Michael Walker: Anfield set to burn again as Liverpool address unfinished business
Klopp has every reason to trust his side as Bournemouth and then Atletico come calling
Jurgen Klopp: has the experience of leading Borussia Dortmund to two Bundesliga titles. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images)
Liverpool are finished. Scratch the 22-point lead in the Premier League, the 26 victories in 28 matches, the 64 goals scored at an average of 2.3 per game – as opposed to the 0.7 conceded – scratch all that.
Scratch their place in the last 16 of the Champions League too – a tournament they won nine months ago. Scratch it all, Liverpool have lost two games in a row, three of their last four. It’s a red meltdown.
Ever since the invention of professional football, the idea that you are only as good or bad as your last match has been a constant. There is some logic to it, an effort to be grounded.
But it is also a definition of short-termism. It produces a weekly referendum on a football team and, as some have discovered these past few years, a referendum is not always the best solution to a complex issue.
And football teams, and football clubs, are complex. They cannot be otherwise because they involve so many human characters inside the building, even before you step outside to the watching masses a club like Liverpool attract.
Liverpool’s progressive development over the past few years has been an example of this, of an alignment of various factors stretching from the boardroom to the bootroom, from the academy to overseas recruitment, from youth coaches to a throw-in coach. They’ve thought about it, they haven’t simply stuck Ian Rush up front.
Just as a league is won through the accumulation of points, a successful club is built via the accumulation of good decisions. It’s not a mystery, or a secret, it’s about knowledge, strategy and implementation.
And yet due to the fixture list – a genuine irony – macro-level planning can be hindered by micro-level game details such as an incorrect offside. The reaction to a defeat, even if unwarranted, is often extreme.
Similarly, two good performances from a player and he is bestowed with adjectives beyond what has just occurred. No wonder many within the game speak of finding a middle ground.
As Liverpool prepare for consecutive home games against Bournemouth and Atletico Madrid, even that middle place is uncomfortable – they look caught somewhere between hard-won praise and fresh criticism. There is a lot of noise.
When Raphael Honigstein wrote his book on Klopp, it was sub-titled ‘Bring The Noise’, a reference to the charisma of Klopp, the heavy metal football, the monster mentality.
The chapter, ‘Pump Up the Volume’, takes in the Liverpool-Dortmund Europa League quarter-final second leg from April 2016. Having drawn 1-1 at his former club in the first leg, Klopp saw Liverpool fall 3-1 and 4-2 behind on aggregate only for Dejan Lovren to score a 90th minute winner to make it 5-4 to Liverpool.
“Anfield will burn,” Klopp had promised beforehand, and it did.
Someone as methodical as Thomas Tuchel, Dortmund’s coach, was reduced to muttering “emotions” in an attempt to understand what had just happened: “I can’t explain it, because there are no logical explanations.”
In some respect, Klopp had brought the noise and the noise won. It can happen, a match in such an arena is much more than a tactical or physical test.
This was good noise. Four years on, however, Klopp needs to shut out the noise. His squad need to concentrate on getting their principal job – winning the league for the first time in 30 years – completed. When they have done so, everyone will then be able to take stock of the collective achievement – European and Premier League champions in consecutive seasons.
There is no real anxiety over the loss to Chelsea in the FA Cup on Tuesday night, coming three days after losing at Watford in the league, but the defeats, adding to the 1-0 in Madrid, have opened the door to some critical reassessment.
The words ‘wobble’ and ‘blip’ have appeared, previous form has been questioned, the importance of Alisson and Jordan Henderson has been restated.
But another factor worth reiterating is trust. Adam Lallana said one of Klopp’s first messages in October 2015 was “about the team trusting itself”.
It is worth remembering, as are those two Bundesliga titles Klopp won with Borussia Dortmund. He knows what it takes to cross the winning line. He is not just motivational and intelligent; Klopp has experience.
Prior to his arrival at Anfield, Liverpool had won one trophy between 2006 and 2018 – the 2012 League Cup. He has led the club to higher ground.
Today, the head says Bournemouth – no clean sheet in their last 11 league games – will be overcome.
Then it’s Atletico Madrid with their narrow lead and broad defence. It did not prevent Atletico losing at Leverkusen and Turin in the group stage, though, while they have scored only 11 goals in 13 away games in La Liga.
Anfield, you imagine, will burn again. Liverpool aren’t finished.
Special Wolves eyeing Champions League spot
In a rare interview last weekend, Nuno Espirito Santo used the phrase: “When special people gel, you have something special.”
The Wolves manager was talking about the chemistry and strength of personal relationships within his deliberately small squad and how Wolves have coped with a season already 46 games long, which began last July against Crusaders in the Europa League.
Special is certainly one word applicable to Wolves’ past eight months and it could yet get better.
Nuno’s squad, which he likes to keep at 17 or 18 outfield players, have another 12 games guaranteed – 10 in the Premier League and two in the Europa League. But that number could rise to 17 if Wolves continue to progress in Europe.
They face Olympiakos in the last 16 of the Europa League – first leg away next Thursday – and while the Greeks will feel confident having eliminated Arsenal, Wolves 2020 are a more coherent and dangerous team than Arsenal 2020.
That is one target but, while Nuno did not mention it, so must be next season’s Champions League. Wolves’ next four league games are at home to Brighton and Bournemouth and away to West Ham and Aston Villa.
A team that has beaten Manchester City at Molineux and won their last match, at Tottenham, has nothing to fear. In the race to finish fourth, five points separate five teams and Wolves’ chance looks as good as any.
As with Liverpool, there are various elements behind Wolves’ rise. Investment and contacts are vital. So, too, is Nuno’s coaching. He is an intelligent man, who speaks five languages.
Now he could take Wolves to fourth and into the Champions League and although he dislikes the stressing of his connection to Jose Mourinho – they were at Porto together as goalkeeper and manager – Nuno’s looking pretty special.