Of all the things that I think most define America is the white hat cowboy. Europeans don’t have cowboys. To the extent Europe had a wild west, it was tamed so long ago it isn’t in anyone’s memory. In movies – and in real life, one supposes – “cowboy” is a term of derision from the mouth of the “evil foreigner.” But we Americans… we love our cowboys. We’re proud of them. A man, on a horse, hat shading his face, coming into town and saving the day. The sound of that horse getting closer and closer to save the day: Klopp, Klopp, Klopp…
Has Jurgen Klopp saved Liverpool? Has a German ridden a horse to Anfield and saved the day?
One game does not a manager make. The savior of the Kop came and got a respectable result, grabbing a point while away at Spurs. Mind, the last game of Brendan Rodgers tenure saw him get a point in an away match Derby. That said, it’s always as fun as it is pointless to mindlessly speculate about the future based on 90 minutes of the present.
The first 25 minutes was enthralling. Without access to basically the best players on the squad – though at this point no one should ever be surprised if Sturridge is a scratch – Liverpool looked like a world-class team. Spurs are no joke, easily a team that can compete for a top 4 slot in any given year, and yet LFC were running circles around them. Klopp is known for teams that have a high pressure, face paced tempo, and that was certainly on display early. I could barely believe what I was seeing, to be honest. This wasn’t the same team that Rodgers had consistently tinkered with, probably confusing the players every game as to exactly what their duties were. Can and Milner in the midfield in particular were game changers. They pressed, they passed, they broke up any counterattacking – it was fun.
It wasn’t just that the team attacked – any side can basically do that if they’re willing to accept that they’ll be vulnerable going the other way – it was the pure energy put out. When a Spur touched the ball, he was instantly hounded by two or three red shirts. Again: it looked like Spurs were baffled by what was happening and that by the half it would be 3-0. But it wasn’t because …
The Not So Good
The team still lacked any ability to finish. Origi did well to hustle like crazy, making great runs down the side. Coutinho showed little glimpses of world-class footwork. But for all the fury that was on display, the Reds couldn’t get much off. Save for one corner that resulted in the ball bouncing dead on the keeper’s line, the team didn’t actually threaten with a quality shot. What shots they did get off were usually soft – at best.
This isn’t a surprise. With Sturridge out, Benteke out, and the unfortunate season ending injury to Ings (who’d seemingly formed a wonderful partnership up front with Sturridge), the team was without their best scorers.
The Hidden Bad
The defense wasn’t terrible. They more or less did what needed to be done and Skrtel managed to not make his typical twice a game bafflingly stupid decisions. Moreno – personally the sexiest man on the team – did well to lead an attack out of the back but didn’t overextend himself so much that he was out of position and unable to get back on defense. That all said, the score easily could’ve been 2-0 were it not for the unquestionable man of the match.
Brothers Squad’s Keeper
Simon Mignolet. Thank goodness whatever mojo that screwed with him early last year is gone. To say he was outstanding today is an understatement. He made at least two saves that were world-class. The final result of football can easily be misleading, as teams dominate a game but still lose 1-0 all the time due to the nature of the beast. Make no mistake, Liverpool were the better side today but it was Mignolet who made sure the final line reflected reality.
They cannot be left to Walk Alone
There were signs that the team will need time to adjust. If Klopp’s relentless style is implemented, and the first half hour showed it was on some level, it will require two things: fitter players and healthier players. The pace slowed as the game wore on. Part of that is credit to Spurs for adjusting and slowing things a bit but I think a lot was the result of ‘Pool players simply running out of gas. With a fully fit roster, this can be mitigated. I thought that Ibe should’ve been brought on a bit earlier, as he can set a great pace and could thrive in this system. With a fully healthy team, they have enough depth to run teams to death for a full 90, provided subs are in place at the right time.
But… “So and so is injured” was always the excuse during the Rodgers’s era and it was valid to some extent. Some. There is a reality in football which is a manager needs to be prepared to play without everyone available. Sometimes that will be due to injury but often it is because a manager needs to manage the minutes of a team that will be playing European football throughout the season. Whether it’s Europa or Champions League, Liverpool is generally going to have more than just the Premier League games to worry about in a given year. After all, it does no good to qualify for CL play and then get bounced early because you lack depth.
Sturridge is always going to be injured and I doubt he plays more than the equivalent of 25 full games in a season ever again. But there will be fluke injuries. Gomez was young, fit, and would’ve been excellent for this system. Then he got hurt. Ings looks like something clicked. Then injury. These will happen. And with a system that I think is going to require as many healthy and fully fit players as possible, I’ll manage my expectations a bit.
No doubt, it was fun to see a team that looked as good in action as it does “on paper” for once. And getting a result from Spurs at Spurs isn’t a joke. But Rodgers was a Gerrard slip away from winning the Premier League too. Plus, it’s not like this is even Klopp’s team. The real evaluation is a year or two away. But for now: at least it appears a cowboy has arrived.