Klopp Made Mistakes Against Chelsea

Whenever I write a piece about my personal take on errors made by the manager, I inevitably receive a deluge of responses from people informing me that I don’t know as much as Jürgen Klopp. I would think the fact that he’s manager of Liverpool Football Club and I’m a bloke who writes a blog and runs a Twitter account would be proof of that, yet still some people feel the need to tell me. For the purposes of this piece, then, can we just assume that I know that the manager is significantly better than me in every department, not just football, and that this is merely my response to what happened against Chelsea at the weekend? The manager makes mistakes every now and then and I think we need to be able to have a sensible and mature conversation about things when he does. Playing Diogo Jota in a completely meaningless dead-rubber Champions League game last season was a mistake, for example, and it’s ok to say as much.

I was angry in the wake of our draw with Chelsea and no less annoyed when I woke up on Sunday morning. It felt like two points not so much dropped as thrown to the floor in disgust. Yes, Thomas Tuchel’s side is very, very good and they’re arguably the worst team in the Premier League you want to give a chance to defend a lead. Even so, Liverpool are also an exceptional football team and attacking is one area of the side that doesn’t often face disparaging comments, so you would expect us to be able to break them down over forty-five minutes with only ten men on the pitch. For the first fifteen of the second-half it looked like we would be able to, with a goal seemingly like a matter of when rather than if. After the clocked ticked past the hour mark, however, it seemed as though everyone had settled for the draw and the Reds were making brainless decisions. The manager is not blameless in what happened, as I’ll look at in more detail here.

He Got His Starting XI Wrong

On the one hand, I can very much understand Jürgen Klopp’s desire to get his best players on the pitch for the biggest game of the season so far. On the other, I do question what dropping all of Kostas Tsimikas, Naby Keïta and Diogo Jota says to them about their performances in the first two games of the season. To me, the implication is that it doesn’t matter how well they play, they’ll be out of the first team the second we come up against a strong side, which will doubtless be disheartening for them. The German has sold his management of Liverpool on the basis of it being a meritocracy, yet none of the players that dropped down to the bench had done anything wrong to merit them losing their starting berth. I can absolutely understand the desire of Klopp to get Fabinho into the starting eleven and I would have made the same decision, but maybe at the cost of Harvey Elliott rather than Naby Keïta.

I say that, by the way, as someone who thought that Elliott was arguably our Man Of The Match on Saturday evening, so it’s not that I think the youngster underperformed. I just wonder if we might have had a little bit more balance with Keïta in the side instead of him. By opting for Roberto Firmino, Andy Robertson, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho all starting, the manager limited the number of changes he would be able to make out of choice. Robertson wasn’t match fit and would clearly need to be taken off before the ninety was up, whilst the same was likely to be true of Firmino even without the injury he sustained. Sadio Mané was, sadly, stinking the place out, but he couldn’t be taken off because the manager needed to keep his substitutions for the players that weren’t at full fitness. Had Klopp given the players that had performed against Norwich City and Burnley a chance, he would have had more flexibility from the bench.

The Subs Didn’t Work

In the wake of the full-time whistle, a lot of the talk was about how our attacking options aren’t quite good enough and that Takumi Minamino doesn’t quite offer enough. I’m not totally sure I agree with that and the manager put himself in a position where he was unable to find out because of the starting eleven he’d opted for. Had he started Kostas Tsimikas instead of Andy Robertson, for example, he may well not have had to use up one of his substitutions taking the left-back off. Similarly, starting Diogo Jota would have meant that he could have used to Roberto Firmino, or that he could have looked to see what a difference Minamino would have made in those tight spaces. Instead, the change that came for the attacker was an enforced one and it now looks as if the Brazilian has picked up an injury. Maybe the attacking options aren’t good enough, but it’s impossible to say for certain because we didn’t have the chance to use them.

Even the change that I think was the right one to make in Thiago Alcantara came too later in the match to have a real impact. Everyone inside Anfield, watching on television and listening to the match on the radio knew how Chelsea were going to set up in the second-half. Anyone that thought they would play wide and expansive football hasn’t been paying attention to how Thomas Tuchel has been getting them to play. Thiago was the man that many believed would come in and help Liverpool to unlock low-block defences, so I do wonder why he wasn’t brought on at half-time. With the Spaniard pulling the strings in midfield, we would likely have been able to move the ball around much faster and find pockets in the Chelsea defence. Instead, he was given a little over 15 minutes to have an impact and by that stage the rhythm of the game had been set. Jürgen Klopp is, I believe, the best manager in the world, but he made a couple of mistakes on Saturday. I just hope we don’t pay for them at the end of the season.

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