Klopp orders Liverpool to cut out defensive blunders
Jürgen Klopp let out a laugh when he was told that all he needed to do tomorrow night, to book a cup final place at Wembley, was keep a clean sheet.
Liverpool will host Stoke City in their Capital One Cup semi-final with a 1-0 lead from the first leg. Although Klopp could see the funny side of that clean-sheet comment, the Liverpool manager knows there are psychological problems creeping into his team’s defence which urgently need to be rectified.
Of the four goals they leaked in this extraordinary contest against Norwich City, two originated from set-pieces – a corner and a long free-kick.
Stoke are a far more refined side these days but their set-piece threat remains with height and aggression in their armoury.
“Maybe we can score five again and they get four – there are lots of ways to get in a final,” Klopp said, before reverting to a more serious mindset. “It’s not something I like to make jokes about.”
His tone became more sharp as he sent out a message to his players that they need to change their mentality. “I was an under-average player but if I could do something, it was defend set plays. It’s not that difficult. But now, as you saw, it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Everybody is talking about it, we are thinking about it and you see it in situations. At second balls, we are thinking ‘oh my God’. That’s the situation.”
The flip side was that the goals conceded gave Liverpool the chance to show they have the firepower to fight back in the most challenging of circumstances, culminating in the emotional scenes after Adam Lallana’s winning goal in the fifth minute of injury time – three minutes after Norwich had levelled the score at 4-4. Klopp said: “I’m not sure we would have scored five if we didn’t concede four.”
Liverpool’s manager was asked if he felt that the sense of belief generated by this comeback could be a turning point for his side. Klopp quipped that “I feel nearly everything is a turning point – I can go tomorrow to the toilet and it’s a turning point.” What he means by that is he sees the positives in every situation, but his players will now also be more likely to see difficult situations through rose-tinted spectacles after completing this rescue mission.
Klopp memorably had his glasses knocked off in the pandemonium that followed their late winner. He thought it was Lallana who was the culprit – but it was Christian Ben-
teke. Even when he was knocking the manager’s glasses off, Benteke still could not attract his boss’s attention, having been left on the bench until the final 15 minutes.
The Shakhtar Donetsk forward Alex Teixeira, a Liverpool transfer target, has declared his desire to move in this transfer window, so Benteke should be a worried man. The more mobile Roberto Firmino was preferred as a starter up front in this match and he scored twice with deft finishes.
Klopp said Firmino was answering critics, who questioned if the Brazilian – lacking the physical presence of Benteke – was a striker. “It’s a wide word, ‘striker’, a wide spectrum,” the former Borussia Dortmund coach said. “Roberto is a striker. He is a very offensive player. I know a lot of strikers that are onemetre-60-plus [5ft 3in] in height. Lionel Messi, what is he?”
He denied Firmino was ahead of Benteke in the pecking order now, though. “We have so many games that I can’t say ‘ this’ or ‘ this’ is number one,” Klopp said.
Firmino helped his cause by opening the scoring in this match, but Liverpool then meekly slid 3-1 adrift. The first of those Norwich goals came from Liverpool’s poor defending of a corner, which allowed Dieumerci Mbokani to backheel the ball in.
Steven Naismith then beat Simon Mignolet from a testing angle and Norwich went on to make the score 3-1 when Alberto Moreno recklessly conceded a penalty, allowing Wes Hoolahan to score from the spot.
Liverpool’s fightback began when Jordan Henderson swept the ball in and an equaliser followed as Firmino dinked in his second. Russell Martin’s horrific back-pass then allowed James Milner to give Liverpool the lead again.
It looked like Martin’s error would not be costly when Sebastian Bassong struck to make it 4-4, as Liverpool failed to clear a free-kick, before Lallana’s late volley.
Alex Neil, the Norwich manager, said: “Russell apologised to the players when he came in. But we are past the stage of being disappointed and apologising for mistakes. Just don’t make the mistakes.”