* The incessant hype was always going to make Jurgen Klopp’s managerial debut in England something of an anti-climax, but he will be more than satisfied with his point at White Hart Lane. Liverpool’s injury-hit squad held their own against a team who put four past Manchester City in their previous home game.
Liverpool dominated the first 20 minutes, displaying some of the hallmarks of a typical Klopp side, but quickly faded as they tired. Simon Mignolet made several key saves to ensure the draw, and the new manager will now look to improve things with a full week’s training. A difficult day countered, if not conquered.
“I am completely satisfied for the moment,” Klopp said after the game. “I’m happy with the result. I saw many good things, especially first 20 minutes. Good pressing and counter-pressing. After only a few days working, this is a very good first step. There were many good things. I can work with this.”
* In the build-up to the match, one of the principal reasons to not make sweeping judgements about Klopp’s team selection and performance were injuries that rendered five of his most obvious dilemmas redundant:
- Alberto Moreno or Joe Gomez? Decision made for him.
- Which two of Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren? Decision made for him.
- Daniel Sturridge, Christian Benteke? Decision made for him.
- Which two of Emre Can, Lucas and Jordan Henderson? Decision made for him.
- Where do Roberto Firmino and Danny Ings fit in? Decision made for him.
And then the bombshell came regarding Sturridge’s fitness. Klopp has been in charge at Anfield for less than a week, but he must already be cursing his luck. Divock Origi is the fifth-choice striker at Liverpool (Sturridge, Benteke, Ings, Firmino), yet the only one available for Klopp’s first game in charge. Add the absence of Gomez, Henderson, Jon Flanagan and Lovren and the suspicion was that the new manager would be very happy with a point. He came for it, and got it.
The impact of injuries on this Liverpool squad can be illustrated by looking at the number of Premier League starts since the beginning of last season by their outfield substitutes: Kolo Toure (7), Jordon Ibe (9), Joe Allen (16. SIXTEEN), Joao Teixeira (0), Jerome Sinclair (0), Connor Randall (0). You don’t need me to tell you that that isn’t a top-four bench.
* Yet Liverpool weren’t the only ones with vital players missing. Eric Dier has been a revelation in the holding midfield role for Tottenham this season, and his suspension would have caused Mauricio Pochettino a notable headache. The absence of Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb through injury only made things worse.
Pochettino opted against bringing Toby Alderweireld out of a solid defence or relying on the inexperience of Tom Carroll, and instead gave Mousa Dembele his latest opportunity to impress, albeit in an uncharacteristic role.
* Liverpool started like a side built in Klopp’s image. When you see Philippe Coutinho sprinting to close down a player in possession, you know the players have been told to press high up the pitch to force mistakes.
They did it too. On more than one occasion in the first 20 minutes Spurs players gave up the ball or were forced to knock it forward and out of play – Liverpool clearly started the better. Coutinho, Lallana and Milner were the trio of hustlers, Origi looking to feed off the turnovers in possession with his pace.
Klopp has only had two days of training – so we weren’t expecting miracles – but it’s already clear what the manager wants. Getting it is the tough part.
* Unfortunately, Liverpool’s gegenpressing (I shall use it only once) mean that the players looked half-knackered after half an hour. The pressing eased off and Spurs, unscathed after the visitors’ initial assault, were able to take time to find their own rhythm. They began to dominate play.
The two areas where this was most notable was in attacking midfield, where Lallana and Coutinho showed off their heavy breathing, and at full-back. It is this full-back area which was so crucial to Klopp and Dortmund, and also the position in which energy is most demanded.
With the two attacking midfielders tucking in, Clyne and Moreno are effectively asked to cover the entire flank. That’s fine when energy levels are high, but both were guilty of being caught high up the pitch during the latter stages of the first half. Clinton N’Jie – on for the injured Nacer Chadli – was given space to exploit on both wings, sadly often let down by his passing and first touch. However, it was the Camreoonian’s shot that caused the best save of the half from Simon Mignolet.
* In fact, the only Liverpool player capable of keeping up the intensity level throughout the game was Germany’s Emre Can. Maybe that’s just a coincidence, but I remain staunchly unconvinced. The image of him calling over his team-mates to help him press after 69 minutes epitomised the issue; everyone else was done for.
It is the biggest question against Klopp’s success at Liverpool. His famous pressing tactic worked extremely well in the Bundesliga, where a 34-game season is combined with a winter break. I’m not going down the “he’s not tough enough for English football” road of b*llocks, but the Premier League season is both long and unrelenting. Can he raise the fitness levels that much?
* One wonders quite what Coutinho thinks about all this. Although he has not celebrated a Premier League title or experienced regular Champions League football at Liverpool, Coutinho probably thoroughly enjoyed his time under Brendan Rodgers. He was able to concentrate on creating chances, given a free role in which to roam and express himself in the final third.
Under Klopp, however, Coutinho will be tasked with far more effort to accompany his attacking endeavour. Against Spurs he made four tackles, a number beaten only by Lucas among his team-mates, yet created only one chance. That total was beaten by four other Liverpool players, as the Brazilian rarely displayed the intricate footwork and passing we typically associate him with.
One game doesn’t indicate a trend, but is there a chance that Klopp could inflict a form of Jose-itis on Coutinho, whereby attacking midfielders are starved of creativity through the demand for hard work? He can speak to Brazil team-mates Oscar and Willian for details.
If so, and again this is just a hypothesis, Liverpool will need to achieve Champions League football sooner rather than later. It’s one thing missing out on a place at football’s top table, but another entirely if you feel like your creative juices are being unnecessarily evaporated. Barcelona’s reported interest in Coutinho is unlikely to go away.
* Dembele cements his reputation as one of the Premier League’s most infuriating players. Just as you feel he should be sold and a party arranged in honour of his departure, the Belgian offers a performance with excellent positional sense and discipline. I’d say that this could be the start of a chapter, but Dembele has turned more corners than Pacman. He invariably ends up back where he started.
Brought in alongside Alli, Dembele was superb against Liverpool. No player made more tackles in the match and no player won possession more often. More impressive still was his ball retention. Look at the total number of times the game’s midfielders lost possession of the ball (using Opta data):
- James Milner – 25
- Philippe Coutinho – 23
- Adam Lallana – 23
- Clinton N’Jie – 23
- Christian Eriksen – 21
- Dele Alli – 20
- Erik Lamela – 17
- Emre Can – 17
- Lucas Leiva – 15
- Moussa Dembele – 8
Dembele is roundly criticised when he does things wrong, so merits praise when answering his manager’s call. He was utterly magnificent.
* Another Belgian who was (perhaps surprisingly) excellent was Origi, enjoying his first league start in England.
Origi was unlucky not to open the scoring after his first-half header hit the underside of the bar, leading the line at least as well as Benteke in his early Liverpool showings. He only managed one attempt on target – a left-footed shot that failed to trouble Hugo Lloris – but created two chances. Origi was also able to complete 91% of his passes despite playing as a lone striker and with back to goal. That’s not exactly his forte.
There is nothing to suggest that he will suddenly light up the Premier League, but Origi deserves praise for stepping into the breach at such short notice and with such success. He was at least an able deputy; that’s all you can expect from a fifth-choice striker.
* What is it about Mignolet and big games? Liverpool’s goalkeeper looks suspect against any other opposition than a top-six side. Against the best, he brings his A game.
Mignolet was impeccable against Spurs, saving expertly from N’Jie but then smartly from Harry Kane on more than one occasion. Crucially, he also dealt with crosses with the minimum of fuss and pushed the ball away from goal with his saves rather than back out in front of goal. Both have caused him problems in the recent past.
* There was no one reason for Rodgers’ eventual demise, but one wonders if he watched Can’s performance in midfield with an air of regret. The German was brilliant in the role; it’s almost as if that’s his natural position.
“I’ve just been to Liverpool. There we were told that Emre will soon assume Gerrard’s role in midfield – Emre definitely has leadership qualities,” said Germany Under-21 coach Horst Hrubesch after the European Championships in the summer, while Can himself expressed his desire to play further forward.
“A midfield role is preferable,” Can said in July. “Of course it is the manager who decides who plays where. We’ll see where he chooses to play me this season. It is up to the manager but my preference is midfield.” Finally, his wish may be Klopp’s command.
He is imposing and composed, comfortable striding forward and capable of making a tackle. It all just makes so much bloody sense.
* If you’re looking for a reason for Tottenham’s new defensive resilience, it can be explained in two words: Toby Alderweireld. He’s now played 35 games in England, and only conceded 31 times.
Having been part of the Premier League’s second-most miserly defence last season, Alderweireld’s now part of the Premier League’s joint-most miserly defence this season. Considering that he’s played for two teams outside the top four, that’s a formidable record. He’s genuinely one of the best central defenders in the league.
* Liverpool were keen to underplay the severity of Sturridge’s knee problem, but it’s yet another setback after an unacceptably long list of injuries.
“He looked really sharp, probably the best he’s looked fitness-wise for 18 months,” said Brendan Rodgers last month as Sturridge finally battled back to fitness. A month later, and yet another missed Liverpool game – he’s closing in on 60 since joining.
“In this moment – for the next game – we have Daniel for the position and we have Origi,” Klopp said in midweek. “Two strikers, I don’t need more. When you start if you have more it’s perfect. But you have to think how you can react. When Christian is fit then he is an option, for sure but at this moment he isn’t.”
Make that one striker. If Liverpool are to break into the top four this or next season, success will be based on a consistent and reliable starting XI. The question must be asked again: Do Sturridge’s fitness issues make reliability an impossibility?
* Can we talk about the Klopp-session now? Oh good, thanks.
BT Sport’s desire to hype up the arrival of the new Liverpool manager on the basis that they were televising his debut fixture is understandable, but this felt like a three-hour documentary on Jurgen Klopp with a smattering of football as an aside.
Michael Owen treated Klopp like the second coming, screaming “WHEN THEY WIN THE BALL 40 YARDS FROM GOAL THEY PILE FORWARD”, as if that was some revolutionary strategy. I look forward to other Premier League teams trying to win the ball back rather than waiting for their opponents to offer it out of sympathy and a hard-wired sense of sharing.
Next came the box in the bottom left corner of the screen, which offered a replay (A F**KING REPLAY!!) of Klopp gesturing with his hands, as if we were seeing human movement and expression for the first time.
Get that box off!
— Gary Neville (@GNev2) October 17, 2015
Finally, it took less than 20 minutes until we heard the immortal line. “Klopp doesn’t need to worry, because Bill Shankly lost his first game in charge.” Jesus. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
* Can we stop this now, please? I love Klopp as much as the next football obsessive and addict, but can we ease off the sugary cliches and Klopp-mania that is sweeping across the media? It must be time to relax the melodrama just enough to bring a football manager down to the level of mere mortal.
There is an extraordinarily British sporting trait in which the ‘potential’ in potential talent is ignored, decent prospects placed upon pedestals so high that vertigo and disappointment are the only inevitable results. At that point the World Hand-Wringing Championships begin; personality, mental fortitude and attitude all questioned. Build them up, then knock them down – the mantra of British sport.
Klopp is not the next Messiah, the next Shankly or the next anyone. He doesn’t sweat Cristal, s**t gold bars or breathe fire. He’s Jurgen Klopp, a very fine football manager aiming for success outside of Germany for the first time. After Saturday’s bizarre episode of the Klopp show on BT Sport, let’s hope we can finally let him get on with proving whether he can do it. It’ll be a good enough watch without a sodding Gegenpress-cam.