Kieran Davies on a pivotal week ahead for Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp.
The next four days will really decide how Jurgen Klopp’s first season as Liverpool boss will be perceived. Granted victory against FC Augsburg isn’t going to win the Europa League, but two wins in the next four days will see Liverpool in the last 16 of the Europa League and in possession of the League Cup. Say what you want about the much maligned trophy but as it has been for many great managers in the Premier League, a League Cup trophy can be the springboard to a successful reign. The Europa League does seem to be the Anfield outfit’s best way to gain qualification for next season’s Champions League trophy. To give the champions a Champions League spot was a great decision by UEFA as it has given an extra dimension to winning the old UEFA Cup. What is a very impressive trophy in design and size has, much like our domestic League Cup, been diminished somewhat as a lesser trophy over recent years. The golden carrot of Champions League football certainly adds more for the fan and club alike. Liverpool this season seem to be a very inconsistent beast and nobody really knows what side is going to turn up from match to match. If anything you could say that they only turn up in the games where they are considered to be the underdog but I think I disagree with that thought process now.
It will take time for the squad to adapt to all things Jurgen and you have to give a manager a season or two to put their stamp on the side and the club as a whole. There have been some fantastic positives so far in his short time as manager. There’s the 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge, the 4-1 win against Manchester City away from home, a 6-1 victory at Southampton and of course the recent 6-0 win at Aston Vila. But Liverpool fans are looking for the ex-Dortmund manager to turn their team into one who is winning every week, not just turning on the style now and again. This is the pressure of managing such a big team, the expectations are huge, but I’m sure Herr Klopp knew what he was getting himself into. The squad does have some flair players who can change games, but they seem to go missing more than they do turn up currently. Benteke is seeming to be a complete and utter waste of money as he doesn’t seem able to fit in the way they want to play. When he does play, he shows the sort of accuracy that would have you grinning from ear to ear if he was stood in front of your when facing a firing squad! With Sturridge currently fit, Liverpool really need him wrapped in cotton wool for the remainder of the season if they really want to try and win the Europa League. Roberto Firmino has had a great start to 2016 and got himself amongst the goals, Coutinho is capable of moments of brilliance. Henderson is becoming a constant performer but the side are probably three or four players short of a very good team.
There are plenty of other players in the squad with potential but they are not playing anywhere near their optimum week in, week out. James Milner has set up his fair share of goals this year, especially when played out wide. Jordan Ibe is struggling to hit the levels he is capable of every week in Premier League football and is proving to be a more impact player from the bench. Then there is one of the great questions, what is Emre Can? Defensively, he makes Sakho seem calm and collected. He makes some good bursting runs from midfield but by the time he gets near the opposition goal he more resembles your uncle who has just had to chase somebody down the street and seems like he’s ready to drop. Add to that how wasteful he seems to be in the final third. Adam Lallana is nowhere near the player he once was with Southampton. His finest performance in a Liverpool shirt so far was probably the Nivea ad he starred in. For an attacking midfielder, his attacking doesn’t seem to assist or produce enough goals. He is in danger of following Ricky Lambert to West Brom unless he sorts his act out.
Joe Allen has scored a couple of important goals but he still has endeared himself to Liverpool fans yet. Unfortunately for Joe, his biggest fan – well actually probably super-fan – Brendan Rodgers is no more at Anfield so Joe isn’t walking around like the king of the castle anymore. Despite trying to style himself as ‘Honey I Shrunk The Pirlo’ he certainly doesn’t produce the same sort of performances. Divock Origi has got a few goals this season but again as more of an impact player from the bench. Lucas Leiva offers a stability to the centre midfield so his fitness will be key but as ever the main concern for any Reds fan is that back four and keeper. Incredibly, the club have given Mignolet a 5 year contract. I’m still kind of hoping that they come out and announce the 5 year contract was as stadium announcer. How anyone who knows anything about football can think this is a guy worthy of being first choice at a club like Liverpool is beyond me! Mamadou Sakho seems like a re-incarnation of Djimi Traore and puts the fear of the deity of their persuasion into fans when he is in possession of the ball. Skrtel and Lovren often look more like a stunt troop than accomplished international centre backs. With the signing of Josep Matip signs are that Klopp is going to change things at the back in the summer. Importantly, they need to address problems now if they are to accomplish anything this season.
Klopp does have young players at his disposal and has given game time to quite a few of them, the pick of the bunch being Joao Teixeira. They haven’t quite managed to impact any of the games they have appeared in but the German has form for nurturing young talent. With the European game first up at Anfield, Liverpool will be favourites to progress. It’s a tricky scoreline at 0-0 as it means only a win will do for the Merseyside team, where as a scoring draw or a win will see their opponents progress. This means if and hopefully when Liverpool take the lead, they need to kill the game off as they risk a killer counter attack in the latter stages of the game. Klopp will be hoping they have a big enough lead with say half an hour left so he can rest some big hitters for Sunday’s final. City’s form has dipped since the announcement that Pellegrini is the leave in the summer with Guardiola replacing him. Despite a good first leg victory in Kiev in the week, their league form has been poor and recently they have lost to both Leicester and Tottenham at home. This might be a good time to play them. I worry for Liverpool’s defence and wouldn’t bet against a Sergio Aguero goal. Can they show enough going forward and more importantly, take their chances to put the Manchester club to bed. Two games in four games seems a lot to Liverpool’s new manager who describes our congested fixture list as crazy. We pay the money, we call the shots. Dance monkey, dance! And potentially at £75 a game, most Liverpool fans would also expect a happy ending off the big German but for starters, a last 16 place and the Carling Cup will do.