EPL TALK: Klopp rant underscores pressure as Reds stumble amid injury crisis

·6-min read
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp gestures at referee Stuart Attwell after their match against Brighton.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp gestures at referee Stuart Attwell after their match against Brighton. (PHOTO: Pool via Reuters/Mike Hewitt)

SINGAPORE — How have your favourite English Premier League (EPL) teams performed over the past week? Yahoo News Singapore looks at the key talking points surrounding the league in this weekly review:

Klopp frustrated as injuries, VAR decisions hamper title defence

WHAT HAPPENED: Jurgen Klopp’s “gegenpressing” tactics require his players to press their opponents all over the field, forcing them into errors and enabling the Reds to launch quick counter-attacks.

It also demands a lot from his players – high levels of fitness, constant intensity throughout the game, and alertness in responding to opponents’ mistakes.

Which is why Klopp is one of the biggest grumblers on the congested fixture schedule this season among all the EPL managers. Constant two-matches-a-week schedules have caused a mounting injury crisis amid his first-team squad, as the players struggle to recover fully after each energy-sapping match.

Klopp is further aggrieved that TV networks have scheduled the Reds’ EPL matches barely three days after their midweek exertions in the continental Champions League competition. To exacerbate the situation, the EPL is the only major European league that still sticks to three substitutions instead of five amid this COVID-19 pandemic period.

To Klopp, he feels the authorities are showing a lack of concern for player welfare. And so his outburst after Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Brighton on Saturday (28 November) is a culmination of his frustration, as his tired side failed to hang on a second-half goal from Diogo Jota, and suffered further injury woes when vice-captain James Milner exited the game with a hamstring strain.

Does the German have a case for complaint? Of course he does – the congested fixtures have caused injury problems not only to his side, but also to rival clubs such as Leicester City and Manchester City. Barely 10 games into the season, and Liverpool have eight first-team players out injured – and others are not far behind in terms of key players out.

Yet, many feel that this is a curse to bear for Klopp’s ultra-intense tactics. It may reap great rewards in Liverpool’s recent triumphs in the EPL and the Champions League, but it places such great pressure on his players’ fitness that it is no wonder he views this crammed season as “the toughest” he has ever faced.

Can Liverpool weather the storm? They are still level on points with league leaders Tottenham, and will likely be in the running for a successful defence all season. However, they will need to call upon all their powers of recovery in order to stay in contention, and not crumble under their injury problems.

WHAT’S NEXT: A home tie seems like a good time to bounce back from their Brighton setback – given that the Reds are on a staggering 64-match unbeaten streak in the league at Anfield. Yet, the next opponents, Wolverhampton Wanderers, are never easy to negotiate, even though it seems they will be missing key striker Raul Jimenez after his sickening head injury against Arsenal.

Arsenal forward Willian during their Premier League match against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Arsenal forward Willian during their Premier League match against Wolverhampton Wanderers. (PHOTO: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Tense times at Arsenal after worst start in 40 years

WHAT HAPPENED: A year after they sacked previous manager Unai Emery, Arsenal find themselves mired in 14th place in the EPL, their worst start to a top-flight league season since 1981/82, after a demoralising 1-2 defeat by Wolves on Sunday.

To make things worse, the Gunners are also under fire for letting defender David Luiz play on after a sickening clash of heads with Wolves striker Raul Jimenez, when he could have suffered a concussion.

To manager Mikel Arteta, it must seem that troubles of all sorts are piling up upon his team all at once. A rookie managerial campaign that started so promisingly last December, culminating in an FA Cup triumph and a Community Shield trophy in August, has seen the wheels fallen off so dramatically for the Spaniard.

Misfiring strikers aside, his team are dearly lacking in creativity and drive to offset the ongoing slumps of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Arteta must also shoulder some blame in his ultra-conservative tactics and his stranger-by-the-week decision to give the cold shoulder to playmaker Mezut Ozil.

The lack of leadership on the field is also a big issue. The Gunners desperately need a field general like they once had in Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva – someone who will ensure high standards are met and will take charge when the going gets tough on the pitch. There is sadly none among the regular starters amid this team.

It is evident that, despite their FA Cup and Community Shield triumphs, the Gunners’ squad is lightweight and not good enough to even challenge for European qualification. They might need a few more transfer windows to weed out the poor players and bring in better, tougher ones. Do they have enough to spend? This is a major question dogging the club as they ponder how this season has gone south so rapidly.

WHAT’S NEXT: A daunting trip to fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur, flying high at the top of the table on a nine-match unbeaten run, will test Arsenal to the extreme. On the other hand, given the natural rivalry, the form book may be thrown out and the Gunners may spring to life, lest they suffer an embarrassing defeat. Which Arsenal will show up?

Chelsea's Timo Werner had a goal which is disallowed for offside against Tottenham.
Chelsea's Timo Werner had a goal which is disallowed for offside against Tottenham. (PHOTO: Pool via Reuters/Clive Rose)

Blues strike force lack cutting edge against top opponents

WHAT HAPPENED: On paper, a Chelsea team featuring playmaking and scoring talents such as Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic should be able to unlock all sorts of defensive setups by their rivals.

Yet, after their 0-0 draw with Tottenham on Sunday, the Blues have failed to scored a single goal against the “Big Six” clubs this season – after a goalless outing against Manchester United and a 0-2 defeat by Liverpool.

Despite 13 attempts on goal against Spurs, Chelsea were unable to find a way past Jose Mourinho’s increasingly-resolute side. And while they did restrict Tottenham to zero attempts on goal in the second half, one would expect more from their bunch of exciting attacking talents.

This just goes to show that Frank Lampard’s side still need some time before they can blossom into a formidable force. While they could handsomely beat sides like Sheffield United (4-1) and Burnley (3-0), they are comfortably being repelled by better sides in the league.

Lampard will need all his tactical nous to make the next step up, and guide his young players to better performances against top teams. It is still an encourage start to the Blues’ season, but their shortcomings are becoming increasingly obvious.

WHAT’S NEXT: A tricky home tie to fast-improving Leeds United, which seem to have fixed their leaky defence after heavy 1-4 defeats by Leicester and Crystal Palace early last month. Leeds were dominant in their win against Everton on Saturday, and Chelsea’s attackers will need to be at their best to negotiate this tie.

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