Football: Reds' song of ice and fire

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge slotting home the decisive second goal against Villarreal on Thursday. The Reds claimed a 3-1 aggregate Europa League semi-final win that put them in their second final under Juergen Klopp.
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge slotting home the decisive second goal against Villarreal on Thursday. The Reds claimed a 3-1 aggregate Europa League semi-final win that put them in their second final under Juergen Klopp.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Klopp balances intelligence and emotion as Liverpool reach another Cup final under him

LONDON • Juergen Klopp has been Liverpool manager for only seven months, and he has already transformed Anfield.

Where once the Reds fans were dismayed by the disjointed football played under previous boss Brendan Rodgers, they have quickly bonded with Klopp - his charisma, understanding of local values and impact on the dressing room, and empowering the players, making the likes of Adam Lallana tireless competitors.

The German strode on to the Anfield pitch at the final whistle on Thursday, embracing players who so confidently brushed Villarreal aside 3-0 - clinching the semi-final 3-1 on aggregate - to reach the Europa League final where they face Sevilla in Basle on May 18.

He prowled around the centre circle, repeatedly punching the air as the Kop responded wildly. He smiled and clapped as the supporters sang his name again and again.

"To go to a final you need a little bit of luck in decisive moments, but most of the time you need outstanding performances," he said.

"When I came here, the tournament didn't sound too nice for people. The problem we had was around these games (there were) so many other games, so we couldn't really be focused on this.

"In 2016 the team showed a lot of times what they're capable of and what they could be capable of in the future. That's more important for me as a manager, but then, when you perform in the right moments, like we did tonight or against Dortmund or against United or Augsburg, you want to have (it) all.

"Now we are there, it's a great opportunity and we will take it."

The joy of Klopp is more than the uplifting reality that he loves football with a passion. Yet, he somehow manages to balance emotion and intelligence, fire and ice, in his players.

He has taken Liverpool to two finals (they lost the League Cup final to Manchester City on penalties), and to within a Europa League final win of reaching the Champions League, without making a permanent signing.

The manager had a game plan and his players stuck to it.

Daniel Sturridge was the forward focus, stretching Villarreal's defence with his runs, peeling away swiftly and quietly from the opposing centre-halves.

Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Lallana supported Sturridge ably and nimbly.

Klopp gave his full-backs, Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno, licence to raid. He also used Emre Can in his best position - deep midfield - shielding the back four and breaking up Villarreal attacks and launching counters.

Little wonder then that the hosts, after a Bruno Soriano own goal, cruised through via efforts from Sturridge and Lallana.

Villarreal have many admirers but in the home of the Beatles, the Yellow Submarine sank without trace, and their coach Marcelino admitted that Liverpool had been superior and lauded their intensity.

However, he criticised Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai for his handling of a niggly game, in particular the decision to dismiss centre-back Victor Ruiz after two yellow cards in either half.

"We tried hard after the opening goal, but it was tough against an opponent who played with a huge amount of intensity," he said. "It was on the margins of the rules at times, but it was allowed. By the sending-off, it was game over."

Basle's St Jakob Park is an atmospheric arena but too small to accommodate the massive support that Klopp has got marching on Europe again. Klopp, fans and players walk on together.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Football: Reds' song of ice and fire'. Print Edition | Subscribe