Between the dysfunctional defence and selection dilemmas, there is a spot. Jürgen Klopp will meet you there. Here’s why anger over the 1-1 Everton draw is justified, maybe even useful.
As I write this, I should tell you that it’s Monday morning and there’s St. Anger flogging away at my eardrums. I haven’t had any of my morning coffee, because you don’t need #MondayMotivation when you’re fuming. Sometimes you don’t even need the music.
No matter what they tell you, anger isn’t the enemy. At the end of the day, (or if you’re lucky, at the start of it) that bile singeing the base of your throat gets you out of bed. Whether you are angry at others or at your own predicament, anger is better than Hang In There cat posters. Anger gets shit done. Jürgen Klopp would know.
A 33-year-old Jürgen was an above-average player in Mainz. He was angry because he couldn’t do the things with the ball that his intelligence demanded. (But he did his best, which is more than most people can claim.) But when he figured out he was being swindled by his new manager, he may just have snapped the telephone receiver in half.
In 2000, a man called Eckhart spoke to Jürgen for three hours to know about his thoughts on former Mainz coach Wolfgang Frank’s zonal defence systems. Jürgen rang up Christian Heidel, the CEO, two weeks later, in a fit of righteous rage to tell him very calmly that Eckhart Krautzun, the newly-appointed Mainz manager, stole all his ideas.
It didn’t take long for the players to figure that Eckhart had blagged himself into the job, and for Heidel to right the wrong by instating Jürgen Klopp as the Mainz player-manager. The rest is history and current affairs.
After the 1-1 draw vs Everton at Anfield, he must be seething. I could give you a smattering of statistics but that wouldn’t come anywhere close to Jürgen Klopp’s summary at the end of the game: “Only one team came to play football.”
The fact that it ended in a draw vindicates Sam Allardyce’s brand of football, and that in itself makes an idealist Jürgen feel a little sick. But then there was the match.
The first obligatory sliding tackle of the game was made in the second minute by Jordan Henderson at the start of a breakaway in the Everton half. That move fizzled out but little did anyone know, that it would be first of the very few half-chances that came Liverpool’s way for the duration of the game.
By the fifteenth minute, the pattern of match set in like quick-drying cement and breezeblocks. Liverpool had 77% possession of the ball. 37 minutes in, in one of the most prestigious derbies of the world, and the most touches of the ball by an Everton player (50) was by their goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford. An Allardyce team in a nutshell.
The dilemma began with the team selection.
Broadsheets all over the UK, in recent weeks, were asking the question, “How do you stop Mo Salah?” Liverpool, unwittingly, provided the answer: Bench Roberto Firmino.
Liverpool’s attack took on the appearance of a sedentary, dysfunctional family without the directional play of Phil Coutinho, and the pure hard-work and panache of the Brazilian with the German education.
There was, however, a short-lived reprieve in the 42nd minute. The Everton duo of Cuco Martina and Idrissa Gueye thought they had Salah in chains on the edge of the right flank and put him in a box. But in a moment of balletic brilliance, he made the shackles fall.
The Egyptian pirouetted on falling ice, making tight-pressing Martina fall on his backside, looking like someone sitting on a checkered picnic blanket, expecting sandwiches shortly. Salah proceeded to croquet the ball past compatriot Gueye before frisbeeing the ball into the top corner around a static Ashley Williams and a reaching Pickford. The tally (19th of the season), the turn, the trajectory was vintage Torres, circa 2007.
As much as this addition to the Salah showreel drew applause from an Anfield crowd shaking their heads with a sense of the good kind of deja vu, it pays to look where the pass came from.
Joe Gomez, aged 20, persistent as the right wing-back and perspicacious in general play, is Liverpool’s best defender. A centre-back playing as right-back, Joe Gomez was also one of Liverpool’s most decisive players, with more touches (110) of the ball than the Everton forward line of Rooney, Niasse and Sigurdsson combined (107). With 49% of his passes being forward, and the 3rd highest number of dribbles behind Mo Salah and Sadio Mane, Jürgen is witnessing and participating in the growth of his brand of a ball-playing centre-back, der Anlasser (the initiator), in the mould of Mats Hummels. A Virgil Van Dijk prototype.
In a defence featuring Dejan Lovren, Gomez would be Liverpool’s best defender even if he had a cast on. The fact that he really had one on for the better part of the last two seasons (362 days, precisely) with career-threatening cruciate ligament and Achilles’ tendon injuries, makes his comeback even more mind-boggling. In him, Jürgen Klopp has part of the answer. But only a part of it.
For all the talent Dejan Lovren may possess with the ball at his feet and without, it’s what is between his ears that lets Klopp down. The penalty conceded by him in the 77th minute was up there among the most needless penalties in the history of needless penalties this fixture has seen over the years.
A cross-field ball from Wayne Rooney saw Everton forward, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, trying to retrieve a lost cause, moving away from the goal mouth. For some inexplicable reason, Lovren allowed himself to be baited into making the slightest of contacts. Calvert-Lewin duly dived. Craig Pawson, perhaps having watched too many La Liga matches at leisure, pointed to the spot. Wayne Rooney obliged and scored his first Merseyside derby goal.
Dour decision making and an attention span of a teenage punkrocker make Dejan a liability in winning positions, never mind at nil-nil. That’s incidentally the area Gomez seemingly excels at.
William of Ockham (1287–1347) stated in his problem-solving principle that the simplest answer is often the correct one. If Jürgen was to apply Occam’s razor, it would see James Milner slot in at right-back, and more crucially, Joe Gomez dislodging the error-prone Dejan Lovren. We hope. But it isn’t always that straightforward, as Sadio Mane’s sideswipe showed.
Dominic Solanke’s backheel pass from a throw-in had the entire Everton backline flat-footed. As the ball found its way to a skating Sadio Mane running diagonally-inwards from the left flank, with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Salah and Solanke their hands outstretched in front of them, unmarked to his right, pleading for a squared pass. Instead, he raked it wide.
Liverpool has played 783 passes to Everton’s 208, and had Mane played one more, it might have been a different match report. It’s mistakes like these that define matches just as much as goals.
The team selection alludes to a familiar fear. It is the same conundrum Jürgen Klopp faced last winter that froze Liverpool’s progress: The question of squad depth and management over the gruelling Christmas period.
As January looms ever closer, John Henry, Liverpool owner, and Jürgen Klopp will hope they avoid another bad decision – the one that involves them not securing a deal for the wantaway Southampton defender, Virgil Van Dijk. Mess that up and there will be plenty of anger management issues at Anfield.
Remember, non-decisions are often more aggravating than bad ones.