Red Letter: Saints to sinners, stats and Benteke

Date published: Thursday 24th March 2016 7:54

Jurgen Klopp: Having a word with Benteke

In his weekly Liverpool blog, Dave Tindall delves into the theories, right and wrong, that might explain Sunday’s collapse at Southampton, while Christian Benteke’s outburst is analysed.

Turning up in a Beatles t-shirt for his pre-match press conference against Southampton turned out to be bad omen for Jurgen Klopp.

Nineteen sixty four was a golden year for The Fab Four as they had No.1s with ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘I Feel Fine’. But that year was also the last time Liverpool led 2-0 at half-time in a top-flight league match and went on to lose.

History repeated itself in gut-wrenching style on Sunday as a stroll in the park at St Mary’s turned sour and those Beatles songs became punning opportunities for the state of LFC fans’ minds at various points of the match. Three points looked a certainly after 45 excellent minutes in which Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge fired Liverpool 2-0 in front early on. The Brazilian thumped in another long ranger while Sturridge’s follow-up was a delight, a quick feint sending Ryan Bertrand the wrong way before he stroked the ball past Fraser Forster.

It should have been more as Joe Allen missed a glorious chance to make it 3-0, and the Reds had a ‘goal’ chalked off after Mamadou Sakho was caught half a yard off side, while Sturridge should have doubled his tally when sent through.

This was a pleasure to watch. Liverpool pressing, slicing through Southampton at will and looking untroubled at the back. And then…. another of those bumps in the road which, as is clear, we still haven’t eradicated.

Having calmed down a day later, I watched the game on LFC TV and that first-half display offered up so many positives with Divock Origi stretching the home defence, Emre Can running the show in central midfield and a revitalised Joe Allen again looking full of energy.

Even though the Welshman saw his shot saved by Forster’s outstretched leg, the ball from Can to Allen was a peach and, when everything is functioning, it shows how much movement there is in the team that our two holding midfielders were the furthest men forward in that instance.

The second 45 obviously wasn’t great but perhaps not as bad as I was expecting. It’s inevitable that story lines are built around goals but is it always fair?

On another day, those Southampton shots (all excellent) drift wide of the post or are saved. Then suddenly, an “inept” second-half display that leads to a 3-2 defeat is reported as “rode out a home fightback” to win 2-1.

By contrast, there were moments in the Europa League match at Old Trafford when United came close but didn’t get a break or the right touch. Seriously, there is often less than you think between a “measured defensive display” and a “collapse”.

The vagaries of individual matches can be debated long and hard but it’s fair to say that over the course of a season a truer picture will eventually emerge. As Kenny Dalglish would say repeatedly in interviews, “the table doesn’t lie”. And perhaps that idea can be extended further.

One theory behind Liverpool’s second-half capitulation was that it’s another sign that, under Klopp, the players do so much gegenpressing in the first 45 minutes of matches that they’re a spent force after the break. If that was the case, you’d expect to see Liverpool doing their best work before the interval and then hanging on in the second half, perhaps as they did when racing into an early 3-0 lead at Man City last November before winning 4-1.

Sounds a decent hypothesis but do you know where the Reds would be if matches were decided after 45 minutes? 14th!

LFC have only been in front at the break six times in 29 matches while a league-high 19 times we’ve been level.

The theory also breaks down when looking at times of goals. Liverpool have scored 44% of their Premier League goals between minutes 60 and 90 (22% from 60-75 and 22% from 75-90). So much for being knackered as matches wear on.

Perhaps Klopp is just good at freshening things up with his substitutes? There has definitely been some evidence of that with Christian Benteke coming on to seal away wins at Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

That tells another story though. Why should a £32.5million striker only be seen as an option from the bench? After keeping a rather impressive and dignified silence over the matter, Benteke finally let his guard down this week when talking to the Belgian press. Speaking about his limited opportunities, Benteke said he “finds it hard to understand” why Klopp “ignores him” – especially when the German was keen to sign the striker when in charge at Dortmund.

Quite clearly, working close up with Benteke has changed Klopp’s mind. I noted in this column months ago that it was obvious that Klopp just didn’t fancy him and if ever you needed a further sign of that it came at St Mary’s.

Philippe Coutinho

Understandably emotional after seeing his side blow a 2-0 lead, Klopp blasted (“had a few words” was his own take) Benteke as he came off the pitch. The assumption was that it was for missing a golden chance to put Liverpool 3-1 up although, to me, it was simply built-up frustrations coming out.

Benteke doesn’t do what Klopp wants him to do; Klopp is irritated and can’t hide the fact.

So was our manager wrong to chide him in public – as those two experienced managers (ahem, cough) Danny Murphy and Alan Shearer said on Match of the Day? A poll in the Liverpool Echo said 80% agreed with Klopp although were they really answering the question? More likely it was a reflection of Benteke’s lack of popularity.

At least tempers can calm on the international break although it’s always a pain in the backside for lots of fans. And I note that Liverpool have more players (16) away with their national teams than any other side in the Premier League.

As usual, it will be a case of hoping and praying no-one comes back injured so, please Roy, play Harry Kane up front against Germany and give our Sturridge 15 minutes at the end and no more.

Talking of the two strikers, Liverpool’s next game is against Spurs at Anfield. That’s followed by the away trip to Borussia Dortmund just five days later.

Nothing’s ever boring or mundane for a Liverpool fan this season and I genuinely don’t have a clue whether next week’s Red Letter will see me basking in glory or wallowing in despair.

Somehow I feel it’ll be a strange mixture of both!

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