F365’s early winner: Jurgen Klopp in January!

Date published: Monday 1st January 2018 5:36

Finally, a second Premier League victory in January for Jurgen Klopp at the ninth attempt. Last year’s month of unmitigated disaster began with a 2-2 draw at Sunderland, with two points lost to an 84th-minute equaliser. A year on the opposition was Burnley and the equaliser came in the 87th minute, but this time there was a Liverpool winner in January for the first time since 2016’s ludicrous 5-4 at Carrow Road featuring a 95th-minute strike from Adam Lallana. Joy was late coming but genuinely unconfined once again.

A point would have made it 16 games unbeaten and a creditable eight points from this gruelling slog of four festive fixtures, but a win? It’s ten points, it’s level with Manchester United before their kick-off against Everton, it’s a six-point gap to Arsenal in fifth, it’s Klopp finally working out how to compete for an entire season and not stall in January when the weather gets cold and the legs get weary.

The starting line-up for their trip to Burnley offered little hope; Klopp had named an XI that had scored just ten Premier League goals all season. With Mo Salah injured, Philippe Coutinho missing and Roberto Firmino rested, pressure was piled upon pressure upon the shoulders of Sadio Mane, who had scored just once in four months in the top flight.

If you are going to book just one member of The Beatles, you don’t really want somebody turning up to sing Octopus’s Garden, narrate Thomas and Friends and talk enthusiastically about Brexit. But in the week that Ringo Starr becomes Sir Ringo Starr, Liverpool’s least-heralded member of their own Fab Four played a solo gig and threatened to steal the show.

Liverpool were predictably toiling against the massed ranks of Burnley when the deflected cross of Trent Alexander-Arnold found Mane with his back to goal. He controlled with his right foot, swivelled and then lashed home with his left foot from 20 yards. Drum solo.

That Burnley equalised was not unjust as Liverpool had little right to win with that line-up, but the Reds pushed again, with the excellent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain delivering for Dejan Lovren and then Ragnar Klavan as a little-rested Burnley side discovered the painful truth that the promising seasons of smaller clubs can easily fall apart at Christmas.

While Sean Dyche has had little choice but to flog his dead horses, Klopp has enjoyed the luxury of the deepest squad of his Liverpool reign. After the energy-sapping 3-3 draw with Arsenal, he could call on the fresh legs of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Joel Matip, Giorginio Wijnaldum and Alexander-Arnold at Swansea on Boxing Day. Four days later, three of that quartet were back on the bench alongside Simon Mignolet. A short two days later, Klopp could rotate once again, blessed by the return to fitness of Adam Lallana and the reasonable back-up option of the raw but willing Dominic Solanke.

On January 1, Oxlade-Chamberlain became the 16th Liverpool player to tick over the 1000-minute mark for Liverpool this season; Klopp’s squad has got him through Christmas. Happy New Year, Jurgen.

Sarah Winterburn



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