Premier League Hangover: Perspiration over Inspiration for Klopp's Liverpool

Alex Dunn@@aldunn80Featured ColumnistOctober 18, 2015

Liverpool's players embrace a drink break as they get used to Klopp's gegenpressing.
Liverpool's players embrace a drink break as they get used to Klopp's gegenpressing.Associated Press

Liverpool’s fifth Beatle arrived in the capital for a lunchtime date with Tottenham Hotspur in a gilded carriage against a backdrop of the type of pomp and circumstance usually reserved for a royal wedding. He left with a draw that was far from perfect but perfectly fine. 

Such was the obsequious reverence afforded to it beforehand, Jurgen Klopp would have had to have shed his tracksuit to score a late winner at White Hart Lane for his bow as a Premier League manager not to have been anticlimactic. Nostradamus-like prescience was not required to predict Saturday's score. Death, taxes and a goalless draw. 

The first 20 minutes were so exhausting it came as a blessed relief that the 70 that followed allowed for a light nap.

Watching James Milner (he covered 13.1 kilometres and made 82 sprints, both game highs, per Sky Sports) only occasionally interrupt military-style shuttle runs to show an interest in the ball is par for the course, comforting almost: hot soup on a winter’s day. When Philippe Coutinho shows a similar predilection for pressing, hassling, harassing, cajoling with force, though, it’s as if the tectonic plates have shifted.

A 4-3-2-1 formation not overly seen in the Premier League demonstrated Klopp's eye for innovation, though given he had key personnel missing, it's hard to tell whether it's a system he'll persevere with long term.

There was nothing too novel about playing defenders in defence and Emre Can in midfield, yet Brendan Rodgers will likely have winced at Liverpool securing a first clean sheet in eight matches (the last one coming back in August against Arsenal).

Both Can and Milner worked tirelessly in shifting out wide when Tottenham's full-backs were in possession while remaining compact alongside defensive anchor Lucas Leiva when needed. It's far too early to make sweeping statements, yet there was a well-drilled cohesion to much of Liverpool's shape. 

Given Mauricio Pochettino is another disciple who worships at the altar of pressing football, there was always the danger Saturday’s matchup of two similar styles would stymie the contest from being anything other than an exercise in endurance. And so it proved over 90 minutes of 100-miles-an-hour football.

In the opening rounds, Liverpool were excellent but soon punched themselves out. Once the storm was weathered, it was the home side that played the more controlled football, with Mousa Dembele reminding the world of not just his existence but his undoubted quality on his day. That his day is rarely a Saturday is the issue. The Belgian topped the charts in terms of tackles made (eight) and possessions won (five) and lost the ball just eight times all game, per WhoScored.com.

Tottenham substitute Clinton Njie forced an excellent full-stretch save from Simon Mignolet before half-time, and Harry Kane twice tested the Belgian after the break. Kane may not be scoring too regularly, but his rangy hold-up work was one of the game's few standout features—as was his bright interplay with the ever-intelligent and witty Christian Eriksen.

Liverpool couldn’t quite pull off a smash-and-grab job in the capital, but Klopp’s fingerprints were all over it. Saturday was the first time this term Tottenham have been outrun by the opposition. Liverpool's players collectively covered more distance and made more sprints than in any other game this season. 

Just how does Klopp do it?

"Lads, eh, if you could just run a bit more," would sound like Mike Bassett uttered by anyone but the German, yet it's been universally acknowledged that Klopp will get his side running more. The proof was in the pudding on Saturday.

How exactly does it work at other clubs? "You know that 10 metres more thing that Klopp fella keeps banging on about? Well, don't you worry about it, boys. If you're tired, just sack it off."

Here was me thinking for £120,000 a week running around a lot was kind of a given. Being the avatar for football's pressing zeitgeist probably helps, to be fair.

Liverpool's off-the-ball graft was given a thumbs up by their new boss post-match—less so their carelessness with it. 

"The problem was when we had the ball. We weren't good enough," said Klopp, per James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo. "We didn't use our skills. We were too hectic. We didn't see the right option."

Hunters and gatherers on both sides worked tirelessly, but as soon as the ball was won, it was tossed back. Like a fisherman who loves the thrill of the chase but has no stomach for the kill, capturing the prey was all that mattered. What happened to it afterward was no more than an afterthought. This was Kobe beef cooked in a microwave.

Klopp has said his unique brand of hunting possession is "the best playmaker," which can only be a good thing given his playmakers with real feet and legs, Coutinho and Adam Lallana, were too knackered from gegenpressing to do anything positive on the ball. Inspiration was bent double, wheezing at perspiration’s mere presence. 

Up front, Liverpool's fourth-choice striker, Divock Origififth if you include Roberto Firminowas a willing runner and gave a more than fair account of himself on his first league start in England.

A header against the crossbar was as close as either side came to scoring, while a pass-completion rate of 91 per cent, per WhoScored.com, is an excellent return for a player not accustomed to playing with his back to goal.

Christian Benteke and Daniel Sturridge will vie for the Robert Lewandowski role at the point of Liverpool's attack, but Origi showed he may be a decent option off the bench to stretch teams. 

That Saturday’s game as a spectacle will have been forgotten before the final shrill of the referee’s whistle will suit Klopp. Being solid rather than spectacular should at least quell the hyperbole that has enveloped his every word since his arrival in England, at least for a day or two.

A point against a Tottenham side that put four past Manchester City in their last home game and is undefeated since the opening day was a decent result, but it showed there is much work to do.

Klopp, who has only had his players on the training field for three days because of their international commitments, was willing to cede as much in his post-match interview with BT Sport (via the Independent):

I am happy with the result because I saw many good things.

We were very good in the first 20 minutes, very aggressive. We were pressing and counter pressing but Tottenham are a good team. They came back into the match.

We are little bit too nervous when we got the ball because the pulse was too high in this moment.

You saw the game and there were many full-throttle moments in the game. Yes, we need to improve but for today after three days anything could've happened here and it's 0-0.

I'm completely satisfied. It was a good first step and I can work with this. For today, it's OK. 0-0's not my dream result but today its OK!

In what was surely a television first, BT Sport housed Klopp in a little box at the bottom of our screens while the game was live. 

Wild touchline gesticulations and plentiful fist pumps were given their own action replays, Klopp a bearded Borrower trapped in our television sets. It was like something you'd watch in a wildlife documentary, a David Attenborough voiceover whispering, "Watch carefully to see how the ape urges other primates to press, using signs." 

The only sign Liverpool fans are interested in is that their club is moving forward.

On Saturday's showing, the flag in the away end that simply read "We Believe" below a club crest and Klopp's head should prove a sound investment on the part of its owner. Even if Klopp flops, there'll be a plethora of English journalists willing to pay a fair price for it for personal consumption.

 

Football Stunned by Kendall Death

Everton's players pay their respects to club legend Howard Kendall.
Everton's players pay their respects to club legend Howard Kendall.Jon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press

Those who knew him paid tribute to the much-loved and revered Howard Kendall, who passed away at the age of 69 on Saturday morning. 

 

Hazard Warning for Eden

A routine win for Chelsea over Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge should have been Jose Mourinho's cue to give the press the empty platitudes they need to fill their column inches.

It wasn't exactly champagne football that halted a miserable run in the league, but given Mourinho embraces a "good enough is good enough" mantra, his Saturday evening should have been happier than many have been of late.

The one contentious issue of the day was Eden Hazard's omission. The Belgian was benched for a Premier League game for the first time in 18 months, with Chelsea's playmaker previously the one player seemingly undroppable.

Given Chelsea play Dynamo Kiev in a crucial Champions League game on Tuesday night, Mourinho had the ideal excuse at hand to explain away Hazard's absence. What there definitely wasn't a need for was a remarkably honest dissection of his selection process.

The Portuguese, per ESPN FC, could not have been clearer as to his thought process had he worn a t-shirt emblazoned with "Hazard's been as crap as all the others," saying:

I left out Hazard because we are conceding lots of goals.

We need our midfielders to be just worried in the central area of the pitch, not worrying about compensation on the left or right.

Playing with Willian and Pedro, the midfielders don't have to move left or right. They know those parts are controlled. Pedro and Willian did amazing work and allowed the midfielders to be very comfortable and have performances like Ramires' and [Cesc] Fabregas,' controlling totally the centre of the pitch. It was a tactical decision. Leaving super quality on the bench, but bringing tactical discipline and hoping the team could be solid.

I continue that way [with this lineup] or [Hazard] comes in our direction and tries to emulate the same work that Willian and Pedro put in.

Far be it for us to tell Mourinho how to manage, but potentially making war with your best player while in the worst run of form the club has endured in 37 years seems foolhardy to the point of lunacy.

 

Raheem Repays Ample Sterling Investment

In Manchester City's last home league game, against Newcastle United, an ineffective showing on the left wing saw Raheem Sterling substituted at half-time. His was a gloomy-onlooker presence on the bench as Sergio Aguero, as is his wont, took matters entirely into his own hands to score five as City came from behind to romp to a 6-1 victory.

The Argentinian was missing on Saturday for the visit of Bournemouth, as was David Silva, leaving Sterling to move inside, tucked in behind Wilfried Bony.

The extra responsibility he was afforded proved to be just the tonic for Sterling. As was the porous nature of Bournemouth's back four, as the £49 million man shrugged off criticism of his finishing ability to score a well-taken hat-trick.

His second, from a gorgeous through ball by the once-again impeccable Kevin De Bruyne (an early shout for Player of the Year?), was a goal few Premier League players are capable of scoring. Cherries centre-half duo, Steve Cook and Sylvain Distin, both bought dummies that belonged in a department-store Christmas window before Sterling slotted past Adam Federici with no little aplomb.

To think there were doubts over whether £49 million is enough to buy a forward who can finish in today's market.

 

Can Van Gaal Keep Dropping Herrera?

Ander Herrera put in a tremendous shift at Goodison Park.
Ander Herrera put in a tremendous shift at Goodison Park.Jon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press

Ander Herrera is that rarest of things: a player liked by fans of clubs he doesn't play for.

Fleet of foot without ever being showy, he drifts into spaces no one else on the field knows are there. His ability to time his runs from deep recalls Martin Peters, who earned the moniker the Ghost during his playing days for West Ham United and England.

Adored by Manchester United brethren, put simply, he's a lovely player to watch. Perhaps the only individual not sure of Herrera's qualities is his manager, Louis van Gaal.

"He played very well and had a contribution in the goals," said Van Gaal, per ESPN FC, after his midfielder's goal and assist in United's much-improved performance that sealed a 3-0 win at Everton on Saturday. "When Herrera is playing like that, it is difficult to not select him, but I can do it."

It was an ability to pick a run that saw Herrera score United's second, as Marcos Rojo's deep cross was expertly headed into the ground and beyond Tim Howard. That's 11 goals in 27 starts for United in all competitions for the 26-year-old. Only Juan Mata (seven) has scored more league goals than Herrera's six in the calendar year. 

His overall game at Goodison Park was exemplary, as he dovetailed to real effect with Wayne Rooney on what was an emotional occasion for the Croxteth-born Evertonian because of Kendall's death.

It was perhaps no coincidence United's captain had his best game for some time in tandem with the Spaniard.

Herrera is a continuity player, with his economical speed of thought and transition easier to read than the over-elaborate and erratic Memphis Depay. He's the type of player who makes those around him perform better, and while that's a difficult quality to quantify, it's one Van Gaal would ignore to his detriment.

Herrera's slide-rule pass presented Rooney with the opportunity to score United's third goal, taking his Premier League total to 187 in the process. He now sits in joint-second place in the Premier League all-time goalscoring chart alongside Andy Cole, trailing Alan Shearer by some 70 goals.

With CSKA Moscow in the Champions League up next for United and the Manchester derby looming on Sunday, the next seven days could be make or break for Herrera as he looks to finally cement his place in Van Gaal's starting XI.

 

It's the Lies That Hurt, so This Week's Hangover Gives Newcastle United a Big Thumbs Up and Confesses...

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