Jurgen Klopp’s big-game defeats are starting to mount up and raise question marks

Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp walks past the trophy at the end of the Champions League Final soccer match between Real Madrid and Liverpool at the Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, May 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Jurgen Klopp’s big-game defeats are starting to mount up and raise question marks

LONDON: Quarter-final, semifinal, final. For the third straight tie in football’s most prestigious club competition, the game was set up for Jurgen Klopp. Like Pep Guardiola and Eusebio Di Francesco before him, Zinedine Zidane elected not to play Liverpool the obvious way. There would be no significant concession to the quality of Klopp’s front three; no serious effort to deny them open space to run into when Real Madrid were inevitably pressed.
Here was the opportunity for Klopp to end a dismal personal run of cup final defeats. Everyone in Kyiv knew that man-for-man Madrid were better footballers than Liverpool – perhaps just one of the travelers from Merseyside would have made Zidane’s starting line-up. Yet a Madrid with a three-quarter-fit Cristiano Ronaldo were ready to take Liverpool on almost without tactical compromise. And that meant Mohamed Salah and co would certainly have chances to score.
Much of Klopp’s method is about bursts of co-ordinated energy. His team tend to ratchet up the tempo for 10-minute periods, charging at opponents in two or threes, setting traps for them to turn the ball over into. Possession pilfered they hit quick vertical balls to that vicious attacking trident.
Predictably, the German had his team ‘storming’ from kick off, seeking an opening goal that might unnerve Madrid and draw them into offering further opportunities. Zidane’s only minor compromise was to play a four-man midfield – and by including Isco he’d merely added an individual who seemed the least at ease with Liverpool’s pressing, regularly being caught on the ball, often striking flustered passes off target.
Madrid trusted in their individual qualities, believing that Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane would block and tackle, that Keylor Navas would parry and hold, and that their superior technical ability would enable them to play through and over the Liverpool press.
They were right. Liverpool controlled possession and territory for most of the first quarter hour, yet endangered Navas just once from an angled Trent Alexander-Arnold shot. The holders weathered the storm then began to open Liverpool up.
Ramos’ savvy wasn’t evident just in leading his defense. When he had the opportunity to hurt Salah when wrestling for the ball, he locked hold of the Egyptian’s arm, threw him to the turf, then laid his full 82 kilos upon him. The intention may have been only to intimidate and unsettle; the outcome was an enforced substitution. Salah’s shoulder badly damaged, Africa’s best footballer is unlikely to recover full fitness for the World Cup.
Without their greatest danger, Liverpool retreated into a defensive shell. Sitting deep in their own half, permitting Madrid to work the ball (and most of their players) into Liverpool’s end; awaiting the opportunity to counter-attack. When Klopp’s men did recover the ball it was delivered into channels as rapidly as possible, hoping to exploit Marcelo’s forward positioning and the injury-enforced exit of Dani Carvajal.
The half-time statistics reflected that switch in strategy – Madrid with 66 percent of the ball, their passing accuracy at 90 percent to Liverpool’s 76. If the Premier League side had taken more shots, the save of the opening 45 was Loris Karius’ – a fine reaction to Cristiano Ronaldo’s close-range header as Klopp raged at defenders who’d failed to attack the cross.
The final had swung Madrid’s way. Just back from a long absence, Adam Lallana was always going to find the pace beyond him as Salah’s replacement. If that wasn’t handicap enough, a manager who’d placed his faith in a goalkeeper notorious for making absurd errors was about to be punished in comedic style.
If Karius didn’t quite throw the ball into his own net, he did the next worst thing. Idiotic, headless, the keeper had control of the ball then chucked into Karim Benzema’s path. Who knows what Karius’ protests to the officials were about once the ball had nestled in his net.
The quality of James Milner’s delivery allowed Sadio Mane to level, yet Madrid were the better team. They worked the ball around Liverpool’s tiring eleven. They had the answer to Klopp’s only way of playing. And they knew they had the quality to score again.
With the fire of Liverpool’s pressing embering out, Zidane felt confident enough to move to a 4-3-3, Gareth Bale added to the right wing to widen the pitch and go after Alexander-Arnold. What followed was the probably the greatest European Cup Final finish ever. A patient, disciplined, technically beautiful 20-pass passage concluded with Marcelo working space to cross for Bale, who, with wonderful athleticism and awareness, looped a left-footed bicycle kick over Karius.
Madrid’s third was a Karius mistake that has been waiting to happen since Klopp favored him over Simon Mignolet as first-choice goalkeeper. A swerving ball sailed through the German’s hands in much the manner an early AS Roma shot went past him in the previous round and clattered back off the Anfield crossbar.
Since Zeljko Buvac walked out on his managerial partner of 17 years, Liverpool have lost three vitally important matches and beaten only a demob happy Brighton and Hove Albion. With just one tactical set-up and a defense that always operates with an air of impending doom there are significant questions for Klopp to answer.
“Inexcusable” was how one Liverpool official described the problems of a Kyiv final ahead of the game. The incomparable quality of Madrid coupled with the inexcusable errors of Karius meant Klopp’s run of major final defeats extended to six. Those big-game defeats are in danger of becoming as predictable as his tactics.


Mohamed Salah joins Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric in running for UEFA Player of the Year

Updated 38 min 51 sec ago
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Mohamed Salah joins Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric in running for UEFA Player of the Year

  • Egyptian star Salah scored 10 times as Liverpool made it to the Champions League final
  • Ronaldo — the winner in each of the last two years — and Modric both starred for Real Madrid

PARIS: Mohamed Salah is alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric on the three-man shortlist for the UEFA Player of the Year award for the 2017/18 season, European football’s governing body announced on Monday.
Ronaldo — the winner in each of the last two years — and Modric both starred for Real Madrid as the Spanish giants won the Champions League for the third year running, while the latter also won the Golden Ball for the best player at the World Cup after inspiring Croatia on their run to the final.
Meanwhile, Egyptian star Salah scored 10 times as Liverpool made it to the Champions League final, before losing 3-1 to Real in Kiev.
Salah was forced off with a shoulder injury in the first half of that game after a clash with Real defender Sergio Ramos.
He also netted 32 goals in his debut Premier League season, with that tally a record for a 38-game campaign.
Lionel Messi came fifth in the voting by a jury of 80 coaches from clubs who played in the Champions League and Europa League, as well as 55 journalists representing each UEFA member nation.
The Barcelona star came second to Ronaldo last year but also failed to make the final three-man shortlist in 2016.
Atletico Madrid’s France star Antoine Griezmann, who scored twice as his club beat Marseille 3-0 in the Europa League final, just missed out in fourth.
The winner will be named, along with the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year, in Monaco on Thursday, August 30, the same day as the draw for the Champions League group stage.