Liv­er­pool primed for big ef­fort to­day so they can re­lax next week

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - STEPHEN HUNT

WITH the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal sorted, Ju­r­gen Klopp will to­day be ex­pect­ing his Liv­er­pool play­ers to get the next job done in the Pre­mier League and qual­ify for next sea­son’s com­pe­ti­tion. They are a bet­ter side than Chelsea and they should fin­ish above them.

Liv­er­pool on form, with the front three at full pelt, should have enough to beat Chelsea at Stam­ford Bridge to­day, but Klopp is bound to make changes to the team which came through the semi-fi­nal in Rome on Wed­nes­day night.

Bar­ring in­juries, he will start with Mo Salah, Sa­dio Mane and Roberto Firmino and I sus­pect he will be ca­jol­ing them to put all their en­ergy into this big game to­day so they can all re­lax for next week’s fi­nal game at home to Brighton.

Chris Hughton’s Brighton should be safe by then, Liv­er­pool will only need a point thanks to their su­pe­rior goal dif­fer­ence over Chelsea, and they will get that at least at An­field next Sun­day. There is plenty of time to rest be­fore Kiev then.

Chelsea have been off the pace from the sea­son’s kick-off and never looked ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing with Manch­ester City to re­tain the ti­tle which they won so eas­ily last sea­son. But they had Diego Costa in all his glory then and once he de­cided he didn’t want to play for An­to­nio Conte again, you knew the Chelsea man­ager was in trou­ble.

And it is Conte’s in­abil­ity to change his man­age­ment style, I think, which has been Chelsea’s down­fall this sea­son. He seemed very in­tense in his first cham­pi­onship-win­ning sea­son in Eng­land. But when you bring in­ten­sity to in­ten­sity, it even­tu­ally wears you out.

Keep­ing play­ers fresh and mo­ti­vated is part of the mod­ern man­ager’s job and if you keep flog­ging your play­ers ev­ery day, it stops work­ing. Play­ers think it’s like be­ing back in school and they switch off.

Two ex-play­ers tak­ing their first man­age­rial roles are Joey Bar­ton and Steven Ger­rard and although Ger­rard has gone for the big­ger club, I think Bar­ton has cho­sen the best op­tion strate­gi­cally, be­cause at least he can be suc­cess­ful.

I know the Liv­er­pool leg­ends will come out to say Ger­rard will do a great job and it’s a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to cut his teeth etc, but, when I com­pare the two, I am not sure he has taken the best path to suc­ceed in his first job.

From what I am hear­ing, Bar­ton has been lined up for three months by League One Fleet­wood Town and he has used that time to look at League One, go to plenty of matches, an­a­lyse play­ers and have a feel for where the club wants to go next sea­son.

Fleet­wood have a de­cent bud­get for the di­vi­sion, good in­fra­struc­ture and scout­ing net­work and a plan to con­tinue im­prov­ing and get into the Cham­pi­onship. Bar­ton is a brave ap­point­ment by chair­man Andy Pil­ley. He di­vides opin­ion due to his rep­u­ta­tion as a player and pun­dit and will bring the type of me­dia at­ten­tion Fleet­wood has never seen be­fore.

But Bar­ton is not stupid. He is a stu­dent of the game and he will know this is an ideal op­por­tu­nity for him to cut his teeth as a man­ager and put his many, many words into prac­tice. If he can get into the play-offs, and per­haps even pro­mo­tion, he will have done a good job.

Not even Jose Mour­inho could win the Scot­tish Premier­ship with Rangers, never mind Steven Ger­rard in his first job. Last week­end’s em­bar­rass­ing Old Firm de­feat at Celtic Park showed the chasm be­tween the two clubs. Rangers are at least five years be­hind cham­pi­ons Celtic — and I don’t think the Scot­tish cham­pi­ons are much bet­ter than many League One sides, never mind the Cham­pi­onship.

I do not blame Ger­rard for be­ing at­tracted to Ibrox. Although the cur­rent lot are a poor im­i­ta­tion of their great sides, it is a club with a great his­tory and big, loyal sup­port. But I am sur­prised he has cho­sen Glasgow. He must un­der­stand the di­vi­sion in the city; even he has been seen in the Celtic end more than Rangers’ at pre­vi­ous der­bies.

It is not like Liv­er­pool. The me­dia will be dif­fer­ent and that will bring ex­tra pres­sure and in­tru­sion. Ev­ery Liv­er­pool fan wor­ships him and most Ever­ton fans love him deep down, be­cause he is a Scouser, and he’s re­tired. But in Glasgow, 50 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion hates you all the time and 100 per cent hate you when you lose.

Ger­rard will work at far bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties than Bar­ton, but that is it. He can build a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with his chair­man and he will be able to at­tract big names be­cause he is Steven Ger­rard, but the bud­get and the league won’t be as at­trac­tive.

Rangers are many miles and mil­lions away from deny­ing Celtic an eighth suc­ces­sive ti­tle and their third un­der Bren­dan Rodgers. But if you go through the cur­rent Celtic squad, with the ex­cep­tion of Moussa Dem­bele, how many would get reg­u­lar games in the Pre­mier League? Scott Brown is the player of the year, who has never had the courage to step out of his com­fort zone in Scot­land, and the pick of the rest, Leigh Grif­fiths, Stu­art Armstrong, James For­rest and Scott Sin­clair, are not good enough to be con­sis­tent in the Pre­mier League.

I ad­mire Ger­rard for tak­ing the job but there is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween man­ag­ing Liv­er­pool un­der 18s and a club as big as Rangers. The best he can hope for his sec­ond place. But how can that be deemed a suc­cess, es­pe­cially for some­one like Steven Ger­rard?

In Glasgow, 50 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion hates you all the time

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