Premier League: Odds stacked up heavily against 'giant-killer' Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool face stern test against Manchester City
Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool team once played with the flourish with buckets of paints being hurled on white canvas with abandon, are now playing with the toe-curling aesthetic of nails scratching a chalkboard. It’s not a pleasant viewing.
The world rocks down against us/ and we throw out our legs/ like the death kiss of a centipede:
but they snap our backs/ and call out poison “politics.”/
We, who are climbing broken ladders. - Poem for personnel managers, Charles Bukowski
Defending champions, Liverpool are seven points behind Manchester City on the points ladder. Like the damp crow with perfect posture perched defiantly in the cold winter rain outside my window, Jurgen Klopp addressed the gathered press on Saturday ahead of the do-or-die battle with runaway title contenders, Manchester City. His shoulders were thrown back, spine straight, his delivery as cold as a doctor’s diagnosis, speaking matter-of-factly, without the usual warm gregariousness.
His Liverpool team once played with the flourish with buckets of paints being hurled on white canvas with abandon, are now playing with the toe-curling aesthetic of nails scratching a chalkboard. It’s not a pleasant viewing.
The crow or the raven is a symbol of world-weary wisdom in early Norse and Germanic texts. It is with this world-weariness that the Liverpool manager from the mythic Black forest of Glatten, will approach tonight’s game. He’s aware of a specific toll that will take on the tired legs and minds of an already admittedly fatigued side. And the far-knocking damage it might do to morale if the result doesn’t go Klopp’s way at their home stadium of Anfield.
“Our problem at the moment is our decision making and our decisions are based on the information I give and the mood we are in – so how confident you are to do it,” Jurgen Klopp offered in midweek’s post-mortem of Liverpool’s loss to Brighton. It took 1369 days for this Liverpool side to lose at fortress Anfield. But it was perhaps the feeling of tired resignation is what hurt their pride more.
Shoulders dropped at Anfield - a sight the footballing world is not used to seeing. A sense of schadenfreude that prevails when things of beauty bur, held by those who resent it, was paraded around social media sites. Barcelona fans, Manchester United fans, Chelsea fans, rivals, all jubilant. For Liverpool fans, it was a feeling of having been here before.
“Tonight, the boys, I have to say, looked not fresh,” confirmed Jurgen in the post match presser against Brighton. ”We are looking for explanations and not excuses, but tonight, we lost too many easy balls, played the wrong passes, made poor decisions while facing the (opposition) goal. Tonight, the boys looked not fresh and we have to admit that. We made their (the opposition’s) job easier.”
The manager of Liverpool’s opposition tonight, Pep Guardiola, however, won’t entertain any allusion that Manchester City’s job has been made easier by Liverpool’s crisis of confidence and their opposition’s grueling fixture list. He simply won’t have it:
“He’s finding excuses. When I complain to my players or when you complain, you find an excuse you cannot move forward. Excuses are the worst in the world in football, in sport. So I’m not judging what the other managers said but the comment, what Jürgen said – “two weeks off” – the purpose I don’t know. You have to ask him. Or I will ask him on Sunday the reason why he is saying that.”
Guardiola may try to dress the advantage up in the garb of you-can-do-it optimism, but not without insulting the intelligence of the objective football viewer.
Jurgen pointed out in the pre-match press conference, last day, that their direct rivals were allowed a two-week period of rest after Manchester City’s fixture vs Everton was postponed following COVID safety protocols (when a few of City’s players were in contact with an individual who tested positive for the disease).
Thus making Klopp’s observations an attempt for empathy rather than an attempt at politics. Doubly so, considering, when key Liverpool players like Mohamed Salah and Thiago Alcantara were quarantining with COVID, earlier in the season, no such courtesy was extended to the already suffering club, painfully short on personnel. The Liverpool manager has every reason to feel aggrieved.
Sure, it was only a matter of time that Liverpool’s collective legs, the few pairs that remain, seized up from the Herculean home run, coupled with the strain of their high-intensity gameplay; but as Pep Guardiola himself would testify if put on a stand, that even a day’s rest has far-reaching benefits to player recuperation and performance, never mind a rest of two weeks.
Jurgen Klopp has been dealt an unfavourable hand.
Against Brighton and Hove Albion, it was as if this Liverpool team’s collective minds were cramped - and that is a far alarming issue to address for the great German motivator. In fact, this may pose to be one of the biggest challenges of his career, carrying a hint of deja vu. It is not the first time that odds are heavily against him.
Towards the end of a storied stint with Dortmund, after successful championship runs, Jurgen Klopp, found himself in the middle of an injury crisis that wouldn’t relent. Faced with a lack of resources, depleted squad depth, and tactical discontinuity that comes with a broken team chemistry, he was forced to call time on his romance with the German giant-killers. It has been open season for German bullies, the resource-heavy Bayern Munich since then, romping to a historic multiple consecutive Bundesliga titles with little or no opposition from the rest of the league.
The presence of Manchester City has hung solidly-still, like Laputa, Gulliver’s flying island-city, their Championship prospects inching closer with the inevitability of continental drift; threatening to cast Liverpool’s season under a shade of grey.
If there’s a shaft of sunlight that’s improbably breaking through that looming silhouette, if there’s any reason for optimism for Liverpool fans to take into the match, it is this: If there’s anyone in world football who has learned from faltering and failing as intently, it is Jurgen Klopp. Juergen Klopp is a manager who has made a life and a career shaking his fists at the insurmountable. And this team has been moulded in his image.
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