This week’s Monday Verdict discusses Liverpool’s consistency problem, paints more eulogies about Man City, debates two huge misses for Tottenham and asks if patience will be rewarded at Leeds United.
LIVERPOOL’S CONSISTENT CONSISTENCY PROBLEM
Jurgen Klopp is a man who is always very supportive of his team. His energetic and enthusiastic approach to management is one which has been viewed by many as a breath of fresh air for the Premier League.
However, recently there has been somewhat of an inquisition going on among Liverpool supporters. Rather than remove doubts about Klopp, the Reds’ 4-0 win at Bournemouth remarkably will have only strengthened those reservations that supporters may have about the former Dortmund boss.
Klopp did more than hint at his frustration regarding Liverpool’s consistency after the game.
“It’s not hard, I am not here to celebrate my squad,” he told Sky Sports.
“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”
He’s essentially saying what Liverpool fans have been screaming: how can the team go from getting blanked by West Brom to scoring for fun at Bournemouth?
Honestly, if you were to watch that performance from Liverpool at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday afternoon with no knowledge or context of the current situation of the Premier League, you would think that they would be well up there and challenging for the title. That’s how dominant – and above all ruthless – they were.
Why wasn’t the clinical nature of Sunday’s performance evident in both games at Anfield, where they welcomed an Everton side still recovering from poor early season form and a West Brom side who are now winless in 16 games.
Perhaps if Klopp had the answer, Liverpool would be four points better off. As it stands, they are EIGHTEEN points off top spot already, and have drawn seven of their opening 18 league games. That’s the most in the Premier League.
Maybe part of it is down to the rotation policy that Klopp has persistently deployed. With the added pressures of European football, it’s understandable too. As noted in by Daniel Storey of F365, if Liverpool reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and Champions League, this team will play at least 55 matches in 2017/18. They could play as many as 60, not including replays.
In the 2013/14 oh-so-nearly season, as well as last season (their two best recent league finishes), Liverpool were not in Europe. Maybe European football does have that effect on teams – but Manchester City seem to be coping just fine.
Liverpool have dropped points this season against Watford, Burnley, Newcastle, Everton and West Brom in games that they would have expected to win. Meanwhile, they have scored at least three goals nine times this season, but they couldn’t find the winner against the aforementioned teams.
Therein lies Liverpool’s issue. In fact, the only thing consistent about them is that they consistently have a consistency problem, it seems.
THE NEW INVINCIBLES 4 THE HARRY KANE TEAM 1
Is there really any point in carrying this season on, just hand Manchester City the title right now and give Kevin De Bruyne every single player award going. This team is utterly incredible.
Christmas has not even come and gone but Pep’s purists are so far in front and in a completely different league to everyone, on a different planet in fact – no, scrap that. They are in a different solar system.
They ripped a normally well organised Tottenham team to pieces. It was four but it could easily have been eight, they were that good – even without the guy that normally knits the whole thing together in David Silva!
To win three or four games on the bounce in this league is hard enough but 16 is just mental and as for Kevin De Bruyne, what the hell were Chelsea thinking. That was a screw up of monumental proportions.
But to press so forcefully, as they do to a man, and then be able to play with such speed and intricacy must take so much meticulous preparation on the training pitch.
Yes we all remember how good Pep’s Barcelona were in their pomp but were they ever this good, this exciting, this ruthless?
Barca invariably had Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid to contend with in any one season but the Premier League is meant to be a far more competitive beast – at least it was until this latest incarnation of a Pep Guardiola side emerged.
If football sides are works of art, then this City side are one of the greatest paintings created since the Premier League’s inception….
POCH SORELY MISSING DEFENSIVE DOUBLE ACT
Now on to Tottenham. It would be too easy to just hammer Mauricio Pochettino’s men for yet another poor away day at a top-six rival but which team could honestly have stood up to what City had to offer on Saturday night?
Guardiola labelled them ‘the Harry Kane team’ earlier in the season. However, their Champions League form has shown they are much more than that – although but they missed two huge players at The Etihad and were made to pay for it big style.
Let’s not beat around the bush, Toby Alderweireld IS the best central defender in the Premier League.
He has been and will continue to be sorely missed as he tries to fight his way back from a hamstring injury that will keep him out until February.
Had he played at The Etihad there is still a good chance that Spurs might have lost but they would not have taken a hammering and Pochettino will be counting down the days until his return.
Then there is the power and destructive ability of defensive shield Victor Wanyama, who has made just two appearances this season due to a knee injury.
Wanyama and Mousa Dembele formed the best central defensive partnership in the country last season but have made just one start together this campaign, and without his wing-man alongside him the ultra-talented Dembele is not quite the same player.
On Saturday he was caught in possession and gave the ball away carelessly a times but if he took a chance trying to create something for his side last season, he did so with the knowledge that if it didn’t come off Wanyama would seek and destroy behind him.
Dembele has had no real influence on Pochettino’s Spurs team this season and if the rumours are true about a longstanding hip issue that is forcing him to hold back in certain areas of his game, then you do wonder how much longer the 30-year-old can perform at this level.
At least Wanyama is back in training and closing in on a return to action but Spurs need to show the sort of form they have displayed in the Champions League to make sure of the top-four finish they crave as they look ahead to life in their sparkly new home next season.
LEEDS BEING REWARDED FOR LOYALTY
For two and a half years, Leeds lived under the iron rule of controversial owner, Massimo Cellino. The Italian adopted a cut-throat approach to managers whilst at Elland Road, with no fewer than six managers before Garry Monk’s appointment in the summer of 2016.
The former Swansea boss lasted an entire season in charge of Leeds, though the season ultimately ended in disappointment as the club threw away an almost certain play-off place to finish seventh.
But while the unpopular Cellino eventually seized control of the club to fellow Italian Andreas Radrizzani in May 2017, the mentality of the quick-fire sacking approach appeared to linger among some fans.
When Thomas Christiansen was appointed boss shortly after Radrizzani’s takeover, there were some who felt he was destined to struggle. An unknown quantity in the tough-cutting Championship may have worked just down the M62 at Huddersfield – but Leeds, where expectations are so great – is always a different animal.
A tremendous start saw Leeds top the embryonic Championship table – and it was probably the strength of that start that saw Christiansen questioned when the Whites suffered an autumnal collapse that saw them lose six from seven league games.
Under Cellino, there was no doubt Christiansen would have been a goner. After all, Darko Milanic (remember him) and David Hockaday (one you can hardly forget due to the randomness of his appointment) lasted all of six games before they were shown the door.
Indeed, a large portion of fans even called on the club to part company with Christiansen such was their poor form. Seemingly, the trigger-happy motives of the previous regime had left an indelible mark on some…
However, the new chairman showed an impressive determination to stand by his man; Radrizzani publicly claiming on more than one occasion that the Danish, Spaniard retained his belief and support.
You can all watch the footage and make your judgement. It s time to support even more. We are building a solid project I believe in my team
— Andrea Radrizzani (@andrearadri) October 31, 2017
And since then, that loyalty has been rewarded with the club seemingly back on track, having taken 13 points from a possible 18 and move one off the top six.
The club are probably now about where they should be: pushing for the play-off places with a squad that has talent, but still feels the loss of several key departures last summer.
Ohh what a disgrace…relax guys. Our man @T9Christiansen has enjoyed a nice afternoon of top football with his family. What s wrong with that ? And the atmosphere motivated him even more to bring us back at that level .let s stay behind the team win the next game #graft#family https://t.co/wZRU10wO9t
— Andrea Radrizzani (@andrearadri) December 11, 2017
The new boss may be learning the ways of English football as he goes along, but given the patience of his chairman, the club could yet be rewarded for what feels an all-too unfamiliar feeling at Leeds: loyalty.
The club may, or may not finish in the top six this season, but at Leeds supporters can relax in knowing their new broom are at least trying to do things in an honourable fashion.
GOALS ALONE NOT ENOUGH TO EARN LUKAKU THE LOVE FROM UNITED SUPPORTERS
Romelu Lukaku was again in the goals as Manchester United won at West Brom – but the sulky Belgian is doing himself no favours in his battle to silence the skeptics.
When you arrive at a new club for a huge transfer fee, there’s always going to questions over whether you adapt and prove yourself worthy of such a giant outlay. Plenty, thankfully, do justify the hype, but very occasionally there are those that fail – and the failures seem to live longer in the memory than the success stories do…..
At Manchester United that scrutiny is double what you’d expect elsewhere: Just ask Paul Pogba who seemed to attract an avalanche of negative headlines as he struggled to re-adapt to the figures of the English game.
But despite a disjointed season second time around in which Pogba has first suffered a problematic hamstring injury, and then forced to serve a domestic three-match ban, much of the spotlight appears to have moved away from the Frenchman and onto his close friend and new teammate Lukaku.
Fifteen goals from his first 26 goals in a United shirt is certainly no mean return and the player should take satisfaction from the start to life he has made at Old Trafford.
And yet there are those who feel Lukaku just isn’t up to United standard – with even our own Monday Verdict article last week slating the muscular frontman.
And while we’re not going to re-open the debate about whether Lukaku is ‘United-class’ – given we discussed that last week – it is worth observing that the sulky Belgian is doing himself no favours with his on-field demeanor.
For the second match day running, Lukaku opened the scoring for United; for the second match day running, Lukaku ‘celebrated’ his goal by not celebrating. And while the travelling United fans in the visiting Smethwick End were going balmy, Lukaku simply stood there. Emotionless. Motionless.
“It’s because of the criticism he’s getting. He’s not doing a lot wrong and is playing in a team where he’s not getting a lot of service. To a large extent, he’s had to manufacture his goals,” said Graeme Souness in the Sky Sports studios.
Jamie Redknapp was even slightly less sympathetic. “I’d give anything to celebrate a goal again. I don’t get it – why would you not celebrate?” Is it because he’s had a loan here?….”
Souness was probably on to something with his point about the criticism he has faced, with the accusations of Lukaku being a flat-track bully and having a poor first touch still fresh in the memory.
While somewhat harsh, the accusations may have an element of truth about them. Nonetheless, Lukaku can silence his critics in two ways and get those supporters onside….
- Keep scoring the goals
- When you do score, go mental. Celebrate with the fans and show them it matters to you,in the same way it does to them. After all, is there a better way to get supporters onside than there is to celebrate like a mentalist?
Take Jesse Lingard: he might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as a player he’s improving plenty and showed with the afternoon’s second goal, courtesy of a huge deflection of Ahmed Hegazi, that he enjoys it when he scores. And quite rightly so. Rightly or wrongly, these players live privileged lives and are at the top of their profession.
Goals alone might not be enough to win Lukaku love from Manchester United supporters; scoring lots of them AND celebrating with them, might just help his cause though….
After all, scoring goals is what football is all about and should be the spark for joy; not act as a sign that you are trying to unburden yourself of some unwanted condemnation.
MOURINHO DESERVES CREDIT FOR BRILLIANT UNITED FORM
In pretty much any other season, United’s form so far this season would be enough to suggest a title push was likely. But with Manchester City sweeping away all before them, it seems United, along with Chelsea, are simply competing for the prize of being ‘best of the rest’.
41 points from 18 games is a brilliant return for United and represents their best start to the season since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season in charge when the club famously collected their 20th league title success.
In some respects, you have to feel sorry for Mourinho with ahead of them, Manchester City, his side appear to be done by what looks, even in this relatively early stage, one of THE great Premier League sides.
Only Manchester City (+13pts) from the top six have improved more than Manchester United (+8) at the same point as last year.
Tottenham -2 pic.twitter.com/OkGbAzWAHA
— TEAMtalk (@TEAMtalk) December 14, 2017
Records and stats won’t mean much to Mourinho and the very nature of the fact that his side are second best will hurt him – and hurt him deeply.
In the end United had to hang on against West Brom and you can’t help but feel it’s a result that sums up their season: digging out results and doing what needs to be done but ultimately falling short of the quality required for the ultimate prize….