Is Klopp a genius, or did he just get lucky?

7 Mar

Match of the Day 2 analysis


Some people will see Liverpool’s fightback to beat Crystal Palace as further evidence of the ‘Jurgen Klopp effect’, but on this occasion I think it had as much to do with them getting a bit lucky.

According to their own records, Sunday’s 2-1 win at Selhurst Park was the first time in the Reds’ 124-year history they have come back from a goal down to win with 10 men.

That is a great achievement, but Klopp’s hand was forced because his side were a goal and a man down with half an hour left, and he had to gamble.

It looks good because it came off but, if Palace keeper Alex McCarthy had not slipped to gift them an equaliser, I did not see Liverpool scoring at all.

Roberto Firmino celebrates after scoring Liverpool's equaliser<!–

Roberto Firmino’s goal at Selhurst Park means he has scored or assisted more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other player (7 goals, 4 assists)

Until then, they had been very ordinary. They did not even manage a shot on target until the 65th minute and, after they had been so good against Manchester City on Wednesday, it was a performance that summed up their inconsistent season.

Sometimes in football you just get a break, and that slip was Liverpool’s.

At that point, Palace panicked. They made another costly mistake with the stoppage-time penalty that saw Liverpool score their winner but it was their poor game management that contributed to their own downfall as much as Klopp’s tactics.

What did Klopp do?

The average position of Liverpool's players (where they touched the ball) before James Milner was sent off on 62 minutes<!–

WITH 11 MEN: Liverpool’s 4-2-3-1 formation, with James Milner, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana operating behind lone striker Divock Origi, had given them limited success

Klopp had made an attacking substitution on 61 minutes, bringing on Philippe Coutinho for full-back Jon Flanagan, with the intention of switching James Milner to full-back.

Seconds later, Milner was shown a second yellow card.

Klopp switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 3-4-2 shape, with Dejan Lovren being asked to play on the right of their defence, and the whole team pressed Palace high up the pitch.

They were taking a big chance because their three-man defence did not have much cover, but the thinking was ‘we might as well get beaten 2-0 by trying to get something out of the match’.

The average position of Liverpool's players (where they touched the ball) after James Milner was sent off on 62 minutes<!–

WITH 10 MEN: Lovren has to cover centre-half and the right flank – other than the back three, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can were Liverpool’s only defensive-minded players

Why did it work?

Klopp said afterwards his side helped to force McCarthy’s mistake because they were pressing so high up the pitch – but I did not see that.

A keeper probably has to deal with about a dozen back-passes like that in every game and, even under pressure, a slip and a mis-kick is very rare.

The worst thing about it was the way Palace reacted. They suddenly looked very nervous and that just encouraged Liverpool.

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Jurgen Klopp praises Liverpool’s passion

Alan Pardew’s side also tried to chase the game, which was understandable because of their poor recent form – they have not won in the Premier League since before Christmas and playing at home against 10 men will have seemed like a great chance to end that run.

At that stage, Palace would have been better off protecting the point they still had. They should have done the same thing when they were ahead.

They could have tightened things up by bringing back Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha and playing with just one up front.

The way the game was decided, Palace will see themselves as unlucky to lose but they were in complete control and managed to throw it away.

Why Liverpool’s penalty was the correct call

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Penalty decision tough to take – Alan Pardew

It was not a soft penalty that Palace conceded in the 94th minute, it was a daft one.

Damien Delaney did not have to tackle Christian Benteke, because he was only going one way and he was running towards the bye-line, not the goal.

All Delaney has to do is hold him up, but instead he goes to make the tackle.

It doesn’t matter that he tried to pull out because if a striker feels anyone touch him at all inside the area, then he is going over.

I was watching it in the Match of the Day 2 production office and at first we all shouted that it was never a penalty but the linesman made the call and it turned out he got it right.

There are suggestions video assistance could be brought in to help officials soon and in this case it would have confirmed it was a penalty, because replays from a certain angle helped show there was contact between Delaney’s knee and Benteke’s foot.

There is a minimum amount of contact and only Benteke knows whether it was enough to bring him down but, once you have got contact, in a situation like this one where the forward is running in the area, then it is a penalty.

After winning Liverpool's late penalty, Christian Benteke stepped up to take it himself<!–

Benteke’s late winner was his first goal in 13 games, since he scored against Sunderland on 30 December

I understand why Pardew was upset to lose it like that so late, but it was the correct decision so it does not make any difference that it happened in the last seconds of the game.

Pardew says he does not think Palace would have got a penalty in similar circumstances at the other end, but he definitely would have wanted one.

Liverpool in good shape for United clashes

Seeing Manchester United lose at West Brom under similar circumstances, after going down to 10 men, will be another boost for Liverpool.

The Reds are now only one place and three points behind United, and have got the greater impetus going into two big games against them in the Europa League.

The top four is still a big ask for the Reds while they remain so inconsistent but winning the way they did against Palace, after playing poorly, will be such a good feeling.

Mark Lawrenson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan

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