Remarkably contrasting starts to the beginning of the calendar year have left reds embarrassed and blues showboating.
Liverpool fans have entered unknown territory. Territory in which Jürgen Klopp is coming under scrutiny by fans, journalists, and pundits. But how could the famously charismatic Jürgen Klopp be criticised?
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What seems like a random array of letters is, of course, Liverpool’s results in 2017. The most notable of which, the final ‘L’, representing one of the most embarrassing team performances of Klopp’s reign. This 2-0 loss at Hull City ultimately confirms what many have been hypothesising – Liverpool have been found out, Liverpool have been burnt out.Image: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Managers such as Paul Clement, Marco Silva, and not to mention League two Plymouth’s Derek Adams, have all worked out how to coach against Klopp’s plan A. Their teams have lined up in a compact, well drilled formation, usually in the form of 4-5-1. Teams have sat back and worked hard to stay in position while Liverpool’s attackers play the ball around the box with no product.
Klopp’s plan A, as everybody now knows as ’heavy metal’, is something which is beginning to give Liverpool fans quite the headache. Its full-pelt nature has produced mesmeric performances leading to some experts and fans to believe that this could be the year. Yet the sheer amount of running it involves has been underestimated by Klopp and his dobblegänger (also fitness coach), Andreas Kornmayer. Without a winter break similar to that of the Bundesliga, players simply cannot continue to perform to such high-energy standards, creating the need for a plan B in Klopp’s repertoire.
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We also have to consider the weaknesses within Liverpool’s side, an area which Klopp has been reluctant to address during the January transfer window. The manager putting all his trust in the current players can be argued to be a leadership quality all footballers’ desire. While this can lead to better performances, the fact of the matter is, players are playing out of position. James Milner is playing at left back and can be found out of position virtually every opposing counterattack. Again, Lucas Leiva is battling hard at centre back but his lack of experience in the position is telling.
Looking at the blue half of Merseyside, the story is very different. Since the beginning of the year, Everton have taken thirteen out of a maximum of fifteen points. Ronald Koeman has revitalised a squad which seemed to have aged quickly overnight.
With Everton embarrassing the ‘genius’ that is Pep Guardiola, and outscoring Bournemouth by six goals to three, they seem to have rediscovered their scoring form. Romelu Lukaku netted four against Bournemouth, further showing his potential of becoming a world class striker. It seems he has more than enough ability to achieve this, yet the attitude of the player still needs work.
Another reason for Everton’s recent success has been the outstanding performances from their young players. Academy graduates Tom Davies and Mason Holgate, as well as January signing Ademola Lookman have all breathed a breath of fresh air into a team which looked older and less energetic. The signing of Morgan Schneiderlin from Manchester United looks to be an exciting one, with his best form coming under Ronald Koeman at Southampton. Credit must be given to Ronald Koeman, who realised the weaknesses within his team, and acted subsequently. Maybe Jürgen Klopp could take a leaf out of Ron’s book.
Not only have Everton changed personnel, they have also tweaked a system which had, in a similar fashion to Liverpool, been found out by many premier league teams. Having Barkley and Lookman behind Lukaku, creates a narrower attack from the front three, giving freedom to Everton’s full backs to push further up. The improved form of Coleman and Baines has given the blues an extra dimension in attack, with both providing dangerous crosses.
Losing to the so called ‘smaller clubs’ in the premier league is a thing of the past for the blue half of Merseyside, while for the red, it remains very much a theme of the present. Many Evertonians will now be looking to further close the gap on their Merseyside rivals who, if no changes are made, will continue to slip down the table.
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