TWO-YEAR MILE­STONE A TIME OF RE­FLEC­TION FOR KLOPP

The Liver­pool man­ager needs his side to find their best against Manch­ester United after a poor Septem­ber, writes Richard Jolly

The National - News - - SPORT / FOOTBALL -

One anniversary falls this Sun­day. The other fell last Sun­day. In two days’ time, it will be seven years since Fen­way Sports Group, then known as New Eng­land Sports Ven­tures, bought Liver­pool.

Last week­end, it marked two years since Jur­gen Klopp’s ap­point­ment.

Land­mark dates tend to prompt re­flec­tion, about what has been achieved and what should be ac­com­plished, about the di­rec­tion be­ing taken and if it is the right one.

For the Amer­i­can own­ers and the Ger­man man­ager alike, the an­niver­saries are fall­ing at an in­op­por­tune time. The in­quests might not have felt as ur­gent a month ago. Then Liver­pool were bask­ing in the glow of a 4-0 evis­cer­a­tion of Ar­se­nal, play­ing the most ex­cit­ing foot­ball in Eng­land and savour­ing a re­turn to the Uefa Cham­pi­ons League.

Now they face a Manch­ester United side who have ac­cel­er­ated ahead of them after they won just one of seven sub­se­quent games.

“A hard mo­ment,” Klopp re­flected after they drew 1-1 at New­cas­tle United 12 days ago. But it is more than a mo­ment, and the ele­ment that ap­pears hard to ac­cept is the fa­mil­iar­ity of Liver­pool’s flaws.

De­fen­sive er­rors abound, they usu­ally gift at least one clear-cut chance a game and only two teams have con­ceded more league goals.

At­tack­ing profli­gacy is a theme and Liver­pool have had the most shots in the division while scor­ing eight fewer goals than United.

They may ex­cel be­tween the penalty boxes, but foot­ball matches are of­ten de­ter­mined within them.

Liver­pool started to feel a Klopp team within weeks of his ap­point­ment. Now they have pur­sued an idio­syn­cratic ap­proach to­wards its log­i­cal ex­tremes, with in­verted wingers, a false nine and no reg­u­lar striker, full-backs who serve as one-men flanks, a high de­fen­sive line and a team of play­ers who are vir­tu­ally all, in skill-sets and ex­pe­ri­ence, mid­field­ers.

So, after two years, is it fair to judge Klopp? The usu­ally ebul­lient man­ager’s in­creas­ing tetch­i­ness sug­gests he ob­jects when grow­ing num­bers do. Yet, in Klopp’s de­fence, he es­chews the short-ter­mism that many in his pro­fes­sion dis­play.

He has a six-year con­tract. He does not spend all the funds at his dis­posal and be­lieves in coach­ing and de­vel­op­ing play­ers. He is blood­ing young­sters such as Trent Alexan­der-Arnold, some­thing that makes him a rar­ity in the risk-averse world of Premier League man­age­ment.

Klopp’s Liver­pool have the feel of an en­ter­tain­ing jour­ney but, as time goes by, more won­der where the des­ti­na­tion is and if and when they will get there.

“If we sit here in four years,” Klopp said at his un­veil­ing. “I think we win one ti­tle.”

Ti­tle meant tro­phy, rather than the league cham­pi­onship that has eluded Liver­pool since 1990. After two years, he has reached two fi­nals, but not yet won a tro­phy. After seven, FSG have only won one.

The pes­simists have raised the prece­dents. Bren­dan Rodgers had a bet­ter win per­cent­age than Klopp in his first two years but his reign un­rav­elled after that.

Yet that was con­nected with the sale of Luis Suarez and Liver­pool’s in­abil­ity to re­place him. In con­trast, Klopp kept Philippe Coutinho.

The Brazil­ian, scorer of three sub­lime goals in as many games, as­sumes an im­por­tance to­mor­row.

Liver­pool are at their best when they are fast and fluid. Yet they have less chem­istry

with­out Adam Lal­lana, the leader of Klopp’s trade­mark gegen­press­ing and less in­ci­sion with­out the speedy winger Sa­dio Mane, and both are in­jured.

Per­haps Alex OxladeCham­ber­lain, whose medi­ocre first month has brought crit­i­cism of the man­ager, will be granted a maiden league start.

Per­haps Liver­pool, who boast a su­perb big-game record un­der Klopp, will pro­vide a re­minder of what is best about them.

It would be a fit­ting way to mark the an­niver­saries and to con­vince the doubters that bet­ter days lie ahead.

AFP; Reuters

The strug­gles of Alex OxladeCham­ber­lain, left, are em­blem­atic of the frus­tra­tions Liver­pool man­ager Jur­gen Klopp, be­low, is deal­ing with so far this sea­son

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