Saturday 23 March 2019

Klopp can't fluff lines

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is facing a testing week with tomorrow’s Champions League tie against Spartak Moscow, followed by Sunday’s Merseyside derby clash with Everton. Pic: Reuters
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is facing a testing week with tomorrow’s Champions League tie against Spartak Moscow, followed by Sunday’s Merseyside derby clash with Everton. Pic: Reuters

Big warning signs should be flashing for Jurgen Klopp as he prepares for a crucial week in Liverpool's season - and he dare not get it wrong now.

The Champions League game against Spartak Moscow tomorrow and the Merseyside derby against Everton on Sunday are two massive matches in the context of this season and all the good work done over the last few weeks will be undone if momentum is lost now.

Liverpool may appear to be in great shape heading into these two big games, with the 5-1 win against Brighton on Sunday the latest example of Klopp's team having far too much class in the final third for a Premier League rival.

The Brighton rout came on the back of big wins against Huddersfield, West Ham, Southampton and Stoke over the last month and apart from a few selection issues I would not have agreed with in the Chelsea game last month - when Sadio Mane should have started - he has shuffled his pack well amid a hectic run of games. However, there has to be a concern that the chasm in class between Liverpool and their rivals in recent weeks may well have papered over issues in the team that have not been solved and may well rise to the surface again when the pressure is applied.

Klopp has a team that can tear teams apart with their pace and attacking brilliance and not many sides in England can live with their attacking line, but I still worry the weaknesses at the back could be exposed if the pressure is cranked up a few levels.

What happens if Spartak score first at Anfield on Wednesday night? Could panic set in and disaster strike in the kind of manner we saw when Liverpool were hammered by Tottenham at Wembley a few weeks back?

I'm sure Sam Allardyce will look to target Liverpool's long-standing weakness defending set-pieces on Sunday when he comes to Anfield for the first time as Everton manager and we don't know if they will cope with that.

Joel Matip's injury forced Klopp to change his defensive thinking, with Dejan Lovren joined by Emre Can and Gini Wijnaldum in a make-shift back three that worked against a Brighton side that didn't have the ability to open Liverpool us.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson were given license to bomb forward in the full-back roles and Brighton could not deal with Liverpool's pace and power.

They are a wonderful side to watch when they are in full flow and Klopp has some huge selection dilemmas in these next two matches. The temptation must be to start with his first choice front four of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane for both the Spartak and the Everton game, but I don't expect him to do that. Top managers now have technical people working at clubs telling them that some players are entering 'zones' of fitness that means they are close to an injury and managers take that advice on board when they make team selections.

Sadio Mane has struggled with injuries at times this season and Klopp has protected him by resting him in recent days and he has also shown he is willing to give Mohamed Salah a break despite his incredible scoring form.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana, Dominic Solanke and Daniel Sturridge are all pushing for starts in one of these next two games and I suspect he will want to keep a couple of his main men back for the Everton game.

Liverpool's season is now focused around a top four finish, progress in the Champions League with the squad Klopp now has, he should be playing strong teams in every round of the FA Cup, which is something he has not done in the past.

Klopp will have no choice but to field a strong team in the next FA Cup match in January when their city rivals Everton visit Anfield after yesterday's draw.

Finding a balance between keeping players fresh and playing his best team is a challenge Klopp has embraced, with the statistics suggesting he has made more team changes than any other Premier League manager this season.

Now he has to manage that rotation policy correctly to get the wins in two games this week that could set Liverpool up for a successful season.

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