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

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.

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo accepts $21.6 million fine for tax evasion, avoids jail

Updated 22 January 2019

Juventus forward Cristiano Ronaldo accepts $21.6 million fine for tax evasion, avoids jail

MADRID: Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo was fined almost €19 million ($21.6 million) for tax fraud on Tuesday but will avoid serving a 23-month prison sentence after agreeing a deal.

Ronaldo, holding hands with his Spanish fiancée Georgina Rodriguez, came out of the court room smiling, pausing to sign autographs before leaving in a black van.

The 33-year-old Juventus forward, who played for Real Madrid from 2009-18, agreed to settle the case by paying an €18.8 million fine and accepting a suspended jail sentence.

Under Spanish law, a first offender can serve anything less than a two-year sentence under probation and Ronaldo will not have to go to prison. His court appearance lasted about 15 minutes as the five-times world footballer of the year only needed to sign off on the previously settled agreement.

The trial of Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid team mate Xabi Alonso, also in court on Tuesday over accusations of tax fraud, was suspended, a court magistrate said.

Prosecutors were seeking a five-year jail sentence and a fine of €4 million for Spaniard Alonso, who retired as a player in 2017, accusing him of defrauding the Spanish state of some €2 million between 2010 and 2012.

Alonso said he was confident he had not committed a crime and would have to wait while the magistrates evaluated his case.

“I’d be worried if I thought I had something to hide or something I didn’t do right but as that isn’t the case, I am carrying on,” Alonso told reporters outside the court.

Ronaldo had to enter the courtroom through the front door after his request for special security measures to avoid the spotlight was denied on Monday. In 2017, Ronaldo denied the accusation that he knowingly used a business structure to hide income generated by his image rights in Spain between 2011 and 2014. After reaching the deal, he paid a fine of €5.7 million, plus interest of about €1 million, in July 2018, the prosecutor’s office said last week.