After a weekend that saw Liverpool drop more points at home and Tottenham suffer their first defeat in 14, we give our verdict on the latest round of Premier League results.
Klopp wrong to give Mignolet unconditional support
I’ve stated in the past how Jurgen Klopp is the kind of manager you’d want to play for. His constant player hugs; his seemingly unconditional support of his players; he certainly knows how to get that extra 10% out of his team, both as a unit and as individuals. Add into the mix that million-dollar smile and that sense of humility so many of the game’s top bosses lack, it’s easy to see why those playing under Klopp would seemingly run through a barn door for the German.
His support for Simon Mignolet seems ironically unflappable too, though after his latest howler – this time in the 2-2 draw at home to West Brom – I think Klopp needs to seriously re-evaluate his decision to hand the Belgian his unconditional support.
After the gaffe against the Baggies, which allowed Craig Dawson to equalise in front of the Kop, Klopp had this to say of his goalkeeper:
“I said to Simon at half-time, if somebody says it was your fault, it is not true, it is my fault. I have nothing negative to say about Simon.
“They had six or seven players who were six foot four or taller and that is really difficult to defend but we will do better and work on it.
“In England it is really difficult for goalkeepers to come out as there is no-one to protect them but he can help if he comes out.”
That is all very admirable, but Mignolet has proven time and again he’s far from the safest pair of hands in the Premier League. In fact, going by the amount of errors the former Sunderland keeper makes, then it’s surely going to become increasingly difficult for the Liverpool manager to keep faith with the Belgian.
Simon Mignolet: No player has made more errors that have led directly to a goal in the last 3 PL seasons than Mignolet (8)
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) December 13, 2015
Granted, there are aspects to Mignolet’s game that mark him out as a very good goalkeeper. Very good, yes; but outstanding, no. I’ll give him his dues as he wouldn’t be where he was in the game if didn’t have certain qualities to his game.
But the difference between Mignolet and the game’s elite goalkeepers is the decision-making, which, coupled with his levels of concentration, so often let him down.
With Liverpool fighting for glory (in theory at least) on four fronts, Klopp has recently stated he’s willing to give his Liverpool squad time to prove their worth and that he won’t be making any additions to his squad in January.
Klopp also recently declared himself “absolutely satisfied” with Mignolet – but surely there’s the danger of this unconditional support also going the other way and letting certain players slip into a comfort zone.
In his defence, Mignolet is capable of runs of good form. In addition, the Belgian, until Sunday at least, had raised his game under Klopp. However, he’s still some way short of being that top-class last line of defence that all sides need to win the game’s biggest prizes.
Klopp may be happy to stand by Mignolet for now, but you get the sense that he’s not being afforded the same patience amongst the Liverpool faithful – and how long before they let their manager know, in no uncertain terms, that Mignolet simply is not up to the task?
McClaren deserves plaudits for Newcastle turnaround
Despite winning Middlesbrough’s only domestic trophy while taking them to a European final – as well as winning a Dutch league title with a side other than PSV Eindhoven or Ajax – Steve McClaren is likely to always be remembered by the majority of fans in this country as the ‘wally with the brolly’.
Few would have expected McClaren to shine at Newcastle United, a club which seemed to be in terminal decline, surrounded by a toxic atmosphere as fans continue to spar with owner Mike Ashley. However, after a tough start, it’s about time the 54-year-old was given some credit.
Ashley’s stark lack of ambition had obviously spread to the players, but with relegation beckoning, McClaren seems to be starting to revitalise a Magpies’ squad which was failing to display the basic aspect supporters expect to see on a Saturday afternoon – giving their all for the shirt.
It was interesting to hear Thierry Henry and Graeme Souness confirm before Arsenal’s trip to Aston Villa they players no longer hold themselves or team-mates accountable for mistakes made on the field, knowing that all the blame will ultimately fall at the manager’s doorstep.
This no longer appears to be the case on Tyneside after the Yorkshireman aired a few unwelcome home truths in training, and players are now taking responsibility for their own performances. And after the superb 2-1 victory at Spurs, McClaren revealed:
“There have been so many times when I have gone in at half-time and the dressing room has been silent.
“I was angry at the goal, but the players were fabulous at half-time.
“It was so vocal, such a determination in the players not to go down the same path as they usually do.”
Unlike previous Magpies’ gaffers who would have revelled in such a win, he also refused to take the credit for the comeback, despite substitutes Ayoze Perez and Aleksandar Mitrovic scoring both
The transformation in the players’ attitudes is no more obvious than in Moussa Sissoko, who followed up his energetic display against Liverpool with another tremendous showing on Sunday. He and his team-mates have now set the benchmark for the rest of the season, McClaren and the fans won’t accept any more excuses.
Spurs struggle but no need for panic
Despite losing their first match since the opening day of the season, there is still no reason why Tottenham can’t make the top four – or even challenge for the title – in this monumentally inconsistent season.
With Manchester United faltering badly, Chelsea still fighting relegation and Liverpool and Everton still fragile, Spurs are wonderfully placed to make a return to the Champions League next season.
However, it is important their run of three league matches without a win does not stretch any further as doubts will start to creep into the minds of their young squad.
Earlier this year I wrote that Pochettino’s greatest achievement at White Hart Lane so far is making Spurs ‘less Spursy‘, and the Christmas period will be a huge test whether that is in fact the case.
In fact, there’s a reason to argue why defeat to Newcastle could actually turn into a good thing for Maurcio Pochettino’s men. It’s all about how the manager spins it – but ultimately, it’s a timely reminder – if nothing else – that no result can be taken for granted in the Premier League.
And the defeat could actually allow Spurs, who dare I say might have gone into the match with a touch of complacency, to re-sharpen their focus and maybe even embark on another lengthy unbeaten run,
The North Londoners face trips to Southampton, Watford and Everton, as well as host Norwich before the FA Cup third round. All those fixtures are evidently winnable, but none are guaranteed three points. Sunday’s setback will be a timely reminder of that.
Three wins from those fixtures and we are likely to be talking about Spurs as title contenders once again.