Klopp Got The January Breaks Right, But What Happens Next?

I’ll be honest, friends, I’m still a bit heart-broken. I knew it was going to happen, that we’d rack up 97 points but be pipped to the title, yet that doesn’t make it hurt any less. It feels so crushingly ‘Liverpool in the Premier League era’ to achieve the third-highest points total of all time, boast two Golden Boot winners, the Golden Glove winner and lose just one match across the entire campaign and yet fall short. The fact that UEFA are now considering banning Manchester City from the Champions League because of their financial shenanigans certainly doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. I’m willing to bet that in the future the titles the Cityzens have won under the ownership of Sheikh Mansour will have an asterisk against them, but that doesn’t change the reality right now. Even if at some point further down the line the Premier League and Football Association decided to retroactively remove the titles from them, we would still have been denied that party at the end of the season that we so richly deserved.

The problem, of course, is that talking about this is dismissed simply as ‘sour grapes’. Never mind the fact that it looks as though Manchester City have essentially bought every trophy they’ve been able to put into their cabinet since 2008 by lying about sponsorship deals to cover shortfalls in their Financial Fair Play obligations, that they seem to have done something that should have rocked football just as much as the Juventus match-fixing scandal and the FIFA corruption cases, if we mention it we’re just ‘always the victims’. I remain immensely proud of the way that Jürgen Klopp has gone about his business as Liverpool manager, taking us to two Champions League finals in a row and racking up 97 points in the domestic league along the way. To do that at a time when Manchester City’s spending means that they should be dominating every competition that they enter is quite remarkable. But it still hurts. The only thing that will take the pain away is if we’re able to win the Champions League, but how will the break before the match hurt us?

Klopp’s Mini Winter Breaks Were Always About The Season’s Conclusion

When Liverpool took not one but two miniature winter breaks during January, plenty of supporters cried foul. The notion that they put forward was that it would have been better to have been in the FA Cup rather than be able to disappear off to Dubai and Spain when the lack of cup matches allowed them the break to do so. Never mind that our squad was on its last legs and injuries were mounting up, the belief was there that we’d have been better off making it past Wolves in the FA Cup and travelling away to Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup fourth round. It’s an argument that I’ll never be able to get my head around, given that the breaks gave us a chance to get the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold back from a minor injury and removed the need to rely on James Milner as a right-back option. They gave the manager the winter break that he so craved, one that he lacked in the 2016-2017 season when the wheels fell off our season in January.

Too many people thought that the breaks were about the there and then, but Jürgen Klopp was always using them to give his players a break that would allow them to be fit and firing as the campaign came to its conclusion. My personal opinion is that he looked out our fixtures, looked at City’s and thought we’d win all of our nine games in the run-in but that City would drop points in at least one of theirs. We did our part of that, but City didn’t do theirs. To win eighteen out of their nineteen games in the second-half of the season is truly unbelievable form and to point to draws with Everton, Leicester City, West Ham and Manchester United and say that that’s when we ‘lost the league’ is ludicrous. The winter breaks were always about our form for the end of the season push and in that sense the manager and his team called it absolutely right.

We’ve Got Another Mini-Break But Can’t Be As Rusty When We Return

The issue is that we did very much look rusty when we came back from our mini-winter break at the end of January. Back-to-back draws with Leicester City and West Ham United were unfortunate, but an understandable consequence of the players essentially being put through a miniature pre-season to ensure that they were ready for what was to lie ahead. There’s an argument that if we hadn’t had them we wouldn’t have been able to win those final nine games that came after the Everton match, to say nothing about having the ability to take the fight to Barcelona in the second-leg of our Champions League semi-final. It’s also true that we looked rusty in our home game against the Foxes, though, even when you take into account the mitigating factor of the appalling weather.

The challenge that confronts the German and his backroom staff now is to ensure that the players are rested well enough before the 1st of June but that they’re nowhere near as rusty as they were on the 30th of January. It’s a difficult balance for a manager that regularly talks about the need for rhythm in his football team. The difference, of course, is that they know exactly what comes at the end of this particular break. They’ve also got the experience of what the Champions League final involves, with the players having one over on their Tottenham rivals in that sense. Spurs have to cope with the break too, of course. It’s just that we’ve literally seen it play out in front of our eyes when the Reds aren’t quite at it because they’re out of that rhythm. Will the manager organise a competitive behind-closed-doors game before the month is out? Or will it just be about changing the training? Whatever he does, I’m confident he’ll get us firing for the biggest game we’ve had in a year….

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