Will Klopp's Manchester United remarks distract Liverpool v Tottenham?
Background image: Tobias Barkskog, CC BY 3.0
Before last Sunday’s North West Derby with Premier League-perfect Liverpool, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested the match could be a turning point in the Red Devils’ hitherto disappointing campaign. Whether or not you think United should have gone for the jugular in the final 20 minutes rather than closing shop, the eventual draw is more than most expected from the Red Devils going into the match. In any event, a turning point is defined not by the moment itself but what occurs in its wake. It’s now up to Solskjaer and his squad to prove they are finally on the right path.
Conversely, Jurgen Klopp doesn’t want the game to be a pivotal moment in another failed bid to win the Premier League title. Under the German, the Merseysiders ran out to a lead in last season’s title race only to allow Manchester City to reel them in. Liverpool didn’t crumble or collapse. They were only defeated once, by City, but too many draws in matches they should have won while the Sky Blues consistently killed off opponents ultimately decided who wears the crown.
Last season's capitulation was the latest in a long list of unsuccessful Liverpool title runs. History can weigh on a club. That the Reds are yet to finish top in the Premier League era is a damning fact every fan of English football knows. After City won out against newly-promoted Aston Villa in the Saturday lunchtime clash, the pressure is on the Anfield mob to respond with a victory over Tottenham in today's tea-time tilt, lest critics label their eight-game perfect start another false dawn. Should Liverpool draw or even lose while City narrow the gap for the second week running, how can supporters and,most importantly, the squad not think, ‘Here we go again?’
For their part, Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs seek to navigate their own crossroads at Anfield. Last week produced another disappointing home result, a 1-1 draw with relegation fodder Watford. The Lilywhites took their anger out on visiting Red Star Belgrade midweek in the Champions League, pouring five into the Serbian champions’ goal. Now they travel north with the opportunity to drastically alter the Premier League narrative, cutting down unbeaten Liverpool, allowing City to climb within a result of their title rivals and, depending on results elsewhere, possibly moving within striking distance of the top four themselves.
Jurgen Klopp prefers the solitude a Liverpool victory would preserve. Maximum isolation in the table provides peace and quiet, an environment in which the Reds can conclude their Premier League campaign in a composed, confident manner rather than staging a chaotic dinner party at which all the guests are intent on murdering the hosts.
Of course, this is the same test Liverpool sat for and failed last week. Had they beaten United, their eight-point advantage over City would still exist. That’s the best part of an early season, though. The football gods always provide another bite at the apple. Fail a second time, however, and it will be difficult to sell the excuses.
Klopp can’t complain as he did at Old Trafford should Pochettino set up Spurs for a defensive battle as teams will do when on the road. Unlike United, who ceded the initiative at home, Tottenham are the road team. Klopp has now mandated a week in advance that Liverpool dictate terms from the off. He must plan an assault on Pochettino's battlements.
It’s hard to understand why Klopp complained about United’s defensive tactics in the first place. He concluded his lament by noting it’s something the Red Devils do every time he’s visited Old Trafford as Liverpool boss, whether the manager was Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho or Louis van Gaal. If that is the case, why didn't the German prepare for the strategy, making certain his squad were ready to cope? Instead, the Merseysiders were caught off guard and outplayed for the greater portion of the match.
Nor can he feign naivete over the VAR process, suggesting his interpretation of events are the match officials' own thoughts, contending that the video official should have dsimissed Martin Atkinson's judgement from on top of the scene wherein he determined there was less in Victor Lindelof’s kick at Divock Origi’s leg than the Belgian’s theatrics made out. One day, a referee will let play proceed and Liverpool will score on the break after a soft foul. How much are you willing to wager Klopp will plead with the match official to mark off the goal? Can't you just see him in your mind's eye, jumping up and down, gesticulating, bending his double-jointed jaw out of shape to convince fourth official Jon Moss his team doesn't deserve the break, confessing his man made a meal of the contact to cover up his own poor touch prior to the foul? More likely, he’ll celebrate and later tell reporters he was denied a good view of the incident.
On still another day, a match official will blow play dead on United when Lindelof or Harry Maguire or Axel Tuanzebe hamstring a forward with more nuanced acting chops and the break won’t have a chance to exploit the opportunity. Chances are the ensuing free-kick will beat David de Gea. United were lucky Martin Atkinson adjudicated the situation as he did but by abandoning for a more aggressive tone the passive defending and attacking that's defined their early season, the Red Devils made their own luck.
Similarly, Liverpool make theirs albeit Klopp forgets luck comes in two packages. By complaining about referee decisions or opponents’ negative tactics rather than refusing to entertain such excuses at all, taking responsibility, challenging his team to be better, the German subconsciously invites his squad to adopt the wrong mindset. Players begin to think, ‘Here we go again; history is catching up with us.’ Their confidence is shaken. They cede control of matters they can influence as though, like an official’s judgment or an opponent’s choice of strategy, it is something they cannot. Thus, they make their own bad luck.
Their 4-1 victory over Genk in the Champions League on Wednesday evening put the Reds back in the winner's mentality they lacked against United. But Liverpool already know how to win in Europe. Now it is up to Klopp to convince his side they can be as masterful in the Premier League.