Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes his side are looking more “tuned” to his methods than ever before after a thrilling added-time Champions League win over Paris St Germain extended their 100 per cent record with a sixth successive victory.
Substitute Roberto Firmino fired home the winner in the second minute of added time to make it 3-2 win, having been 2-0 up inside 36 minutes.
The Brazil international’s place on the bench was an enforced change for Klopp due to the eye injury he sustained at Tottenham on Saturday, with the only other alteration being captain Jordan Henderson coming in for Naby Keita.
Klopp has made very few alterations to his starting line-up this season but even when he does it is seamless.
“We look now much more tuned than it maybe was in the past,” he said.
“We played a midfield who played a lot of times last season together, that was the reason for that performance.
“It was clear that Hendo would come back and what a brilliant performance from him.
“Physically-wise, so good because obviously as we know that the players after the World Cup normally struggle a bit (but) he is ready now and that’s really important for us.
“We didn’t learn a lot which we didn’t know before, but it’s nice to see that we can do it. That’s it.”
Klopp’s replacement for Firmino, Daniel Sturridge, scored on his first Champions League start for the club he joined in 2013 to justify his manager’s faith.
“Great performance of Daniel,” added the Reds boss.
“The three in midfield did an outstanding job, but they only can do it when the two wingers in how we play and the number nine are helping in all these situations to keep the formation compact.
“It was fantastic. I said to Daniel before the game he is the best shape since I’ve known him, physically, and now he had to use it – and that’s what he did.”
For PSG manager Thomas Tuchel there was more late Anfield disappointment for a second successive time.
In 2016 he brought his Borussia Dortmund side to Merseyside in an Europa League quarter-final second leg and despite leading 4-2 with 24 minutes to go, Liverpool scored three times in a dramatic last-minute finish.
“This is Anfield, this is what they do.” was his blunt assessment.
“There wasn’t much space for Neymar. What Liverpool do very well is to close the space down in that number 10 area so our plan was to use the space down the wings and get our full-backs pushing on.
“We tried to play well. It’s not time for tactical analysis, it’s time to credit the mental strength we showed on the ball tonight.
“If you play at Anfield, for me it’s not a tactical game. It’s to play with confidence, to trust the players
“We expect a lot from our front three, and today was tough for them. We have to improve all over the field. For me, we need to improve our intensity in games like this. There’s time to improve.”
Liverpool made a huge statement in the Premier League title race this season with a 2-1 victory over Tottenham over the weekend.
The Reds have now won all five of their opening fixtures and should’ve enjoyed a more comfortable outing against Spurs had they been more ruthless in the final third.
Here’s a look at how Jurgen Klopp got the better of Mauricio Pochettino.
Tottenham insist on playing the ball out from the back which gives them control in their build-up play but makes it a relatively slower progression up the field. Liverpool’s high-press focuses on cutting off passing lanes rather than closing down the man on the ball.
So when Toby Alderweireld tried to play out from the back for example, Liverpool’s front three blocked off his routes to one of the full-backs, the defensive midfielder and his fellow centre-back. That forced the Belgian to be more direct with his passing – which Pochettino doesn’t advocate.
This led to several turnovers in possession when the hosts tried to move the ball forward. Playing the ball into Christian Eriksen’s feet was difficult and required precise passes penetrating two lines of Liverpool’s pressing.
That prompted the Dane to drop deep, which did see Spurs gain more control of possession but didn’t open up any avenues going forward. Instead, it removed one of the few targets they had in the final third, leaving only Harry Kane and Lucas Moura to aim at, both of whom were closely marked by Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez.
SPACE BEHIND THE FULL-BACKS
So with the high-press having done all the hard work, Liverpool’s fierce forward line were handed great opportunities to attack Spurs. The spaces in behind the advanced full-backs were naturally the most obvious and vulnerable areas to exploit.
The devastating pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah allowed the visitors to get in behind the defence with ease. That came to the fore when the Senegalese international advanced into space down the left and was picked out by Andrew Robertson.
Mane burst into the box before his ball across goal was eventually slotted away by Roberto Firmino after a couple of deflections along the way. In the transition, Liverpool often enjoyed a numerical advantage against the Spurs back-line.
On one occasion, Mane drove at the defence with Naby Keita and Salah on either side of him, creating a 3 v 2 scenario. He played it to Keita in the end whose shot was saved.
The Red Devils legend suggested that, in his eyes, as Liverpool have an excellent chance this year of winning the Premier League they should kick their Champions League campaign “into touch”.
Reds fans not surprisingly went into uproar and manager Jurgen Klopp even felt the need to respond saying: “How would that work? We don’t play Champions League or what?
“Gary should come over and tell me exactly how that works. How do you prepare for a game when you don’t focus on it? I don’t understand, do we play our kids or what?”
Neville as a pundit, like his colleague Jamie Carragher, is known for his incendiary remarks – trying to grab attention – but even for Neville his remarks showed a blinding lack of both knowledge and respect for Liverpool.
He’s throwing it away already!! He knows what his priorities are 😂 https://t.co/MNmk9Jt6RC— Gary Neville (@GNev2) September 17, 2018
If Manchester United were in the same position, having made a perfect start to the Premier League campaign, would Neville suggest they tank the Champions League this season? Never.
He would expect his great club to put in a wholehearted effort in both the Premier League and Champions League, as well as the FA Cup, to try and win any silverware available.
Neville’s reasoning is that there is a big drop in quality from Liverpool’s front three to the reserves.
Well here’s news for Neville – there’s a big drop in quality from Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino to most other front threes in world football.
Clearly the Mancunian has also not been watching Liverpool’s early season matches as he would have noticed the impressive form of Daniel Sturridge, who would be a certain starter at many other Premier League sides.
Or taken a look at the team sheet where he might have seen Switzerland star Xherdan Shaqiri as an unused reserve for most matches.
The lack of respect is equally galling.
Gary Neville: LFC don’t have much quality to give back up to the front threehttps://t.co/vDy5ZzBSQR— I'm._A._Believer (@BelieveInKlopp) September 16, 2018
Liverpool spent £176.95 million in the transfer window for exactly this reason – to build up a squad capable of fighting on all fronts.
Klopp wants his team to be playing the big glamour matches, like the opening Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain at Anfield on Tuesday night, and the Reds’ fans crave it.
They want the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to be regular visitors and looking at their upcoming fixture list – which includes PSG, Chelsea (twice) and Manchester City – rather than cringe, as they would have done in recent seasons past, Liverpool fans, players and Klopp are looking forward to the challenge with anticipation and excitement.
To suggest anything is, well, very Gary Neville.
European nights, as the former Manchester United defender must know, are part of the identity, history and future of Liverpool. After all the Reds have won five European Cups/Champions Leagues to Manchester United’s three.
The Reds fought tooth and nail last season to secure fourth spot in the Premier League just to qualify for the Champions League, confining Chelsea to Europe’s second tier in the process, and now Neville wants Liverpool to throw it away.
How he wishes. Liverpool not only welcome their 2018/19 Champions League campaign, they need it to give their extended squad important game time.
Without it, the players would get restless, craving the big stage and spotlight they came to a reborn “big club” like Liverpool to claim.
For the record, Sturridge has played 21 minutes of competitive football since the season started. Shaqiri has played 27 and injury-inflicted Adam Lallana only three minutes.
Mad world this one ! You make a comment that @LFC are actually capable of winning a league title ( but my reservations are them playing too many games sat / wed / sat ) for the first time in 30 years and it’s seen as a dig! I actually hope they play their best team every game !!— Gary Neville (@GNev2) September 14, 2018
These three are all capable and desperate to step into the shoes of Salah, Firmino and Mane – if they ever get the chance.
Other squad players are also desperate for game time – defender Joel Matip, midfielders Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita (currently being rotated in the first XI) and recent acquisition Fabinho, who is yet to make his competitive debut for his new club.
The “world’s best defender” Dejan Lovren will need game time when he returns from injury and brilliant youngsters Rhian Brewster, Curtis Jones and Rafael Camacho are also hungry for their first-team bows.
Many of these players will get their chance in the League Cup against Chelsea next Wednesday night, but they also may see some game time against Red Star Belgrade or even Napoli in the Champions League if results permit.
Some minutes at Rajko Mitic Stadium or Stadio San Paolo could help fast-track a talented youngster to the next level of their development.
So Gary, seriously, jog on.
Suggesting Liverpool tank the Champions League, rather than putting out a full strength line-up to face Paris’ best on Tuesday night, is to be frank – about as ridiculous as your short-lived managerial career.
And as for Mbappe and Neymar et al, the Reds have one message for you – bring it.