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Why I take issue with Klopp’s approach to the press- and why Nat Phillips has to play against Everton
Looking into Jurgen Klopp's clash with James Pearce and yesterday's disappointing defeat
In the first part of this article, I’ll be discussing Klopp’s refusal to speak to James Pearce in yesterday’s press conference. In the second part, I’ll go through the Wolves game, and why Phillips needs to be starting more games, especially against Everton.
Jurgen Klopp is one of my favourite people in the world, and one of the best football managers in the world. He and the football team he’s built have helped me through so many personal challenges, be it the alienating nature and insecurity of adolescence, the misery and dullness of school and lockdowns (or indeed going to school during lockdown), or personal tragedy, Klopp’s Liverpool have always been there.
I’m now paid to essentially read every single thing that’s written about him and the club, and deem what is worthy to publish in a bumper media roundup. I moved to Liverpool to study when I could have gone to higher ranked universities (as my mum and sister like to remind me) largely because I fell in love in with the team Jurgen Klopp crafted, and I’ve decided I want to pursue a career in reporting/ writing about Liverpool, albeit we don’t know what the future holds.
But for all those things, in a similar way in which you get most angry with those you love and care about most, for some time I have been uncomfortable with how Klopp handles the press. When he first arrived, he was charming and even at times, hilarious. There was the famous “I am the normal one”, “doubters into believers”, the brilliant moment he refused to speak to a Sun reporter, “BOOM!”, “it’s hard to find your glasses when you’re not wearing glasses”, and later down the line, finding a translator’s “erotic voice” funny. That was all brilliant.
But as time has gone by, Klopp has gradually lost that charm, and he is becoming increasingly aloof, grumpy, impatient and aggressive towards the journalists in his press conferences. It’s not a good look at all. One of the many battles a Premier League manager has to win in order to survive in such a tough position is the battle with the press. Unai Emery, who is a very good manager, was made a laughing stock in the media, and lost his job at Arsenal.
Klopp has built too much of a legacy to suffer a similar fate, but the point still stands; allowing the press to get to you is dangerous territory. Of course, as a journalism student, I am biased, and more likely to take the side of the media. But the way I see it, speaking to the press is the main channel through which the manager can communicate to the fans, and I know how highly in regard Klopp holds the fans.
Klopp has done a fantastic job of uniting the club and winning over the fans; just look at how, despite a very poor season, 99% of the fan base (excluding the 1% who respectfully, are idiots) are behind this manager. Whether Klopp likes the press or not, he knows the only way he can address what is going wrong and how he’s going to try turn it around, is through the media, and the fans deserve to know that much.
I can also understand that naturally, he’s gotten more tired of facing the press after over seven years now, I understand that there are gobshite journalists who ask dumb questions, and this can get frustrating. But James Pearce isn’t a gobshite, and he didn’t ask a dumb question; in fact, Klopp pettily agreed to answer the same question from a different journalist.
The big question is why? Why did he refuse? There’s still no clear answer, and that’s also a problem. Maybe Klopp has a good reason, but just saying “you know why” ironically leaves everyone questioning why, which isn’t doing Klopp any favours either.
As I said, it’s literally my job to read about the assessments of Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’s decisions from different journalists. I read every article, I certainly read every James Pearce article, and I read them very carefully as I can only select a small number of quotes to put forward in the media roundup. Having said that, I can’t identify what exactly Klopp was referring to.
Pearce has been justifiably critical of the team’s performance but so has every journalist. If Klopp doesn’t want to speak to journalists who have recently criticised him, the players and the owners, he won’t be speaking to anyone. If anything, Pearce is continuously lambasted by Liverpool fans for not being critical enough and for not asking tough questions. Indeed, in the summer, Pearce heavily supported Klopp’s insistence that Liverpool didn’t need to strengthen the midfield area.
He criticised fans for suggesting the team needed strengthening after they proved capable of an incredible quadruple chase. That was a blunder, but to me, an understandable position to hold. Now people want to bash him for that take, but I know no one saw what’s happened this season coming. So, I do just find it baffling that Klopp singled out Pearce. The only thing I can think of are these quotes from an article by Pearce:
“Klopp has been ruthless in relegating captain Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to bench duty. It sent a clear message that no one will be selected on reputation alone.
“That points to another problem: the impact of Klopp’s substitutions. Certainly, the changes he made in the second half on Sunday [Brighton 2-1 Liverpool] made Liverpool gradually worse rather than better.”
However, I think this was quite a popular viewpoint amongst the media, and you would struggle to find anyone who didn’t think that or point it out, because it’s so blatantly obvious. What I am pretty sure about is that Klopp is angry about something Pearce has said about the players rather than himself. Klopp admirably always takes full responsibility for bad results and performances, and I see him get most angry when his players are attacked rather than himself.
It’s also baffling that recently, on Michael Calvin’s football podcast, Klopp took great pride in saying he reads “nothing” in the press about Liverpool. “One of my skills is that I’m completely independent from public opinion. I help myself in a period like this by not reading anything about Liverpool; pretty much nothing, because it’s nothing nice.
“I’m the only one in the whole building who’s like that because everybody else reads everything and I need to know about their feelings as well,” the Liverpool manager said. So how does he know what James Pearce has written? Was that particular piece an exception, or was Klopp briefed by someone? Is it possible the message was miscommunicated? This podcast was only recorded about ten days ago, so it does just come across a tad self-contradictory.
Anyway, I expect Klopp will apologise, but this just really wasn’t good enough from him. I don’t think I’ve ever really gone in on Klopp like this, but beyond my bias towards journalists, this incident hasn’t done him any favours whatsoever. As for the football side of things, Klopp is making the right decisions, but yesterday his players let him down.
What are the problems? The team has no confidence, they look petrified to make a mistake, which causes them to make mistakes, and then they get all shaken up because they’ve made an error. They still can’t defend set pieces, nor can they create anything from them. They are missing key players, and at the same time, getting unlucky on the pitch.
It’s so much harder to finish a chance when you’re losing and your team is low on confidence. The pressure piles on in that you really have to score; it’s a pressure that’s incomparable to when you’re winning and the team is looking solid.
You can single out Nunez, but I thought they were two good strikes and two very good saves; Salah should have scored or at least forced a save, and Keita would have scored if he got any sort of power on that shot. I am very confident Oxlade-Chamberlain would have buried that chance, like he did against Leicester in the cup last season.
We also saw these same issues in 20/21; Liverpool went through a rut of missing chance after chance, only for the opposition to bury their first shot on goal. It actually became a bit of a joke. This was happening every week, and the pressure kept piling on.
But the pressure on this occasion stems from the centre backs putting the Reds on the backfoot through a horrendous start and huge induvial errors yet again, which leads to Liverpool finding themselves 2-0 down. How many times are we going to shoot ourselves in the foot at the start of games?
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a frustrating trait in a football team. I do not want to see Matip and Gomez play together for a long time, maybe ever again. They just play as if they are concentrating so hard on not screwing up, which paradoxically makes them screw up.
Yes, both goals have a significant element of fortune, but with competent defending, there is no foundation for the fortune to build from. For the first goal, with better reading of the game, Matip should be seeing the ball out for a goal kick; it’s a screw up between the two centre backs, who fail to defend a very simple ball in behind.
Then the next goal is another set piece; I ranted about how poorly Liverpool defended the free kick against Brighton for their winning goal, and it was just the same ridiculous issue again; twice, Wolves players were able to kick the ball in the box, from a set piece that was crossed in as intended for an aerial duel. Poor header from Gomez.
Then Matip is incredibly fortunate that his howler doesn’t make it 3-0. What has happened to these players?
However, from that point until the third goal, Liverpool dominate. They put in an excellent away performance, and on another day grab three goals. They are a confident start away from sealing a comfortable, easy win. It really is that simple. That’s why Klopp was absolutely furious about the opening 15-20 minutes; he knows the win was there, but the game was lost because of yet again, brain farts in the opening minutes costing his side the match. The players let him down.
Klopp solved the midfield problem by introducing youngsters and fringe players, and it’s time to do the same with the defence. He has to bring in Nat Phillips for Everton and he has to spend a lot of time coaching the team on how to defend a simple set piece, or we will lose 20-0, with all 20 goals coming from set pieces.
Phillips lacks pace, but to me, he always looks confident (who can forget that Cruyff turn at the San Siro?) and he very rarely makes mistakes. Gomez on the other hand very rarely gets through a game without making a mistake. Phillips was a key player in Liverpool’s miraculous 3rd place finish in the 20/21 run in; we know he is capable, so let’s bring him in.
We blocked his exit from the club (again) so the least we can do for him is play him when the other players in his position are letting the team down. Phillips is also excellent in the air and defending set pieces, whereas the team is currently hopeless at defending set pieces.
As for the team winning games again, they are going to struggle until they overcome this confidence barrier. They need a big result, then hopefully they will be able so string together a run of some sort. Perhaps this plummet in confidence stems from the failure to land one of either the league title or the Champions League last season. Such heartbreak in football is arguably unprecedented.
I’m reading Arsene Wenger’s autobiography at the moment, and one of the only vaguely comparable issues a team has faced arguably is what Arsenal faced after they lost their 49 game unbeaten run. They lost to a ridiculous decision (or rather several ridiculous decisions against Man United) and struggled to piece together their confidence after what was a crushing defeat, despite being unstoppable the previous season. Wenger writes: “It was a heavy blow for me and the team. We knew that the good times were over; that unique moment, the time without fear, had passed, and we knew it would be hard to recapture that state of grace.
“We were so disappointed that we could only draw our next two games against sides who would both go on to get relegate. We generally felt flat and drew or lost far too often. Everyone found it hard to get back on their feet.”
We’ve got plenty of time to prepare for Everton, but I can’t say I’m feeling too optimistic. They are now full of confidence, the fans are buzzing (I interviewed several Blues yesterday), they are brilliant at set pieces, and most terrifying of all, Liverpool can’t afford to pick up any more injuries. In a Merseyside Derby, with Sean Dyche as the Everton manager…what could go wrong?