Ken Early: Jurgen Klopp needs control over transfers
Manchester United were confused and incoherent yet still left Liverpool with points
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp during his side’s match against Manchester United at Anfield. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
It had been a busy week for the players of Manchester United as they dutifully fulfilled their obligations to club sponsor Twentieth Century Fox by plugging The Revenant on Twitter.
Overhyped, overblown and way overbudget, the plot of The Revenant can be summed up as follows: DiCaprio is mauled by a bear and spends the next two hours limping through the snow. Long before the end you find yourself regretting that the bear couldn’t finish the job.
Yesterday’s edition of Liverpool v Manchester United had much in common with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s phoney epic. This is supposedly the most-watched club match in world football. You could have made The Revenant several times over for the money that has been spent amassing the two squads. And yet the teams conspired to produce a spectacle that made the movie look like an efficient use of $135 million. As a match, this really could have done with a bear.
It had been billed as a showdown between the controlled possession style of Louis van Gaal and the vertical pressing game of Jürgen Klopp. What happened out on the pitch reminded us that there’s little point getting excited about philosophies when so few of the players demonstrate the ability to turn plans into action.
Jurgen Klopp’s XI showed the limitations of the squad he has inherited. Once again he left Christian Benteke, who cost £32.5 million, on the bench, opting to continue with Roberto Firmino as a false nine after his two goals against Arsenal in midweek.
The problem is that for this formation to be consistently effective, the false nine needs to be supported by speedy wingers who can get into the box and score. Liverpool were never likely to get that from Adam Lallana and James Milner.
Milner was brought in six months ago to boss the middle of the park but now seems to have boomeranged back to the right-wing role he didn’t particularly enjoy at Manchester City.
As for Lallana, he’s spent his Liverpool career looking like he could have been a decent player in the 1990s, before Premier League football was transformed by the athletic revolution of the last few seasons.
Liverpool sliced through United’s flimsy defence on several occasions in the first half, but lacked the quality to make any of the opportunities count.
Their best move left Jordan Henderson in a good shooting position eight yards out. Henderson, Liverpool’s captain, had seemed to be trying to channel the spirit of his predecessor Steven Gerrard with some ostentatious pre-match efforts to gee up his team-mates and a series of speculative long-range shots. The tribute act had been going reasonably well up to that point, but Gerrard would usually hit the target from eight yards. Henderson missed.
Manchester United won the game despite a confused and incoherent performance. The continuing tension surrounding the situation of Van Gaal was evident when the away fans booed his decision to substitute Ander Herrera, even though the Basque had achieved little in the game.
In the end, a player most United fans would probably not have had in the team, Marouane Fellaini, proved the game-breaker, outjumping Liverpool’s defence to head Mata’s cross against the bar and create Rooney’s winning goal.
This was the second league game in a row in which United finished with a smaller share of possession than their opponents, and they have been rewarded with arguably their most entertaining match of the season, and their sweetest victory. Apparently the further they get from Van Gaal’s professed philosophy, the better their results.
Yesterday’s result confirmed that Liverpool are unlikely to be back in the Champions League next season. They have a better record in the January market than some of their rivals, with Luis Suárez, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho all having arrived mid-season, but without a signing of comparable quality it’s difficult to imagine them embarking on the sort of run that could put them in contention.
As they reflect on another failed league campaign they might be well-advised to consider a departure from their own dubious club philosophy. Some of the issues with that philosophy were raised by the former manager Brendan Rodgers in an interview on Sky’s Goals on Sunday.
Liverpool always maintained that Rodgers had the final say on transfers coming into the club, but Rodgers told Sky that his “final say” extended only to choosing players from a menu provided by the club’s recruitment team. He claims he did not have the authority to pursue his own targets.
The committee system is supposedly designed to minimise risk and waste, yet Liverpool have ended up in a situation where the most expensive player in their squad apparently doesn’t fit in with their style of play, and the third-most expensive player is Adam Lallana. If Klopp and his assistants were given full control of signings, it is hard to see how they could do any worse.