- Liverpool took a 2-1 lead over Spurs in the 91st minute only to concede a late leveller
- It is not the first time Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have made hard work of closing out a match
- In March last year, Klopp hailed his side as “the rollercoaster of the Premier League”
- Liverpool need to fight the urge to be entertaining at times and manage games better
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As Liverpool wound down the clock to what should have been a nail-biting 2-1 win over Tottenham at Anfield on Sunday, Emre Can smashed the ball into the stands, throwing his hands up in a gesture of gladiatorial combat.
This was Can fully stoked up (unfortunate cricket connotations aside), having been as fuelled as an empty gasoline tank for most of the second half. This was also the third Liverpool captain of the day, in a position to control the troops after Mohamed Salah’s mesmerising Lionel Messi moment. Seconds later, the match would be over and Liverpool, as frenetic as ever in their penalty box in the 90th minute, had conceded yet another costly last-gasp goal from the resultant throw-in. Where was the calm in the last seconds of the storm?
Liverpool are a team of agony and ecstasy with nothing in between. They simply cannot turn the hob off when the pressure cooker is searing hot. Sunday’s second half was clearly a team fatigued hanging on, like a boxer throwing rabbit punches to the back of the neck while being clattered with constant jabs. But they were still standing. A narrow win would have been a wide stride in the right direction against a top-four rival who knocked out the slug-like heavyweights of Manchester United just days before.
At the end of the frenetic 3-3 draw at the Emirates just before Christmas, Jamie Carragher declared that his old team needed to adopt “the dark arts” in order to take the wind out of a game, revealing that Rafa Benitez used to instruct his troops to launch the ball into the corner after conceding in order to take the sting out of the situation.
In the last five minutes of play, Test match batsmen inspect the grass and pat down the pitch to do everything to ensure that only one more over can be bowled. Tennis players under pressure on their serve challenge an out call unsuccessfully simply as a vehicle to gather their thoughts for 30 seconds. These devices at least slow down the adrenaline rush of the opponent if nothing else.
“We’ve all been in games like that where you score and they go down the other end and score and there’s always a mistake for a goal but, at 2-1, what can you do to stop that game being a basketball game?” mused Carragher in December. The fact that the Reds couldn’t even manage to retain a lead secured in injury time was a new level of freneticism.
Even during their greatest moment of the season in beating the champions elect, Manchester City, Liverpool were in mortal danger of securing only a draw after going 4-1 up. There had to be a better way of closing the deal than Andrew Robertson gegenpressing himself to a standstill, as entertaining and exhilaratingly exhausting to watch as that cameo of chasing down was to watch.
Jurgen Klopp’s tribe simply cannot put the foot on the ball when the finale is hurtling towards its conclusion. “You can watch it as a manager or as a football fan and I prefer to do that – wow! What a game! Two teams, full throttle.” It’s brilliant but it’s not practical. It also costs points.
It was the same when the German was celebrating prematurely with Sadio Mane on his Premier League debut at Arsenal in August 2016. “At this moment (4-1), we switched off the machines. The game was not over. Arsenal lost, but we gave them a path back into the game.”
There is still an excitability about the side, a team that the German himself has called “the rollercoaster of the Premier League.” They are so addicted to the big loop that anything on the ground floor of the funfair is just not of interest.
How can Liverpool ease themselves off the thrillseeker when game management is more practical? It actually may have started on Sunday. Take out the two penalties and there was not a great deal of Spurs threat. It wasn’t exactly the Carragher-inspired Red Wall of of “attack v defence” when Chelsea were defeated in the Champions League semi-final 13 years ago but it was a start. Dejan Lovren and company were doing “over my dead body” all rather well until Victor Wanyama’s strike.
Liverpool need to find the positive in defending a lead when the thrust forward is more engaging. Klopp apparently loves Bollywood films. Even they have lulls.