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Sunday 11 December 2016

John Giles: Klopp's pressing problem is windy players

Liverpool boss blames the weather but fear is the key to players' inconsistency

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 30: Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool congratulates his players after the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Liverpool at Stadium of Light on December 30, 2015 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 30: Jurgen Klopp, manager of Liverpool congratulates his players after the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Liverpool at Stadium of Light on December 30, 2015 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Jürgen Klopp congratulates his players after a nervy finish to their win Photo:Reuters

Over the years I've heard many excuses from managers used to explain poor results or bad form but Jürgen Klopp topped the lot a few days back when, of all things, he blamed the wind.

He was speaking to a German newspaper and explained that the reason he couldn't implement his usual high tempo, pressing game in the Premier League was that English football grounds were windy.

I'll avoid the obvious puns about hot air but I have to say, I've never seen meteorology used before and I take my hat off to him. It's a new one.

It is worth noting that Klopp's first months in the Premier League have been marked by some pretty awful storms but I think if he is looking for a real explanation for Liverpool's patchy form since he took over, I think he might find that his players are as windy as the weather.

He is not the only manager to discover this. Across the top of the Premier League and among the teams I look to as possible title winners there seems to be a fear factor at work which I have to admit to being baffled by.

These players have never been better paid or better prepared. They work in the best facilities with nothing spared to keep them happy. What have they got to be afraid of?

Brittleness

There are different dynamics at work in different clubs but the common theme is one of brittleness under pressure from professional footballers who are failing with the fundamentals of the game as soon as the stakes rise and sometimes even when they don't.

Manchester City provide the most frustrating example of this phenomenon. There is no more privileged group of footballers in world football yet they cannot string three results together without experiencing a group meltdown and the kind of performance which must leave Manuel Pellegrini furious.

That said, I'm not sure Pellegrini does furious and I think the problem for him and Manchester City is the fact that the players know he is on his way out in the summer. They have followed the stories about Pep Guardiola like the rest of us and assume that change is on the way.

That's fatal for any football team. Remember Alex Ferguson's publicly announced decision to retire in 2002? His players dropped off their high standard and he had to fight to bring them back.

He won that battle but very few managers do and Pellegrini is not one of them. I would still fancy them to emerge from this chaotic season with the title but only because everyone else is afflicted by the same weakness and Manchester City still have the most talented squad in the race.

Chelsea's expensive flops won a title six months ago and could hardly bring themselves to play for Mourinho in the end.

They lost their trust in him and his ability to generate the kind of confidence which allows players to play without fear evaporated.

Internal upheaval at Stamford Bridge translated into fear and indecision on the football pitch and Guus Hiddink is now dealing with the fallout.

At Arsenal, this missing backbone has manifested itself for a number of seasons.

It's the reason why they were absolutely hammered by Southampton on St Stephen's Day at the very moment when their credibility as a title challenger was at its strongest.

Louis van Gaal is clinging to his job by his fingertips and his players look scared of their shadows.

In fact, the only teams I see playing with the attitude you need are the smaller clubs. I see hungry and confident players at Leicester City and Watford but not at Anfield.

Even Sunderland, rooted to the bottom of the table, showed a commendable attitude against Liverpool in midweek. I accept that their position in the table gives them a kind of freedom and nothing to lose every time they play but it was great to see and Klopp would give his right arm for a similar attitude in his team.

Eliminate

Klopp identified the problem the moment he arrived at Anfield and publicly questioned why his players went into a shell at Anfield and has been working to try to eliminate it but I'm disappointed with what he has done so far.

That said, he had a good response to a 3-0 defeat by Watford at the start of the holiday programme and Liverpool are now close to the race for Champions League football next season.

The run of fixtures has set-up a double header in mid-January against Arsenal and Manchester United and if Klopp can find results against West Ham and Stoke in between, they won't be far off the top spot.

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