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.


‘We want to make Saudi Arabia proud’: Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

Updated 22 June 2018
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‘We want to make Saudi Arabia proud’: Pizzi promises better showing against Egypt

  • Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday
  • Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious

ROSTOV-ON-DON: “Keeping possession of the ball seems to be the absolute and most important thing, but then when you sometimes find issues in getting the ball into your opponent’s half, you have to find other movements and ways of doing that,” said Oscar Tabarez after watching his lackluster Uruguay rely on a solitary Luis Suarez goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the World Cup. 
Tabarez was talking about his own team’s struggles, yet the assessment is considerably more applicable to the Green Falcons, who dominated possession and retained the ball with ease in midfield, yet for the second match running looked absolutely bereft of ideas in the final third. With Uruguay and Russia now on six points, Saudi Arabia cannot progress from Group A even if they defeat Egypt in their final game on Monday.
The Green Falcons coach Juan Antonio Pizzi confirmed he intends to stay at the helm of the side for the long-haul, yet is only too aware that the potential of this team is being hamstrung by its inability to score. He called it “our weakness”, adding that his side enjoyed “good ball possession, but no effectiveness”. They, he said, did not have the sufficient “weapons or tools” to equalize.
Pizzi’s side have found the net now just twice in their past five games and against Uruguay managed only three shots on target in 90 minutes — two of which came in added time and were so tame they would hardly have troubled the opposition goalkeeper Fernando Muslera had he been relaxing at his far post sipping a drink. In the 5-0 defeat to Russia last week, they failed to muster a single shot on target. 
Wednesday’s overall performance was much improved, yet a lack of penetrative passing was obvious. One passage of play in the opening exchanges saw Saudi Arabia complete 16 passes untroubled without the ball entering the opposition penalty box. When Uruguay finally won possession, they required only four quick exchanges to find Edinson Cavani on the left wing drilling the ball across the front of goal. 
“I don’t share that assessment,” said Pizzi, when it was put to him that his team was too slow to attack. “We played at the speed that was necessary. We need to be accurate, but if you step up the speed you lose accuracy with your passes. We had control of the game and that was why.”
Striker Mohammed Al-Sahlawi had been the focal point of much criticism from Turki Al-Sheikh, the head of Saudi’s General Sports Authority, after the Russia “fiasco” and was dropped from the side against Uruguay. So too was goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf, another who Al-Sheikh name-checked as having been at fault.
Pizzi, asked whether the scathing assessment from his bosses had forced his hand when it came to team selection, calmly dismissed the suggestion. He also ruled out the notion that administrative issues between the players and the country’s football federation had caused unrest in his squad.
“I have a list of 23 players here and they are all available to play. We are here together and pushing in the same direction. 
“I wanted — and still want — to make the Saudi Arabian people feel proud of our energy and the desire we show in matches. Unfortunately we were unable to do that against Russia and will be playing our next match without any hope of progressing. I hope now they will feel a little more proud even though we are out of the World Cup,” he said.