February 8, 2017

FREE KICKS: Klopp a big flop?

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

It has happened at Manchester United for the past three managers now and it’s something that simply can’t be escaped: Comparisons to the gaffers that came before the current one.

It has been all the rage to compare supposed-saviour Jurgen Klopp’s work at Liverpool with some of the bigger “failures” in recent years.

In the past week, it has been brought up that Klopp now has the exact same Premier League record through 54 games that Brendan Rodgers had (26-16-12) and that overall, Klopp’s win percentage is actually worse than David Moyes’ at United.

Not helping: Klopp has now lost four of five games, all against much lesser opponents, and has crashed out of both domestic cup competitions. We do have to credit him for the draw against Chelsea last week, but losing to lowly Hull on Saturday scuttles all the good will he built from that.

The Reds didn’t make any moves in the January window while there are clearly some needs with this team. The defence remains leaky and a legit option up front is needed, with Daniel Sturridge looking like he’ll never regain his top form, Divock Origi being too inconsistent and Roberto Firminho being used more as a false nine.

The return from injury of Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane from the African Cup of Nations should help the attack, but that’s not the biggest problem – it’s the defence.

If Klopp can’t address the Reds’ issues there and if he can’t get his team up to play against sides below his team in the table, Liverpool will never truly contend.

Playing well against the top six in the table is nice, but that’s a smaller portion of the schedule than facing the rest of the league. The key to winning it all – or even just securing a Champions League spot – is beating up on the teams below you. If the Reds can’t start doing that, a place in Europa League is far more likely than a return to the big dance.

And if Klopp doesn’t start pulling things together soon, he’ll become just another statistic and be labeled as just another false saviour.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Is there a fantasy player more frustrating than Romelu Lukaku?

It’s hot and cold and hot and you never know when the big Belgian is going to show up on the scoresheet. Then, out of nowhere, he’ll score four.

Lukaku is now the leading forward in fantasy after his massive outburst against Bournemouth and Everton has seriously started to come around.

That’s 16 goals on the season for the striker, just two shy of his career high set last season, and when you consider that he is just 23 years old, it’s not insane to think that he should be among the Premier League’s goal-scoring greats. He’s at 76 goals for his career and unless he moves abroad, he’s a shoo-in to reach the 100-goal milestone – something only four active players have accomplished.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Jesus is looking like a saviour for Manchester City. Gabriel Jesus, of course. In his second consecutive start, he bagged a brace against Swansea – including the game-winner in injury time. With Jesus starting over City legend Sergio Aguero, this probably isn’t going to end without some controversy. You can’t keep a player like Kun on the bench for too long … The Foxes have backed Claudio Ranieri after Leicester dropped another game, this time to Manchester United. The defending champions are now just a point out of the relegation zone and with Champions League back on next week, there’s no guarantee this situation gets better soon … We thought that Big Sam was a manager that’s capable of sorting out a defence? Apparently not. When you give up four goals in the first half to struggling Sunderland, that’s a terrible sign. Even worse: Jermain Defoe scored twice in injury time alone … Speaking of struggles, Southampton has now lost six of seven games after falling to West Ham. New signing Manolo Gabbiadini scored in his debut, but it’s really the back line – once a strength for the Saints – that needs work … How crappy must it have been to see former captain Jose Fonte return to Saint Mary’s so soon for the Southampton faithful? … N’Golo Kante has more tackles in the past two seasons than any Premier League player has in the past three combined … Eden Hazard made Arsenal look straight-up silly on his run. Legend says that Laurent Koscielny is still back-pedaling to this very day … We wish Hector Bellerin a speedy recovery from that nasty-looking concussion he suffered while Marcos Alonso scored on Saturday. What a double-whammy for the Gunners.

THE LAST WORD

Chelsea’s 3-0 loss to Arsenal in late September seems like it happened an eternity ago.

Sure, that was only a few months ago, but so much has changed with this Blues team.

It was that loss that spurred manager Antonio Conte to change his system completely, going to three at the back and sparked the Blues to go on the biggest winning streak in Premier League history.

After that winless September, we all thought that this team was closer to the one that slouched to a tenth-place finish and the worst title defence in Premier League history. Instead, they’re cruising to a championship an are barely being challenged.

The Gunners were supposed to be a potential stumbling block, but they put up as much fight as a paper bag in the rain.

The Blues now have an 80% chance of hoisting the trophy, according to ESPN’s projections. They already have nine more points than last year. They’re also nine points clear at the top, while last season they finished 13 points away from relegation.

This has been quite the remarkable turnaround from the circus that went on last season at Stamford Bridge. Who knew that if owner Roman Abramovich just hired a low-key manager and kept his nose out of things, it would all go so smoothly?

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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