Another trophy but Reds must tighten up fast
THERE has been an underlying theme to Jurgen Klopp’s words this summer. In his quest to take Liverpool forward, he has continued to repeat one key phrase: let us be the team that nobody wants to face.
From Bradford to Boston, South Bend to the shores of Lake Geneva, there has been no ambiguity in Klopp’s mantra — he knows the only way Liverpool will challenge for the biggest honours again is by recreating their miserly ways of last season.
For all the focus on their front three, Liverpool went the distance with Manchester City and became champions of Europe because they boasted the best defence.
Every time they needed a clean sheet, they got one; Klopp coined the phrase ‘mentality monsters’ because they defended with their lives.
Think about it: the extraordinary escapology against Barcelona in the semi-final became possible because they shut out Lionel Messi and company; they clinched
the trophy in Madrid because they built a wall against which Spurs’ frustrated forwards, ultimately, could only bang their heads.
Back in another European final, you wondered what has changed in the last 75 days. Liverpool’s only clean sheet in seven pre- season friendlies was against League One neighbours Tranmere and that porous form has continued since the real business started.
You can dismiss friendlies as not having any relevance but Klopp is a perfectionist. His style of play is intricate and Liverpool only become potent if every cog is perfectly aligned. For long parts of a stuffy and uncomfortable night, everything was out of kilter. Chelsea ran amok down Liverpool’s right flank, particularly in the first 45 minutes, and could have had the contest tucked up, with Christian Pulisic capitalising on wide-open spaces.
Frank Lampard set his team up perfectly. They pressed high and N’Golo Kante was outstanding. Have no fears about Lampard in management — he sold everyone a dummy in pre-match, suggesting Kante wouldn’t be fit. He wasn’t just fit. He was man of the match.
You had to have sympathy for Lampard, who will have enjoyed much of what he saw from his team. Would Klopp have been the same? Not so much. Each time the TV cameras cut to him, he was either in deep conversation with his assistants or standing openmouthed about how easily Chelsea were dancing through.
Joe Gomez, who started the Community Shield and Premier League opener against Norwich alongside van Dijk, was shifted out to full-back but he got no protection from Mohamed Salah and was often left exposed. It was no surprise Chelsea opened the scoring after exploiting that channel.
There were, however, other problems. Joel Matip, for instance, had a dreadful time with his distribution, the tone for his display was set when he gave the first ball from kick-off straight to Chelsea. Anxiety is a key point. This was the first major game Liverpool have played without Alisson between the posts since the 2018 Champions League final and they looked 10 per cent off what they should be.
It is not a criticism of Adrian, who came to his team’s rescue in the 32nd minute with a tremendous save at the feet of Mateo Kovacic having pushed a thundering drive from Pedro onto the bar 10 minutes earlier.
Straight away, though, you can see the differences: the fact he will stand six yards deeper than the Brazilian or pick the ball up when it comes back to him (Alisson always uses his feet to maintain the tempo).
You knew Alisson would not have made the rash challenge that enabled Tammy Abraham to win Chelsea a penalty in extra-time.
He did redeem himself in the shootout with the decisive stop from Abraham but it would be ridiculous to say Liverpool have a like-for-like replacement.
Alisson is not just a mighty physical presence but he also settles nerves. Liverpool, for long periods, looked like they were living on their wits and van Dijk was so frustrated he continually jabbered at those around him, reminding that standards had slipped.
He knows — as Klopp does — that this is not the Liverpool way.