Do Liverpool Have A Problem In Big Games On The Road?

The match against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League was never likely to be a classic. Whilst Diego Simeone is having a tough season in La Liga, he knows what to do to get results at the Wanda Metropolitano. That is evidenced in the fact that he has never lost a knockout round tie at home in Europe’s top competition. He is the master of setting up a team to sit back and invite the opposition on, which is something that Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool have struggled with even if they’ve got better at knowing what to do. Getting past a side like Burnley that has decided to opt for two banks of four in front of the goalkeeper is an entirely different proposition to getting past Atletico Madrid if they’ve chosen to do the same thing. Obviously we weren’t helped in any way, shape or form by one of the most inept refereeing displays I’ve seen since the bloke that must have won a competition to referee the Club World Cup final.

It’s not great to talk about referees, especially when you’ve lost a game, but that guy was abysmal. It was so bad that you would be forgiven for thinking that he actively wanted Atleti to win and wasn’t overly bothered about showing it. That doesn’t mean that Simeone and his charges shouldn’t be praised for what they did to break up Liverpool’s play, of course. The Spaniard is like José Mourinho on crack, such is the extent to which he knows every trick in the book when it comes to disrupting matches. The referee was too weak to stop them getting away with it, but once again I felt that we showed our naivety in not realising that it was going to happen. The Reds are conquering all comers in the Premier League right now, but in big matches, especially in Europe, have we found Jürgen Klopp’s one bit of kryptonite? The match against Atletico wasn’t the first occasion that Liverpool have struggled on the road under the German.

Klopp Got His Subs Wrong

The manager is phenomenal. Utterly amazing and is about to achieve something that no other Liverpool manager has achieved in more than thirty years. I worship at his alter and I’m not afraid to admit as much. Yet to suggest that he’s entirely beyond criticism would be to belittle his own strength of personality. Jürgen Klopp is a big boy and will doubtless be reviewing his own performance at the Wanda Metropolitano and wondering what he got wrong. For me, the answer to that is everything that he had to do during the match. Liverpool fans were thrilled at the starting eleven and I understand why. It is what most of us would say, on paper, is our best team. It also made the bench look ridiculously strong, with the likes of Takumi Minamino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain available for the manager to call on when needed. It was the latter that Klopp turned to when he took Salah off after seventy-two minutes, but should he have?

Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t great when working as part of there front three, being far more suited to operating in the middle of the park when there’s space for him to run into. Naby Keita, who I remain skeptical of, is much better at working against a tight-knit defence and I’m amazed we didn’t see him at any point. Likewise Divock Origi is a player who works in moments, not matches. To give him an entire half to influence the game instead of Sadio Mané was never going to work, in my opinion. Finally throwing James Milner on as Jordan Henderson’s replacement was a decision that I couldn’t get on board with, especially given his lack of game time lately. He lacked fluidity and certainly didn’t strengthen our attempts to get an equaliser. I understand why he’ll have wanted the former Manchester City man’s experience, but I’m not sure it really worked. He knows more about football than I ever will, but even geniuses get it wrong every now and then.

The Stats Say We Struggle Away In Big Games

That Liverpool are steamrolling all and sundry in the Premier League is remarkable. Yet the reality is that Jürgen Klopp’s record on the road isn’t as good as we’d all like it to be. Many felt as though the win over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena last season would mark a turning point, but since the start of last season no side other than Red Star Belgrade has lost as many games away from home in the Champions League as us, and even Red Star are level with us. We’ve played ten away games in that time and have lost six of them. For Klopp himself, he’s not won any of the seven games he’s played in Spain in the Champions League, losing four and losing three of the matches he’s played in the country with us and Borussia Dortmund. We’ve only lost three times in all competitions so far this term, but all three defeats have come on the road. Ignoring the loss to Aston Villa, the other was to Napoli in the group stage.

Looking at the seven defeats that Liverpool have suffered in their last eleven matches in the Champions League, you might despair. Yet there’s another stat that is perhaps more important: Jürgen Klopp has never lost a two-legged tie in Europe since arriving at Anfield. It is suggestive of a manager who knows what it takes to progress, even if that means losing in the short-term. Did the German look at last night’s match and, unlike most of us, decided that a 1-0 loss was perfectly fine? Has he done so time and again? He seemingly felt that draws at Goodison Park and Old Trafford last season were solid results and he’d have been proven right if not for a Vincent Kompany thunderbolt against Leicester City. Klopp has taken us to three European finals and won one of them, whilst putting us twenty-two points clear at the top of the Premier League. His results on the road in big games might not be great, but perhaps they’re good enough.

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