Semi-final slog shows why Klopp will break unspoken rule

Matt Stead
liverpool

The gamble was in grave, genuine danger of not paying off. Worse still, of backfiring completely.

Whether you consider Liverpool’s Carabao Cup quarter-final aberration as a damning indictment on modern football or not, it was a conscious decision by Jurgen Klopp to prioritise the Club World Cup. A sensible one, too, perhaps, given the prestige of being able to market yourself as the greatest team in the world.

If they will try to trademark the literal name of their own football club, you best believe they will milk victory in a competition they have never won for more than it’s worth.

Yet so few contemplated the possibility of the European champions losing as often in 24 hours as they had in their previous 30 games, such was the assumption that they simply had to embark on the flight to Qatar to secure the title of rulers of the world. Monterrey, much to the surprise of the neutral, ensured this was a fight to the end.

Without Klopp’s intervention, that end might well have been the most emphatic Mexican wave ever seen. Concacaf’s representatives were excellent, defending with aplomb and shooting with a passion rarely seen. Rogelio Funes Mori and Dorlan Pabon had more shots between them than a touring university rugby team.

Nicolas Sanchez and Cesar Montes were equally impressive in defence, albeit against an underwhelming Liverpool attack. Mohamed Salah’s pass for Naby Keita’s opener was the exception to a rule of running too far, taking too heavy a touch, thinking too long. This was not his finest performance.

Neither Divock Origi nor Xherdan Shaqiri alongside him took their opportunities either. Their last two starts together came against Everton and Barcelona at Anfield; it is difficult to think of two performances that contrasted more with Wednesday’s offering.

Klopp had seen enough by the 68th minute, replacing Shaqiri with Sadio Mane. Origi made way for Roberto Firmino in the 85th, with Trent Alexander-Arnold coming on for James Milner in between. It was he – it is always he – who provided the cross for the stoppage-time winner.

By that point Liverpool’s front three looked all too familiar in a situation Klopp surely wanted to avoid just that. As phenomenal a forward line as Salah, Firmino and Mane can be, the dearth in quality beyond them is obvious.

Tottenham can profess how difficult it is to sign a player who knows he will be a back-up or alternative to an iron-clad starter. Harry Kane has seen to that. But Liverpool seem to have found the perfect solution in Takumi Minamino.

There is a reason Liverpool players themselves implored Klopp to pursue him. His versatility and ability to play in any position across the front three, his tenacity and work-rate on and off the ball and his innate skill make him an ideal signing, particularly for the price. But it is a clear departure from Klopp’s usual transfer business.

His January signings since he was appointed Borussia Dortmund manager in summer 2008 are: Kevin Prince-Boateng, Moritz Leitner, Nuri Sahin, Milos Jojic, Kevin Kampl, Marko Grujic, Steven Caulker and Virgil van Dijk. Not since his final season at Mainz has he signed a forward mid-season, with Isaac Boakye arriving on loan.

Perhaps his record of one goal in 13 games put Klopp off the idea in the future. Or maybe the German has since simply sought to build from the front, establishing a settled, fixed set of starting strikers and moving from there.

He certainly found success doing as such at Anfield, yet the time has come for the Reds to adapt to new challenges, embrace other ideas. The Origi and Shaqiri contingency plan almost cost them on this grand trip. The Takumi option seems a much more natural fit.

Matt Stead