Jurgen Klopp today began his Liverpool career with an unspectacular but promising performance away at in-form Tottenham. Although the club have had great success at White Hart Lane in recent times it would have been incredible for the new manager to conjure up any sort of inspiring performance in his first match – although not magical, what was produced was certainly better than what we have endured in recent weeks. Eager to press and to impress, the team put in an energetic performance and were unlucky not to steal a win.
Straight from kick off it became apparent that Klopp intends to stick to what he knows at Liverpool. Players had clearly been instructed to press; Spurs were harassed from the off, and looked shaken at the intensity of Liverpool’s play. Lallana in particular looked determined to contribute in a positive way – for the first twenty minutes he seemed to be first to every loose ball, and was eager to get a foot in whenever a defender dwelled for too long. During this spell a Liverpool win looked likely: the hosts were forced to sit deep and, rattled by the strong start from the visitors, were sloppy when they did get the ball. Still, while the style might have changed, the underlying problems have not: Liverpool could not make their considerable pressure pay with a goal. Origi came closest, meeting Can’s flick-on from a corner and heading on to the underside of the bar.
Inevitably, the intensity began to drop off somewhat as the half progressed. Perhaps not used to playing in this way and working this hard, the players allowed Tottenham more time and space to control the game. Momentum shifted fairly drastically and for the second part of the first half it was all Tottenham. Clinton N’Jie, on early for the injured Chadli, came closest: his outside-foot effort was saved excellently by Mignolet. The Belgian could really flourish under a manager with less of an insistence on playing it around the back – ultimately Mignolet is a shot-stopper, and when asked to do just that he shows how brilliant he is at it. On two or three occasions he was responsible for keeping the clean sheet intact.
Although a victory would have been the ideal start to Klopp’s reign, the clean sheet in itself is a big achievement. Liverpool have looked extremely shaky of late, and despite only taking the reins a week ago (while many players were away on international duty) the German has already introduced an element of calm to the back line. Skrtel had a couple of iffy moments as per usual, but his partner was generally immense: Sakho’s highlight was probably a sprawling block to deny Alli. The full-backs were good defensively but also effective going forward: Clyne and Moreno both found themselves in advanced positions on multiple occasions, and while nothing came of it directly it at least meant extra players for Tottenham to have to deal with.
The only real complaint to be levelled at Klopp was the timing of his substitutions. It almost seemed as if he had lost track of time: the first sub was only made with about 15 minutes to go, with Allen replacing Lallana, and Ibe only got a five minute cameo. Sinclair was lined up to come on, but the final whistle blew before the change could be effected – even if he had come on, there would almost certainly not have been time for him to make any difference. Of course this is hardly a cardinal sin – I think we can hold back on the #KloppOut banners for the time being – but it did seem a little odd. That said, it is understandable if he was reluctant to make positive changes too early; a 0-0 draw is not a fairytale start, but away at a Spurs team who have been playing well it is definitely a good one.
The best way to characterise the game is a laying of the groundwork for what is to come. Clearly a tightening up of the defence is central to Klopp’s plans for the club’s rejuvenation – as this progresses and our attackers start returning from injury, draws and losses will surely start turning to wins. With Sturridge, Benteke and hopefully Firmino all returning soon, the future is definitely bright.