Big Match

Klopp's Reds will not blink under pressure

Liverpool players react during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Barcelona and Liverpool at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, on May 1, 2019.
Liverpool players react during the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg football match between Barcelona and Liverpool at the Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona, on May 1, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

Class of 2018-19 has more patience, quality than the sides led by Benitez and Rodgers

Yesterday marked a minor anniversary.

It was two months since Liverpool dropped a point, two months of impeccable league results that may ultimately only bring them the bittersweet distinction of a record tally for a runner-up.

Since then, as they have reeled off seven straight victories, they have prospered under pressure, winning while knowing any slip-up could be fatal to their chances.

The silly accusation that they are "bottlers" is thrown less at a side with near flawless form.

Liverpool's last title challenge ended in 2014 when they gave up a 3-0 lead in nine, ridiculous minutes against Crystal Palace, a week after Steven Gerrard's infamous slip against Chelsea.

This time, like when Rafael Benitez's Reds took 31 points from the last 33 in 2008-09, they have coped with nerves altogether better.

They have needed to. Liverpool were ahead after 15 seconds in their 5-0 thrashing of Huddersfield last week, but their matches have tended to be tighter and tenser than Manchester City's.

They have been level at half-time in three of their last four league games.

They have been drawing with 11 minutes remaining of three of the last six. They have gone behind in two of the last seven.

In short, they have not panicked. Perhaps because their tactics are less fast and furious, they have got better at being patient.

Certainly Jurgen Klopp has made a series of telling substitutions, bringing on his captains Jordan Henderson and James Milner to great effect at Southampton and Fabinho and Divock Origi to make a difference against Tottenham.

Milner, a Premier League winner with City, has often appeared the specialist substitute in the run-in.

That marks a difference with Benitez's team of 2009. The Spaniard had a formidable starting XI, but very little in reserve.

A comparison between title challengers - and Brendan Rodgers' side of 2013-14 looks the real anomaly because, unlike Benitez and Klopp's groups, they were defensively awful - could produce similar hard-luck stories; the side of 2009 were the first to lose only twice and not become champions. The team of 2019 have been beaten only once.

Benitez had the more potent centre-forward in Fernando Torres, and three midfielders better than any of Klopp's, although Gerrard operated ahead of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano.

The German has a superior goalkeeper in Alisson, finer and more attacking full-backs and, outstanding a servant as Jamie Carragher was, a still better centre-back in Virgil van Dijk.

Benitez's side were rather prosaic on the flanks. Klopp has dynamic, devastating wingers, even if Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah operate infield.

Benitez built around two banks of four. Klopp has an idiosyncratic 4-3-3 with a false nine. Each has been a formula that would have worked in most other years.

Each has had a spring surge. And, in both cases, it might not be enough.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2019, with the headline 'Klopp's Reds will not blink under pressure'. Print Edition | Subscribe