Mon. May 20th, 2024

Jurgen Klopp’s nightmare ending is edging closer

By Sanchez Apr 8, 2024
Jurgen Klopp's nightmare ending is edging closerJurgen Klopp's nightmare ending is edging closer

For the second time in a month, Jurgen Klopp left Old Trafford wondering how on earth his Liverpool side had failed to beat Manchester United. Sunday’s 2-2 draw was even more inexplicable, costly and painful than the FA Cup quarter-final defeat at the same ground. Liverpool played United off the pitch during the first half, taking 15 shots on goal and restricting their hopelessly outclassed opponents to none, and yet they only had one goal to show for their staggering superiority.

Almost inevitably, the Reds were once again punished for failing to put Erik ten Hag and his team out of their misery, with Jarell Quansah gifting Bruno Fernandes an equaliser before Kobbie Mainoo rather incredibly put United ahead with a sublime strike of his own.

Liverpool did, at least, salvage a point – which moves them level with new Premier League leaders Arsenal at the summit of the standings – and it may yet prove crucial in a ridiculously tight title race. The feeling now is now, though, that failing to beat this dire United side both home and away will come back to haunt to the Merseysiders at the end of the season.

LOSER: Jurgen Klopp

The dream of every Liverpool fan is for Klopp to bring the curtain down on his remarkable reign at Anfield by winning a second Premier League title. It would be a genuinely amazing achievement, given Manchester City are operating on an entirely different financial plane to the Reds (and Arsenal for that matter), but Sunday’s result represented a serious reality check.

While United fans revelled in denying their hated rivals top spot, singing ‘Jurgen Klopp’s cracking up’, but the man himself was actually admirably calm in his post-match interviews. He acknowledged that Liverpool should have won the game comfortably but insisted that he wasn’t “angry” with his players and said he was “fine” with the draw. In private, though, Klopp would have been furious with the way in which two precious points were tossed away from a position of such total dominance. Despite their excellent results, such carelessness has become a feature of Liverpool’s play and this latest demonstration will only strengthen the belief shared by many neutrals that the Reds will stumble again between now and the end of the season.

Indeed, there is a worrying sense of inevitability about Liverpool’s concession of goals right now – in stark contrast to the solidity that Arsenal are displaying – and it will be a serious cause for concern for Klopp that his side has kept just one clean sheet in their last 10 league games. His frustration with his misfiring forwards was also on show during the first half; he knew full well that such profligacy would eventually be punished, even by a team as weak as United.

As he once again proved at Old Trafford, Klopp has a fantastic ability to influence games with his changes, but the substitutes aren’t going to keep bailing his team out of jail. The dream may still be alive thanks to Mohamed Salah’s equaliser, but the nightmare scenario of Liverpool once again missing out on a title by the smallest of margins has just become even more likely.

WINNER: Mikel Arteta & Pep Guardiola

The odds on Manchester City winning the Premier League were immediately slashed after Sunday’s game at Old Trafford – and rightly so. The champions may still be in third place, but they are now just a point behind Arsenal and Liverpool, and have a far easier run-in. Pep Guardiola will, thus, be delighted that City’s neighbours somehow managed to take another two points off Klopp’s side.

Mikel Arteta will be thrilled, too, of course. Arsenal’s form since the turn of the year has been absolutely sensational and the Gunners just do not look like fading this season. There are still some tough fixtures to come but, less than a year on from their unfortunate collapse (the loss of William Saliba was just a hammer blow), Arteta’s mentally stronger side now have their destiny in their own hands thanks to a colossal goal difference.

LOSER: Casemiro

It’s no secret that Casemiro has been having a shocker of a season, but even by his tumbling standards, this was a terrible display. The Brazilian’s form has dipped yet further since his latest injury just before the international break, with him looking woefully off the pace against Chelsea, but this was the worst performance of the lot.

He was twisted inside and out by Liverpool’s midfield trio and was so easy to beat. And when Liverpool took the lead from the corner, the Brazilian fell to the floor at the crucial moment, allowing Darwin Nunez to win the header and set up Luis Diaz.

Casemiro’s passing was also atrocious. He had just 67 percent passing accuracy – the lowest of any United outfield player – and kept on giving the ball away in crucial areas. The strangest thing was that Ten Hag kept faith with him, and when he did bring on an extra midfielder in Sofyan Amrabat, he took Alejandro Garnacho off instead of Casemiro.

The Brazilian had a superb first season at Old Trafford, but his age and the grind of so many top-level games has inevitably caught up with him. With little sign of Casemiro’s decline slowing down, United should be preparing the ground for his departure in the summer.

WINNER: Kobbie Mainoo

Where would United be without their next generation? While the experienced and highest-paid players, such as Casemiro and Marcus Rashford, continue their dramatic fall from grace, it has fallen upon the youngsters to pick up the slack.

That has been the case for most of the season and it was never truer than on Sunday. Mainoo led the way, with his every touch sprinkling class on a team otherwise bereft of it. The 18-year-old was the only calm head out there wearing a red shirt, his intelligent passing and movement one of very few positives from another wild team performance.

And then when the team got back into the game and needed to take the next step, he took matters into his own hands with a stunning curling finish. Mainoo does not score often, but when he does, it’s always a work of art, and this sumptuous strike, which came after wonderful build-up play from the youngster, added to his collection of wonder-goals against Newport County and Wolves.

Mainoo was not the only United academy graduate to thrive against Liverpool. Willy Kambwala was inspirational at centre-half, winning practically every duel and tackle. It was the Frenchman’s second start for the first team, having been thrown in at the deep end again more than three months after his debut against West Ham due to United’s defensive injury crisis. But he rose to the occasion and kept a cool head while the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot kept losing theirs.

LOSER: Jarell Quansah

Make no mistake about it: this was a damaging draw for Liverpool. But Salah’s late leveller should make Jarell Quansah feel a little less guilty about the error that changed the entire complexion of the game.

The youngster had been surprisingly given the nod to start ahead of Ibrahima Konate and was the picture of composure during the first half. He was always looking to get on the ball and instigate attacks. Indeed, no Liverpool player had more touches during the first half.

So, the loose pass that allowed Bruno Fernandes to draw United level with their first shot on goal was as unexpected as it was atrocious. Quansah looked as stunned as everyone else by what he had just done.

However, Liverpool eventually managed to regroup – and Quansah did too. He continued to show for the ball and ended up completing more passes than any of his team-mates. The one that he misplaced will, of course, bother him for a long, long time, but he should be proud of the way in which he reacted to the unforced error. As his central defensive partner Virgil van Dijk told BBC Sport, “Everyone who has a career in football makes mistakes – you can only learn from it.” The character Quansah showed in the final half-hour suggests that he will too.

LOSER: Liverpool’s lack of killer instinct

Even without the injured Diogo Jota, Liverpool have an abundance of attacking talent to choose from. They also have no issues creating openings for their forwards; the problem is that not enough are being taken right now.

As Van Dijk said at Old Trafford, Liverpool should have been at least 2-0 up half-time. They had got away with wasting chance after chance against Sheffield United on Thursday, but they were made to pay by United. “It is our fault again,” Van Dijk lamented on BBC Sport. “We should finish the game off.”

Nunez created the opener, Diaz scored it, while Salah stuck away his penalty – but all three wasted opportunities to kill off United. The Quansah error will obviously dominate the headlines but, as Roy Keane said on Sky Sports, “Liverpool are just not clinical enough” at the moment – and it’s cost them their Premier League leadership.

 

WINNER: Neutral fans

Last week’s blockbuster between Manchester City and Arsenal may have been a huge disappointment, but this end-to-end match more than made up for it and underlined the Premier League’s capacity for gripping drama and wild storylines. In the first half alone, there were more shots from Liverpool than in the 90 minutes between City and Arsenal.

And yet many could sense that Jurgen Klopp’s side would pay a heavy price for their wastefulness. Because say what you like about this Manchester United side – and there is a lot to say indeed – they know how to entertain. Part of what makes them so exciting to watch is their interpretation of defending, and their willingness to let teams have as many shots as they please.

They remain so exciting thanks to the star-power of so many of their individuals. Fernandes may fiercely divide fans and pundits, but his goal was a reminder of his brilliance and his sharp reactions. Mainoo, meanwhile, gets more admirable with every viewing and if he can keep adding goals to his game then he will be a truly frightening prospect. Garnacho, even when not at the races on Sunday, has the capacity to win games on his own, and Antony is a fascinating player to watch for the right and wrong reasons.

Liverpool have their own allure, not least with it being Klopp’s farewell tour, while their heavy-metal style and relentless pressing makes them much more interesting than Pep Guardiola or Mikel Arteta’s teams. The Merseysiders did their bit, having more shots on the first half than they did in the 7-0 hammering of United last year, yet kept the scoreline interesting by missing so many of them.

This draw was undoubtedly a blow to their hopes of winning a 20th league crown, but they will push City and Arsenal right until the end. And anyone who has been watching this far would be mad to contemplate missing even a second of this binge-worthy entertainment.

By Sanchez

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