What next for Klopp and Liverpool?

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp – drained and coming to
terms with the manner in which Sevilla dismantled his
team in the Europa League final in Basel – uttered two
small sentences of huge significance in the game’s
inquest.
Klopp had watched powerless as Liverpool collapsed like a
house of cards from a lead and a position of superiority to
lose 3-1 to Sevilla, squandering the chance of Champions
League football next season in the process.
“This team will be a bit different next season, it is clear,” said
Klopp. “We will do something with transfers.”
Klopp’s personality, allied to Liverpool’s history and
ambition, will always attract players – but life will be
infinitely more difficult in a fiercely competitive summer
market without the magnet that the Champions League, or
indeed European football of any sort, provides.
So what will Klopp need to change – and maintain – after
Liverpool lost their second final of the season following the
Capital One Cup defeat by Manchester City?
Liverpool lack mental strength
The manner in which Liverpool’s performance fell off a cliff
once Kevin Gameiro equalised for Sevilla 17 seconds after
the break, cancelling out Daniel Sturridge’s brilliant opener,
was alarming and Klopp was clearly taken aback.
“We lost faith in our style of play,” said the German. “We
changed from passing simple and quick to slow and
complicated and lost our formation.”
This was a damning indictment but a painful truth. Yes,
Gameiro’s equaliser was a psychological blow but Liverpool
still had virtually the entire second half to put matters right.
Former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson:
“I would imagine a lot of homework has gone into new
signings this summer. I’d imagine Liverpool have spoken to
agents and will have an indication of whether players are
coming.
“If you are in a room with Klopp then I’d think it was hard to
say no to him. This summer’s transfer window is going to be
the biggest ever in the Premier League in terms of money
spent.
“Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge
are not going anywhere this summer – other than on
holiday.”
Instead, they visibly wilted and fell apart in key areas of the
field. They were overrun in midfield and exposed in defence.
Their body language sagged. It was a desperate sight as
Sevilla tore them to shreds.
The Spaniards are a very fine side who have now won the
Europa League three seasons in succession but they are not
Barcelona. Manchester City beat them 3-1 in their own
stadium in this season’s Champions League.
Klopp has managed his resources with this final in mind and
Liverpool have shown incredible reserves of mental strength
in this competition – notably when scoring three goals in the
last 20 minutes to beat Borussia Dortmund at Anfield – but
here they were weak and shrunk ominously at the first sign
of adversity.
The difference was that they were inspired by a fervent
Anfield atmosphere against Dortmund. In Basel, Liverpool’s
performance, and simply the way they looked mentally shot
from the moment Sevilla equalised, gave their supporters
no hope.
There were no Liverpool leaders on the night and certainly
no sense they were about to mount a comeback of
Dortmund proportions. This time the final whistle was a
mercy.
Even Klopp’s old tricks carried an air of desperation. He
exhorted Liverpool’s fans to inspire their team as they sank
but it looked the act of a manager who knew the game was
up. What were Liverpool’s players doing to inspire their
fans? He might have been better exhorting them.
When Klopp goes shopping this summer he must prioritise
strong characters and find a leader who will stop what
happened in Basel happening again on the big occasion.
Liverpool have conceded 19 points from winning positions
in the Premier League this season. They are third in this list
behind Chelsea (21) and Tottenham (20) – a statistic that
adds weight to the argument that Klopp’s team is a fragile
one.
Klopp will search for better players this summer. He must
also find mentally tougher ones.
Who will be in danger?
When it comes to the case for changes, exhibit A in Basel
was left-back Alberto Moreno. It was the second time the
Spaniard has played a significant part in a Sevilla Europa
League win, having been part of the side who lifted the
trophy against Benfica in 2014.
Moreno’s hopeless performance brought criticism raining
down on him, with BBC Sport analyst Mark Lawrenson in
Basel saying simply: “He cannot defend.”
He will surely be replaced and there needs to be much
greater pressure placed on goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who
was hardly culpable here but has had another unconvincing
season. Klopp is being heavily linked with 22-year-old Mainz
keeper Loris Karius in a £5m deal but a more experienced
candidate may be preferable.
Klopp has tried to address one issue in central defence with
the signing of Joel Matip from Schalke but there are other
holes he needs to plug.
Dejan Lovren has had a good season despite being
disappointing in Basel – while 35-year-old Kolo Toure was
Liverpool’s best player against Sevilla but will it be enough
to earn the Ivorian a new contract?
Martin Skrtel is another who is surplus to requirements and
past his best at 31, while Mamadou Sakho faces an uncertain
future following a failed drugs test.
So this area is a matter of urgency for Klopp, while in
midfield Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva may yet find themselves
surplus to requirements.
Bayern Munich’s Mario Gotze has been touted as a possible
marquee signing but would the man who scored Germany’s
World Cup final winner against Argentina in Rio in 2014 be
prepared to forgo Champions League football, no matter
how close his relationship with Klopp after their time at
Borussia Dortmund?
Udinese’s young Poland midfield Piotr Zielinski is widely
expected to join Liverpool in a £10m deal, but where is the
strong leader Liverpool need? Jordan Henderson is captain
and was only substitute in Basel after injury, but it is clear
this Liverpool team lacks mental steel and needs a figure of
authority they can rally around on the field.
And what of Christian Benteke? There is undoubtedly a fine
striker inside Benteke waiting to get out but his £32.5m
move to Liverpool from Aston Villa last summer looks
increasingly like the wrong man to the wrong club at the
wrong time.
He was Klopp’s last resort in Basel, thrown on with seven
minutes left and the game effectively gone having seen
fellow Belgian Divock Origi turned to first despite not having
played since sustaining an ankle injury against Everton at
Anfield on 17 April.
Benteke did not suit the passing style of the man who
bought him, Brendan Rodgers, and he does not suit Klopp’s
intense and energetic pressing style either.
If Liverpool can recoup £20m-plus, perhaps from West Ham,
then Benteke’s stay at Liverpool will surely end.
Reasons to be cheerful
Even the effervescent Klopp looked desperately low in
Switzerland and Liverpool were a badly beaten and
bedraggled side when the final whistle put them out of their
misery.
This is hardly a club in crisis, however, and Liverpool can
look to the future with a hefty measure of optimism.
The chief reason to be cheerful is Klopp himself. He has
taken Liverpool to two cup finals this season, without any
real adjustments to his squad, and galvanised the club. He
wanted to turn “doubters into believers” and even this
disappointment will not dent faith in the German, who was
one of Europe’s most sought-after coaches when Liverpool
appointed him in September.
Sevilla’s Europa League love affair
2006: Final v Middlesbrough won 4-0 in Eindhoven
2007: Final v Espanyol – won 3-1 on penalties (2-2 after extra
time) in Glasgow
2014: Final v Benfica – won 4-2 on penalties (0-0 after extra
time) in Turin
2015: Final v Dnipro – won 3-2 in Warsaw
2016: Final v Liverpool – won 3-1 in Basel
The 48-year-old has the passion and charisma, plus the
coaching ability, that Liverpool’s fans and players can thrive
on.
His big game players were totally marginalised in Basel.
Philippe Coutinho barely touched the ball while the
disappointing Roberto Firmino was substituted. The
Brazilian duo, though, have shown enough this season to
offer excitement for next term.
And in attack Daniel Sturridge, the great enigma, scored a
goal of rare brilliance, curving an effort with the outside of
his left foot into the far corner of Sevilla’s net to give
Liverpool the lead and what turned out to be false hope.
If Klopp can keep Sturridge fit and in the right frame of
mind, Liverpool will have arguably England’s most naturally
talented striker. Roy Hodgson may yet be the beneficiary of
Klopp’s work with Sturridge at Euro 2016 in France.
Klopp will also see his options increased next season by the
return fitness of striker Danny Ings and young defender Joe
Gomez, who both created such an excellent impression
before both succumbing to serious knee injuries.
So, as Klopp will have been stressing to Liverpool’s players,
this is not all doom and gloom.
What does cast a cloud is that Liverpool need serious
reinforcements and a disappointing defeat here that leaves
them without Champions League and Europa League
football next season will make it more difficult to secure the
right men.
Liverpool collapse as Sevilla win Europa League
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