At sixes and sevens

Stand-in captain Virgil van Dijk looks lost as the Reds suffered their heaviest defeat in 57 years on Sunday, while Manchester United skipper Harry Maguire endured a nightmare outing against Spurs.
Stand-in captain Virgil van Dijk looks lost as the Reds suffered their heaviest defeat in 57 years on Sunday, while Manchester United skipper Harry Maguire endured a nightmare outing against Spurs. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

Calls for Klopp to drop high line after comical defending sees Liverpool torn apart by Villa

LONDON • Jurgen Klopp admitted Liverpool created the "wrong type" of history after they "lost the plot" to play into Aston Villa's hands in their 7-2 humbling at Villa Park in the Premier League on Sunday.

Ollie Watkins completed a perfect hat-trick with his head inside 39 minutes as the Reds became the first reigning Premier League champions to concede seven goals in a top-flight match.

The absence of goalkeeper Alisson Becker to injury, and Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara due to the coronavirus was notable.

Stand-in goalkeeper Adrian's poor pass after just four minutes was seized upon by Jack Grealish, who squared for Watkins to score his first Premier League goal.

It was Adrian's fifth error in 21 appearances for Liverpool that has led directly to a goal - as many as Alisson, who is set to miss about six weeks with a shoulder problem, has in 92 games.

"The first goal had an impact, but it shouldn't," added Klopp. "Adrian made a mistake but we conceded goals like this in the past. We lost the plot then."

Liverpool's high line was torn apart constantly by Villa's counter-attack, with Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold both guilty of getting caught out playing the offside trap.

It was even breached from set plays as six minutes before the break, Trezeguet crossed for Watkins, the Championship's joint-top scorer last season with 25 strikes, to become the first player in a decade to score a treble against Liverpool.

Villa rained in 18 shots by the full-time whistle and could have added to goals from John McGinn, Ross Barkley and Grealish (two) as they climbed to second in the standings after a third successive win.

Mohamed Salah grabbed a brace for the visitors.

"When Jurgen Klopp says 'Wow' to you, you know you've done something right," Villa manager Dean Smith said. "The lads were superb, they executed the game plan perfectly."

Former Liverpool defender and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher insisted the Reds have to make adjustments.

"The high defensive line was ripped to shreds against Leeds," he said in reference to Liverpool's 4-3 season-opening win. "The same has happened here. It has been even worse...

"It is OK playing a high line, condensing it, making the team compact, winning the ball off the opposition. But when they are getting closer to your back four and midfielders are on it, I am not even saying run back 20 yards, I am just saying be ready to run back."

That Villa narrowly avoided relegation last season and finished 64 points behind Liverpool added to the shock factor. Klopp's men were not beaten until their 28th league game at Watford last season. But four games into the new campaign, they have now let in seven for the first time since 1963.

"Years ago, we told ourselves we wanted to create history. That was history but obviously, the wrong type," Klopp said.

"We made too many mistakes and massive ones obviously... There is nobody to blame apart from me and us."


Solskjaer's job security under threat even as he takes responsibility for mauling by Spurs

LONDON • Ole Gunnar Solskjaer labelled Manchester United's humiliating 6-1 home defeat by Tottenham on Sunday as the worst feeling in 15 years at the club as a player, coach and manager.

Tottenham cashed in on Anthony Martial's first-half red card to inflict United's joint-worst loss in the Premier League era - mirroring their 2011 defeat by Manchester City - as Jose Mourinho enjoyed a dream return to Old Trafford.

Son Heung-min and Harry Kane scored twice as Spurs opened up a disorganised United defence at will even before Martial was harshly punished for an off-the-ball clash with Erik Lamela. Tanguy Ndombele and Serge Aurier were also on target for Spurs.

"It's a horrible feeling, the worst day I've had as a Manchester United manager and player," said Solskjaer after United lost their opening two home league games for the first time in 34 seasons.

"It's nowhere near good enough. I hold my hands up. It's my decision to pick the team I did."

Mourinho's successor dropped Victor Lindelof in favour of Eric Bailly, but the Ivorian was one of the biggest culprits for the rout and was lucky to stay on the field for a couple of petulant kicks on Kane.

The back four Solskjaer started cost £195 million (S$344.1 million), including Harry Maguire, the world's most expensive defender at £80 million. Yet the England centre-back twice failed to clear, as did Luke Shaw, leading to Ndombele's equaliser. It was Ndombele's first league goal in over a year, after Bruno Fernandes put the hosts in front from the spot.

Maguire then fouled Kane before allowing the striker to take a quick free-kick while Aaron Wan-Bissaka was also caught napping, and Son was through for their second.

Solskjaer introduced holding midfielders Scott McTominay and Fred at half-time in a bid to stem the tide, but United kept getting cut open.

Mourinho, who was sacked as United boss in December 2018, revelled in what he described as a historic day for Tottenham.

"It is history for Tottenham, history for my boys and I cannot deny it is also history for me," said the Portuguese. "Some people can say you play against 10 men for a long time which is true, but for me it is also true that 11 v 11 we were playing extremely well. We were creating huge problems, we were winning 2-1 and they could not find solutions to control us."

If United's results do not improve, the club could swoop for a former Tottenham manager. Mauricio Pochettino remains without a club since he was sacked by Spurs a year ago just months after leading them to a first Champions League final.

The chastening defeat comes at the end of another difficult transfer window for United, who have prioritised attacking targets like Borussia Dortmund forward Jadon Sancho over reinforcements at the back.

Only newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion (13), who played a game more, have conceded more goals than United (11) this season.

Former United defender Patrice Evra said the Red Devils are "an embarrassment". "I don't promote violence but many people need a good slap at this club right now," added the Sky Sports pundit.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2020, with the headline 'At sixes and sevens'. Subscribe