The Soccer Whiz: Is Klopp’s Liverpool honeymoon over?

Manchester United contrived to save their season and perhaps their fast endangered reputation by producing the ultimate performance and without question, their most telling and vital victory in years.

BY ZAK HAWA JUST when we thought it was all over, just when we thought that their world was caving in, out of literally nowhere and out of practically nothing,

Manchester United contrived to save their season and perhaps their fast endangered reputation by producing the ultimate performance and without question, their most telling and vital victory in years.

Another thrashing at the hands of their arch rivals Liverpool would have been too much to bear and in all likelihood, even after just three matches would have put into motion a very serious investigation into the credentials of coach Eric ten Hag and initiated a thorough consideration and discussion of whether to keep him at the helm of the beleaguered Manchester club.

As it is, Eric Hag didn’t need ten lives.

After just two, he was able to martial his malacias into a performance of immense energy, power and speed.

Liverpool weren’t just beaten and the score line itself doesn’t truly reflect the manner in which a Liverpool side were destructively dismantled  for the first time in the league this entire year.

Liverpool’s only other losses in 2022 thus far have came against Inter Milan in the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 where  the tie was virtually  in the bag already and in the final against Real Madrid where one could argue that the footballing Gods were themselves rooting for Real Madrid!

At Old Trafford on Sunday, this was certainly not the case.

I honestly can’t remember a game in recent times where United keeper  De Gea had so little to do, I can’t remember a game in recent times where the Liverpool attack mustered so few attempts on goal and I can’t honestly remember a game in the past year where Salah, bar his goal, was so invisible.

Liverpool it must be said were comprehensively beaten, totally outplayed and definitely second best.

Manchester United had gone  into the match in a state of utter abject disarray having suffered two morale blowing  consecutive defeats at the hands of modest Brighton and Brentford.

Eric ten Hag  would have been the sixth Manchester United  manager that Klopp had met in the dugout since he was appointed as the Liverpool boss in 2015  and I’m sure that the man himself must have been wondering if Eric ten Hag  was sooner or later going to become another in the long list of casualties post Sir Alex Ferguson.

The history books will show that the two touchline adversaries on the day had previous encounters together in the 2020/21 season  where as manager of Ajax,Eric ten Hag met Liverpool under Klopp and lost both home and away by an identical 1-0 score line in the group stages of the Champions League.

On Monday night,it  was to be third  time lucky for Eric ten Hag as he became the saviour for Manchester United with a  tasty victory to savour for the club reversing a disturbing trend of poor performances against Liverpool culminating in their first league win against their bitter rivals since March 2018.

The result also gave him  a much needed lifeline for even though he had only been in charge for two matches, the vultures of doom were already circling and another dreadful defeat against Liverpool would have turned even his most ardent supporters against him.

This victory though allows him to consolidate, allows him to breathe,   allows him to pursue his agenda and philosophy.

Now he has achieved the seemingly impossible victory against Liverpool and having done so by dropping both Cristiano Ronaldo and Maguire from the starting XI, he will feel the noose loosening and he will now be able to choose his own side without fear of reprisals or recriminations.

The match this weekend against Southampton remains critical and victory is essential, but the Liverpool performance has got the Old Trafford faithful entrenched behind him and believing again.

It’s the first time that Old Trafford has felt alive and kicking in years and the revival I believe is finally on track.

Eric ten Hag will now get the players he wants and become the first manager to be given this license and privilege at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson himself.

He unquestionably has the boards backing or how else do we explain the excessively overpriced anticipated arrival of the acclaimed Antony from Ajax.

Now,after a mega success against Liverpool, he  crucially and surely does have the players backing too.

He will also to the relief of the masses of devoted Manchester United fans assembled across the globe be afforded a genuine proper chance to assemble a great side.

I am convinced the powers that be are going to give him a massive opportunity to become United’s greatest manager and showman since Sir Alex Ferguson.

The club realises it’s failings, is aware of its blunders over a lengthy period of time and understands that it’s fan base will not tolerate any more  humiliation.

They will not silently and meekly accept second rate performances on and off the field, especially while City and Liverpool expertly spearhead title challenges in the Premiership and in the Champions League.

Liverpool meanwhile are themselves unusually bearing the brunt of a full scale enquiry after their worst start to a Premier League season.

And yet it wasn’t supposed to be like this with successful transfers concluded early in the close season and after joy in the Community Shield where they had the better of City, they appeared primed and positively positioned to launch another realistic bid for a title they only just narrowly lost late last season.

So how did they go from title favourites just a few weeks ago to title poopers three weeks into the season?

Or is that description overly critical of their insipid and uninspired start to the season?

I think not.

While I myself was not too long ago gushing generous praise in their direction, I’m now acutely reflecting on my own assessment of Liverpool at the end last season where after they were perhaps unfortunately pipped to the Champions League trophy by Real Madrid, I labelled them the best coached side in the world.

I ranked Klopp after that final as a man who had overachieved, as a man who had been able to take Liverpool to the cusp of yet another UEFA title but with a team I’d always felt was short on real quality when compared to their direct rivals.

It’s remarkable how they came so close to eclipsing Manchester City last year to the Premiership with a side that’s truthfully not on a par with City.

In fact it’s quite astonishing how Klopp has even managed to keep Liverpool being mentioned in the same breath as teams such as Manchester City, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and even dare I say it, back on the rebound Barcelona.

Come on folks, let’s admit to something here that Liverpool fans will never accept. Barcelona were way superior in terms of firepower and personnel when they met in the Champions League semi-finals three years ago. With a three goal first leg lead, there was simply no way that Barcelona should have lost to Liverpool on aggregate.

And yet they succumbed because Liverpool had Klopp in their dugout.This is a firebrand coach who instils a work ethic like no other,who motivates and inspires and gets more out of every player he coaches.Had Klopp been on the Barcelona bench on that famous night in Anfield,it wouldn’t have been a famous Liverpool night at Anfield!Barcelona would have bossed it and bulldozed their way to the final.

Klopp has turned under par journeymen into international gems, average players into superstars, and moulded a team that has punched above their weight for way too long.

I’m not gloating when I say this and I’m sad to say it, but I’m concerned that the Klopp honeymoon at Liverpool is finally over.

It’s been hastened by the departure of Mane.

Without him, it’s apparent that Liverpool’s attack looks disjointed and lacking potency.

Meanwhile, over at Bayern Mane is already the darling of the Allianz Arena and making sure that Lewandowski’s presence is not being missed.

(As  I write this article late on Thursday night, I am excitedly aware that Bayern Munich and Barcelona have been deliciously grouped  together in the Champions League! Mane versus Lewandowski!!Wow!!)

Liverpool’s replacements for Mane were well recruited but although they are potential stars,t hey are unsurprisingly far from being the finished products and it’s a pipe dream to expect them to fill Mane’s boots so quickly.

Diaz for example is gloated over like he’s the next Faustino Asprilla but for all his dynamism and speed, all he’s got to show for it is a paltry seven goals in 30 appearances since his arrival in January.

Meanwhile, Darwin Nunez will like Darwin’s theory of evolution need to evolve before he emerges as the spectacular player they are dreaming of!

And while both of them are being blooded in, Mohamed Salah is having an emotionally traumatic playing year, having lost the league title as well as the Champions League final.

It’s exacerbated in that on national duty he also lost both the Afcon finals and the World Cup play off to Senegal.

Call me a cynic but I have a hunch that Salah only signed on the dotted line and committed to a new Liverpool contract once Mane was jettisoned off to Bavaria!

Am I then at such an early stage of the season going to rule out their chances of winning the Premiership?

Am I going to ignore the seven hugely successful years of Jurgen Klopp,  which have  seen the club catapult from also rans to giants on both the English Premiership and the world stage?

Talking of  Klopp, he does have a history of a sad seventh year at the clubs he’s managed.

First it was Mainz where in his seventh year he managed to get the side relegated.

At Dortmund after much success in his first six years, his seventh before his departure to Liverpool was his least successful as the side ended the season in a less than credible seventh.

As he enters his seventh year in charge of the Reds, Liverpool fans will hope there is no repeat of this seven year syndrome.

Both Manchester United and Liverpool had a Monday night they will never forget.

For Manchester United they will hope that it is the beginning of a revival and a renaissance that will see them dining soon at the finest tables of European football again.

I for one believe that their comeback will take shape this season and they will end the season on a high.

Liverpool on the other hand have dined at the fine tables for too long and against all the odds aided and abetted by a most marvellous manager.

I for one can see their stock dropping, perhaps not as drastically as I have hinted earlier, but certainly enough to have them panicking of securing a top four finish.

I’ll now take my leave and go into hiding!

Till the next time folks….

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