After The Lord Mayor’s Show
Given the exploits of the Liverpool team in the UEFA Cup on Thursday night, there was a real chance that this was going to be a major letdown. How can you possibly compete with a last minute winner against one of the best sides in world football? The South coast is lovely and everything, but still.
Jürgen Klopp may be many things, but he isn’t an idiot. Some commentators and even some Liverpool fans felt as though the German had as good as thrown in the towel when they saw his team selection. Ten changes, with only Roberto Firmino retained from the starting XI that lined up against Borussia Dortmund. A dangerous gamble, considering Liverpool’s desire to chase as high a league position as they can manage?
Says a lot about Martin Skrtel’s position at the club, with Lovren and Sakho rested and Lucas and Toure starting ahead of him at the back.
— Joseph Musker (@Musker_LFC) April 17, 2016
No, just clever management. Klopp knows he’s got a squad full of players who are hungry to prove that they have what it takes to be part of the manager’s plans going forward. Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Ward; good players all who will be chomping at the bit to show Klopp he’s an idiot if he doesn’t trust them in the long-term. Then there’s Lucas and Kolo Toure, both of whom must watch the less stable performances of Lovren and Sakho and believe there’s a chance for them at centre-back in the short-term at the very least.
Bournemouth’s officials, players and supporters should be commended for their classy act of laying a wreath in memory of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster and for playing You’ll Never Walk Alone before kick-off. In this day and age of cynical supporters singing ‘Sing On’ and the ‘Slippy G’ song, it’s a good thing that the Cherries will still be playing Premier League football next season.
Told that Flanagan hasn’t had a knock and has trained this week. Randall just selected ahead of him by Klopp today. #LFC
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) April 17, 2016
Back to the football, though, and the game had the feeling of a pre-season friendly for the majority of the first-half, like two seasoned boxers knowing they just needed to prod and poke to get to the payday rather than going for the kill. Even with the many changes that Klopp had made to the Liverpool starting line-up, however, you always felt that the Reds would have the quality to get the three points when it really mattered.
Daniel Sturridge Is A Class Act
There has been much talk of Daniel Sturridge’s position at Liverpool of late. Some trusted members of the press that run the Mersey beat have suggested that the England striker’s future is in some doubt, with Klopp unsure that he can offer the pressing and closing from the front that is vital to his system. The manager’s decision to start Divock Origi ahead of him for the two games against Dortmund certainly suggests that there are some question marks over his future involvement.
Indeed Sturridge himself might have been slightly put out by the fact that he seemed to be spearheading a B-team performance here at The Vitality Stadium, with the rest of the first XI made-up mostly of youth players. If he had any issues, however, he certainly didn’t let them show through in his play on the pitch. Where Christian Benteke failed to show why he was worth £32.5 million when he was put in a similar situation over two matches against Exeter City, Sturridge did exactly the opposite with a performance that will have added a fair few million to his price tag, should he be a player to leave in the summer.
Sturridge has been mustard, gravy and whatever other condiment/sauce you want to use to describe him today. Such a classy player.
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) April 17, 2016
The man who does the wriggly-arm dance could have had four or five yesterday and it wouldn’t have flattered him. He consistently looked the best player on the pitch by a country mile, terrorising the Bournemouth defence and making Artur Boruc look more like Arthur Christmas. He essentially set-up the first goal with a brilliant back heel that Roberto Firmino latched onto the rebound of, whilst his goal was a bullet of a header that was hitting the back of the net the second it left his head.
Ultimately only Klopp himself will know whether Sturridge can offer the sort of performances the German thinks he needs to lead Liverpool’s attack in the long-term, but there can be no question that he is a class-act of a player. He offered the Reds that bit of quality that they needed to get past a spirited but mildly disinterested Bournemouth side. In a Liverpool side that was largely made up of either future prospects or members of the old guard, you can’t under-estimate the importance of a player who knows how to put the ball in the back of the net.
My own opinion on the player’s situation is that it is a complicated issue. On the one hand I think that he’s a genuinely world-class player who has only been let down thus far in his career by the injuries he’s suffered. A simple glimpse at his numbers shows just what a phenomenal goal-scorer he is, with his 49 goals in 86 games putting him level with Robbie Fowler at the same point and one better than Ian Rush.
No doubting Sturridge’s talent. The length of time it took to play 86 games is the issue. https://t.co/FYU0qAJYpW
— Opta Anfield (@OptaAnfield) April 18, 2016
Jürgen Klopp watches the player week-in, week-out, however. If he feels there’s something in Sturridge’s game that lets him down or is suggestive of the fact that he won’t work for Klopp’s team moving forward then who am I to argue? I’m fairly certain that by now Klopp has earned the right through his management ability to have his decisions trusted.
All of that said, I’m not entirely sure that Klopp doesn’t trust or rate Daniel Sturridge. On the contrary, it seems to me that the German is managing the striker to perfection. In the past Liverpool Football Club has found itself far too reliant on a player whose fitness has been found wanting far too often. By refusing to pin all of our hopes on Sturridge the manager has taken the pressure off his shoulders and allowed the rest of the team to realise that they can score – and win – without him.
When Sturridge was returning from his more recent injury Klopp reportedly refused to even consider him for first-team duties until he had trained for two weeks. He also made the comment about the player needing to know what ‘real pain’ is. It means that if Sturridge has at any point refused to play for reasons that are in his head then he’s unlikely to do so in a hurry in the future. It also means that a player who has been rushed back too quickly in the past has only come back when he’s actually ready this time around. Far from pushing the player away, it all strikes me as being little more than good management.
Allen Key – A New Contract Seems A Must
Just as we don’t see the players train on a daily basis in the same way that the manager does, so we’ve got no idea why some players start more regularly than others, so we have no real insight into the matters that managers have to take into account when considering whether or not to offer a player a new contract. If we did perhaps less of us would have completely lost our minds when Simon Mignolet got a 5 (FIVE) year contract extension.
Right now Jürgen Klopp must be looking at his midfield and weighing up all of his options. Does he think that Kevin Stewart has the potential, even at this relatively late stage in his career, to become a top quality defensive midfielder? Is Lucas more likely to become a third or fourth choice centre-back than continue in that same position? What of Jordan Henderson and Emre Can? Is it just one of the two of them that the manager will turn to in the future?
In amongst all of that are the performances of Joe Allen, a player who has been little short of exceptional during his recent appearances in the side. Alongside Daniel Sturridge he changed the game against Dortmund, controlling a midfield that seemed non-existent when the Germans took a 2-0 and then a 3-1 lead at Anfield.
Joe Allen’s game by numbers vs. Bournemouth:
100% take-ons completed
85% pass acc.
2 chances created
2 tackles won pic.twitter.com/Bid39inv2v
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 17, 2016
At The Vitality Stadium the Welshman once again ran the show, looking a cut above everyone else in the middle of the park. Let down slightly by his fitness in the past, he’s finally starting to put a run of matches together and his form has taken an uptake with it. He looks leaner, faster and fitter than he has before, using the opportunity he’s been presented with to show the manager exactly what he’ll be missing if he lets him go in the summer.
I’ve long been a Joe Allen fan, believing that he would have received a lot more credit for his performances from the Anfield faithful if he hadn’t been viewed as Brendan Rodgers’ lapdog. Admittedly his numbers aren’t up there as far as goals and assists are concerned, but then he’s not that sort of player. He’s the man who assists the man who gets the assist, and that is an important job all of its own.
Jürgen Klopp is currently building a team for the future of Liverpool in his head. He’ll have a good idea of who he wants to keep and who he can do without, with Allen probably finding himself on the fence between the two camps. Now that Liverpool fans are over the notion of him being Rodgers’ Head Boy there’s a head of steam gathering that wants to see Allen offered a new contract. All the player can do is keep putting in these sorts of performances and giving the manager pause for thought.