LONDON — Whether he admits it or not, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool were rattled by West Ham United on Monday.
The Premier League leaders drew 1-1 at the London Stadium but were lucky to not succumb to a damaging defeat at the hands of the fired-up Hammers.
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Sadio Mane‘s goal to give Liverpool the lead was clearly offside but stood, while West Ham spurned several glorious chances to leave their manager Manuel Pellegrini “disappointed” they couldn’t secure a huge win.
Liverpool are now just three points ahead of second-place Manchester City and five points clear of third-place Tottenham, who Klopp said are “100 percent” in the title race. He added that “if you want to win big things you have to be ready for these tight races. That is how it is.”
Speaking to reporters after the game, Klopp pointed to a raft of injuries unsettling his team on the eve of the trip to east London as Jordan Henderson, Dejan Lovren and Georginio Wijnaldum all missed out.
With those injuries adding to the absence of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, Klopp’s side struggled to cope and were all over the place defensively, especially in the first half from set piece situations.
“Because of our situation, last night we trained and had to change three positions. That is of course not perfect,” Klopp explained. “You saw that with the set pieces, you saw that with the organization. That is where we struggled a bit, but apart from that it is a game where I think if Divock [Origi] scores the late goal it will be a lucky moment, but the point is absolutely deserved.”
Whether or not his team deserved that point is a massive point of contention.
Mane’s goal should have been ruled out, West Ham missed several big chances and Origi was clearly offside (although the linesman didn’t flag) as he missed a huge chance to win the game in stoppage time.
Liverpool weren’t at it, and West Ham captain Mark Noble said he knew why when speaking to Sky Sports after the game: “We scared them. You have to do that against the top teams. I’m just gutted we didn’t come away with the three points.”
Klopp took exception to those comments, as he perhaps showed that the ups and downs of a title race are starting to show.
“I like that really. I wish for all West Ham fans that Mark Noble and his team would scare more teams and not only us tonight,” Klopp said. “I don’t know him really well, so I don’t know why he speaks about us like that. They defended well, that is true. They didn’t scare us. It is just a normal away game.”
But this wasn’t a normal Liverpool display. In midfield the trio of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Adam Lallana were overrun and although Liverpool had more of the ball West Ham looked quite capable of slicing them open on the counter whenever they had the chance.
Klopp was almost trying to reassure himself that everything was fine after Liverpool have now dropped points in back-to-back games against Leicester and West Ham to almost see their lead atop the table evaporate.
“We had a difficult situation, it is a long season. I don’t want to think about it, but in general we’ve lost one game in the whole season. The team is doing well. We have a tough situation at the moment,” Klopp said. “The injuries, I don’t know where they come from, Millie [James Milner] was ill and Virgil had three, four days out where he lost four kilos, obviously they doesn’t help as well. It is a difficult situation with the center half and right back positions but the boys still fight. Could we have played better, even in that situation? 100 percent. That is what we expect from ourselves. These games are difficult. You have to accept the quality of the opponents and then use their weaknesses they have.”
The Liverpool manager perhaps showed some his weakness at the end of the game as he and West Ham boss Pellegrini had a heated exchange at the final whistle. Pellegrini smiled when asked about that afterwards and pointed back to a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal in 2013 when his Malaga side lost to Klopp’s Dortmund on an offside goal in stoppage time.
“Klopp is used to win because of offside, because he beat me and Malaga with Borussia Dortmund with a goal that was seven meters offside. So he cannot complain about nothing,” Pellegrini said.
Pellegrini added that he was pleased to do his old club Man City a favor, and that could have riled Klopp further.
“I said during the week we need to win this game for our fans, and if we are going to give a hand to Manchester City, that was also my club,” Pellegrini said. “Maybe that is why the manager of Liverpool didn’t like it.”
The manager of Liverpool, once again, said that the preparation for the game was “far away from being perfect” but they still got a point, even if he couldn’t explain to his players how to defend well enough in certain set-piece situations.
Is Klopp confident that his boys will not crack under the intense pressure in situations coming up?
His answer, again, seemed more about reassuring himself and those around him that everything was fine, despite a wobble at West Ham which was clear for all to see.
“I am confident about this. I think since five, six, seven, eight weeks now we have talked about a two horse race and now Tottenham have come from behind. They have a difficult situation and dealt with it brilliantly well, all credit to Poch [Mauricio Pochettino] and his team for how they did it, winning games very late and a lot of injury problems as well. That is great. For me, they [Tottenham] are 100 percent in the race. If you want to be top of the table at the end of the season, you have to deal with much tougher situations than we had today. That is the truth. It is clear.
“Of course, you need players fit and available, that helps. Midfield players tonight apart from Shaq [Xherdan Shaqiri], would have been 18 years old. Brilliant boys and if needed we would have played them tonight, of course. That is not perfect in the moment. We have to fight. It is not about pressure. It is about enjoying the situation you are in. We have 62 points, we lost one game in a full season so far and that is very positive. I see your faces already, you feel a bit sorry with us. You don’t have to. We are fine. Everything is good. Of course, tonight was just a tough game. If you have a day like that, the things that happened yesterday and you get a point at West Ham, for me that is absolutely fine.”
This is fine. Absolutely fine…