work on it and work on it for the next game.”
With 17 games to go they are still in a fabulous position to win their first-ever PL title, but Klopp now looks like a man who knows his team will have to do it the hard way if he’s going to be parading the trophy around Anfield on the final day of the season with that trademark large grin on his face.