Klopp’s penalty comments on Man United: Has he got a point?

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Jurgen Klopp took aim at Manchester United and the amount of penalty kicks they win following Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat at Southampton on Monday, and it was a bit peculiar.

But does Klopp have a point?

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Ahead of their huge clash against Manchester United at Anfield on Jan. 17, Klopp is stirring the pot and clearly putting this fact in the back of the minds of the referees.

Of course, Liverpool and Man United are currently on the same points total at the summit of the Premier League table, but Klopp’s side are only ahead on goal difference.

Against Southampton, Klopp wasn’t happy that Sadio Mane didn’t win a penalty kick after a tackle from Kyle Walker-Peters in the box and he also believed that Jack Stephens committed a handball which should have led to a penalty kick.

“It looked like a pretty clear penalty,” Klopp said. “I turned around to the fourth official and he said, ‘We already checked. No penalty.’ If someone could tell me how they checked it so fast…. I heard that Man United has more penalties in the last two years than I have had in five years. I don’t know if that’s my fault but that’s no excuse for the performance.”

Klopp is correct with the raw data, but this is such a random stat to bring up. But Klopp’s motive isn’t random.

Since he took charge of Liverpool in October 2015, his team have won 30 penalties in the Premier League. Since the start of the 2018-19 Premier League season at Manchester United, the Red Devils have won 32 penalties.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of course replaced Jose Mourinho as United’s manager just a few months into that season, but the main reason United are winning lots of penalties is due to their counter-attacking style and their speedy attackers catching teams stretched. It is due to their style of play, and many other factors, and they aren’t the only big team to win a lot of penalty kicks.

Why did Klopp bring this up?

This is a bit of a bad take from Klopp. He was frustrated about losing at Southampton after two draws against West Brom and Newcastle, which is fair enough.

But this is clearly a tactic to a) take the focus off the poor performance of his players and b) put pressure on the referee ahead of their game against Liverpool.

The latter is something out of the Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson playbook. It shows that Klopp is concerned about Manchester United’s threat and how Liverpool are playing.

It is also a fact that more top teams will get more penalties just because, well, they are better than their opponents and will spend more time in attacking situations, so the law of averages suggests this will happen. It’s not difficult to work out.

Liverpool were very much a counter-attacking team in their early years under Klopp, but their style has changed and teams give them much more respect due to their dominance in recent seasons. That means fewer chances to lead counters compared to the likes of Manchester United, who rely heavily on their threat on the break.

Winning, or being awarded, penalties is not an exact science and so many factors go into this. The fact Klopp is fixated on it is more of a sign of how concerned he is about Manchester United this season.