Jurgen Klopp has a selection headache - at one end of the pitch
Whatever combination, Liverpool are likely to score lots of goals. But can they stop them?
Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores at The King Power Stadium on Saturday. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
As selection headaches go it is not exactly as nagging as having to choose between Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert. Nor is it like living in fear of Fernando Torres picking up an injury that leaves David N’Gog as the squad’s only fit forward.
Unlike his predecessors Jürgen Klopp is not weighed down by such concerns. Instead Liverpool’s manager has what he might describe as the rather cool dilemma of working out how to make the most of his enviable attacking options now that Sadio Mané is free from suspension and Philippe Coutinho is showing why Barcelona targeted him in the summer.
Klopp will have terrific fun arranging his forwards. Whom to leave out? Coutinho, the scorer of a stunning free-kick in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Leicester City, looks untouchable. But Mohamed Salah, who scored the opener with a header from Coutinho’s cross, is electric on the right, Mané’s potent speed terrifies defences and Roberto Firmino knits it all together with his slippery movement off the ball.
The extra competition even seems to be stirring Daniel Sturridge, who came off the bench at the King Power Stadium to set up Jordan Henderson for Liverpool’s decisive third goal. Maybe the solution is to restore Mané against Spartak Moscow on Tuesday and turn Coutinho into Liverpool’s Andrés Iniesta by pulling him into midfield at the expense of Emre Can or Georginio Wijnaldum.
Whatever combination Klopp comes up with, Liverpool are likely to score bucketloads of goals. The tougher challenge for the German, almost two years into the job, remains how to stop them going in at the other end - a weakness threatening to undermine his invigorating attempts to bring the glory days back to Anfield.
As Brendan Rodgers discovered in 2014, titles are won by good defences. There is so much to admire about Klopp’s football but Liverpool have conceded 11 goals in six league outings and travel to Moscow having drawn 2-2 at home with Sevilla in their opening Champions League match.
Klopp is not blind to the problem. “It’s obvious we concede too much,” he said after Liverpool almost dropped two points at Leicester. “That’s really hard for me. Usually I’m a really good defensive coach.”
Liverpool’s defending on Saturday rather contradicted Klopp’s self-assessment. But his record at Borussia Dortmund - two Bundesliga titles and an unfortunate defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League final in 2013 - suggests he can sort it out. “The main thing for defending is tactical discipline,” he said. “I don’t know everything about football but I could write a book in the next two hours about which space we have to defend, why, when and where you have to be. When you have to step up. I can’t take a car and drive them out of the box. That’s how it is. As long as not every player is doing it we will work on it. When everyone is doing it I will make sure we are doing it for the rest of our lives.”
The worry is that Liverpool’s greatest asset, their endearingly innocent positivity, could conspire against them. This is not a team that looks to stifle after taking the lead. Spoiling is not part of their repertoire. Shinji Okazaki’s goal just before half-time should have been disallowed for a foul on Simon Mignolet but a Leicester response was always in the air. The contest should have been over when Henderson made it 3-1, but Vardy pulled one back a minute later. Then Mignolet, again veering between the sublime and the ridiculous in goal, had to save Vardy’s penalty after botching a clearance and fouling the Leicester striker.
There was too much chaos, too little pragmatism, and Klopp knows it. “The team can keep the game open as long as we don’t close it,” he said. “2-0 - go, go, go - 3-0 or whatever, maybe 4-0. We changed the rhythm, let them come in. We opened the game for them and that’s not smart. That’s what we have to change.”
Klopp felt Liverpool played in the wrong spaces when they led 2-0. “We played the balls a little bit too late and so they came up. As long as we have a good rhythm and play the ball in the right moment and have good orientation, they couldn’t come in pressing situations. It is not a physical thing. We have to keep our concentration. We have to want to be dominant still. And go on and go on. If we decide to use another rhythm then we have to do it active, not passive.”
Down on the south coast Manchester United stayed five points clear of Liverpool after grinding out a 1-0 win over Southampton. Klopp’s football is far more watchable than José Mourinho’s but United’s manager can point to the table and his medals. Liverpool will continue to look like hopeless romantics until they develop a colder touch, no matter how much their idealism warms the heart.