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.


Saudi Arabian squash supremo expects sport to grow in the Kingdom

Updated 18 October 2018
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Saudi Arabian squash supremo expects sport to grow in the Kingdom

  • Ziad Al-Turki, the Saudi Squash Federation President and PSA Chairman, wants more squash in the Kingdom
  • He wants to stimulate the growth of the game in Saudi Arabia and give local players the chance to climb up the world rankings

The Professional Squash Association (PSA) chief plans to build on the success of staging the first ever professional women’s squash tournament in Saudi Arabia by making a men’s and women’s tournament in the Kingdom a permanent fixture in the squash calendar.
Ziad Al-Turki, the Saudi Squash Federation President and PSA Chairman, collaborated with the General Sports Authority and Princess Reema bint Bandar to stage the landmark event at Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University in January, which featured 32 international players.
Eight-time world champion Nicol David hailed the tournament as a historic moment — and Al-Turki revealed plans are underway to make the Kingdom a regular stop on the hectic World Tour.
“It will happen again,” he said. “We are looking at either the end of this year or again in January. Hopefully it will be an annual event and hopefully we can bring back a men’s event. The PSA World Tour is full this year but we are going to find a slot probably for 2019 and then hopefully do a men’s and woman’s tournament back-to-back.”
The Kingdom last hosted a men’s event in 2010 when Nick Matthew won the Men’s World Championship, but Al-Turki now has the appetite to bring back the game’s top male players to Saudi Arabia after seeing the transformative effect the women’s game in January has had.
“Princess Noura University and King Saud University are contacting us telling us they want us to bring in trainers so they can host an amateur tournament between each other,” said Al-Turki. “We are getting contacted by girls who want to start participating in squash — that’s the ultimate goal. In that sense, it was a great success.”
Al-Turki said he will learn the lessons of the January tournament when staging future events.
“It took a lot of administrative work to get it approved – it didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “I started this when Prince Abdullah was at the helm and then it got another push when Princess Reema was first appointed. It was a few years in the making. 

“We were under certain constraints and we couldn’t go out and advertise it as much to try and get more spectators. I would have loved for it to be at one of the women’s universities as it would have drawn a bigger attendance.”
Al-Turki does not just want to make the Kingdom a money-spinning opportunity for the world’s top players. He wants to stimulate the growth of the game in Saudi Arabia and give local players the chance to climb up the world rankings — and not just have to rely on wildcard entries.
“We are not just looking at big events — we are looking at doing smaller events to give the guys a chance to participate and get some points,” he said.
“Nada Abu Alnaja, for example, has become a professional player because she had to get a wildcard (for entry to the Saudi Women’s Masters). We are looking to build on the grassroots and bringing in top players for tournaments gives the grassroots a push.”
That will be music to the ears for the likes of rookies Mohammad Almwled, Abdulmajeed Boureggah and Abdulelah Boureggah. Their inexperience of playing competitive squash was exposed when they represented Saudi Arabia at the World Team Squash Championship in India in July. It was the first time a team from the Arab state had competed in the event and they finished last. Al-Turki is seeing signs of a revival of the game in the Kingdom and is excited about two young prospects.
“We did have quite a few young, aspiring players back in 2008-2009 but it fizzled out a bit,” he said. “Now it’s picking up again. We have two juniors who I am sponsoring and sending to international tournaments, they are 11 and 12. We had a third place finish at a junior tournament in Europe, so we’ve got high hopes for them. They are competing in the Kingdom and in GCC tournaments. The grandfather of squash in Saudi Arabia (Samer Al-Khateeb) has kind of adopted them and I pay their expenses. They are very eager, so the future could be bright with those two.”