Despite suggestions that Jurgen Klopp’s honeymoon period with Liverpool ended after the defeat to Crystal Palace last month, last Sunday’s setback at St James’ Park was where it well and truly ran its course, writes Andrew Ronan.
The emphatic win away to Man City proved that the preceding loss to Palace was worse than it looked. Against Alan Pardew’s men, Liverpool put in a spirited and coherent display; it was definitely a game which could have easily went the other way.
Lapses in defensive concentration were more to blame than a lack of effort – not that Liverpool were short on effort against Newcastle, but the manner in which they used the ball was a reminder that Klopp still has a lot of work to do with this team.
The most pressing problem, it seems, is how to approach games against the so-called ‘lesser’ sides.
After the Newcastle game, Klopp smiled when he suggested that it couldn’t have been the most exciting game to watch. The ruthless attacking game which blew away Southampton was, of course, nowhere to be seen on Tyneside, but Liverpool were guilty of allowing Newcastle to play the game on their own terms.
Given their wretched form of late, all Steve McClaren’s men could do was drag Liverpool down to their level. That level is the one all teams in poor form seem to go to when their backs are against the wall.
There’s no fancy football, no passing game, and no major risk taking – just a whole lot of hard work and battling. Newcastle, to their credit, worked their socks off, but most importantly for them they never let Liverpool settle into their rhythm. It seemed to take the men in red by surprise – and Klopp, too.
They struggled to create any chances of significance, although it could have been a different game had Christian Benteke not put the ball over the bar when it fell to him inside the six-yard box.
Newcastle, like Palace, worked incredibly hard – perhaps the only real difference being Palace’s quick, counter-attacking game. Palace deservedly got their two goals at Anfield as they took risks in the game. Newcastle were less risky; on another day the ball would have came off Martin Skrtel’s knee and gone out for a corner. The performances from Palace and Newcastle, though, should be duly noted by Klopp moving forward as he should expect similar from the ‘lesser teams’ in the league.
Outside of the top six or seven teams in the Premier League, there aren’t really any sides that are afraid of trying to beat the bigger clubs. Palace, Swansea, Bournemouth, Norwich and West Ham all came to Anfield with a game plan and no fear: sit-in and hit on the break.
Palace and West Ham executed this game plan most effectively. These smaller clubs are going to big grounds around the country and trusting their game plan. If for whatever reason they aren’t successful on the break, they’ll be stubborn, sit deep, and fight for every ball – like Newcastle did.
On Sunday at Anfield, Tony Pulis will undoubtedly tell his players to sit in and wait for a chance to hit Liverpool on the break. If Liverpool’s high pressing game is putting a stop to any chance of West Brom breaking in numbers, the Baggies will camp in their own half and try to make sure they don’t concede.
Given how Liverpool have struggled to prize open away defences at Anfield so far this season, Sunday may become a slog if they don’t get an early goal.
Liverpool’s three remaining games this year after West Brom – Watford (A), Leicester (H), and Sunderland (A) – look easy on paper but they are far from it, and it may be these types of games which dictate how far Liverpool can go in the league this season. There’s no way those four teams will throw everything at Liverpool as their high pressing game will make the scoreline similar to what we saw at Stamford Bridge, the Etihad and St Mary’s.
Klopp and his men will need to find a way to be patient and maybe more spontaneous to break down such sides.
The return of Philippe Coutinho is obviously a boost, and if Klopp can get the best from a combination of him, Benteke and Firmino/Lallana then the goals should begin to flow. A fully fit Daniel Sturridge thrown into the mix would be a bonus but let’s not hold our breath.
Perhaps the challenge which will be presented by the smaller teams is a good thing right now for Liverpool; its better finding a way around it now than later d own the road when too many points have been thrown away. Given the difference Klopp has made to this Liverpool team in the two short months he’s been in charge, few will doubt that he can find a way around this problem.
If Liverpool can start to put away these teams, considering how open the league is at the moment, talk of winning the title will stick around longer than a couple of weeks.