Liverpool away in Europe: Klopp’s Achilles heel
Liverpool away in Europe: Klopp’s Achilles heel
All the greats have a weakness – nobody is perfect. You can apply that to any walk of life.
From a footballing perspective, you can look at any all-time legend and pick holes in their genius, whether it be Lionel Messi’s curious inconsistency from the penalty spot or Alex Ferguson only winning the Champions League twice in 20-odd attempts.
Jurgen Klopp has grown into one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Liverpool Football Club, inspiring his team to a long-awaited Premier League title, conquering Europe and playing some of the most breathtaking football Anfield has ever witnessed.
But even the German isn’t perfect. He doesn’t always pick the right starting lineups, his substitutions can leave you puzzled and overseeing six home defeats in a row in the league this season is something he has to shoulder plenty of blame for.
Perhaps Klopp’s greatest Achilles heel since taking charge of the Reds has been his team’s performances away in Europe, specifically the Champions League.
Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat away to Real Madrid was a night that saw Liverpool’s growing momentum swiftly halted, following a small run of wins that hinted at the champions being ‘back’.
The first half performance in Spain was appalling, which is still probably not doing its level of ineptitude justice.
Liverpool were unable to string together more than a couple of passes without losing the ball, they looked defensively susceptible and the attack was lifeless, especially the out-of-sorts Sadio Mane.
Granted, there were improvements after the break, but the final score was still kind on the Reds and they were comfortably outplayed by a Madrid outfit many were writing off going into the tie.
With no 12th man at Anfield to roar Liverpool on next Wednesday, it is going to take a monumental effort for them to reach the semi-finals from here.
Sadly, this insipid away showing was no anomaly, however, with far too many displays of this ilk on show with Klopp at the helm.
This lack of control, erratic ball retention and penchant for conceding sloppy goals has often become the norm over the past four seasons, once the Reds returned to dine at Europe’s top table in 2017.
Liverpool won only once in the group stage in 2017/18, at lowly Maribor, and they blew a 3-0 lead at Sevilla, eventually drawing 3-3 and collapsing in almost comical fashion.
The Reds were masterful away to Porto in the last-16, in fairness – there have been a few excellent nights on their travels, including Bayern Munich the following year – but they got away with murder at Man City in the next round, somehow hanging on before eventually pulling away in the second half.
They deserved credit for digging deep at the Etihad, but luck was on their side that evening and the performance wasn’t good overall.
Similarly, Liverpool came alarmingly close to blowing a 5-2 lead in the semis against Roma, eventually losing 4-2 in Italy.
If the hosts’ second goal had arrived with five minutes left, rather than in the dying seconds, Klopp’s men could easily have found themselves in a dire situation.
The struggles continued in 2018/19, losing all three away games in the group, including deserved defeats at Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli, and a terrible night at Red Star Belgrade.
In the semis, the 3-0 loss to Barcelona was actually hugely unfair, but there was still a crumbling element to the performance. Had Ousmane Dembele added a fourth goal in stoppage time, the miracle at Anfield would never have happened.
Last season, Napoli again easily got the better of Liverpool on their own turf, although comfortable wins away to Genk and RB Salzburg did buck the trend.
The display at Atletico Madrid in the last-16 was hapless, though, with almost nothing created of note after conceding too easily early on. It proved fatal, as the Merseysiders crashed out in the second leg.
The hope was that we would finally see this issue eradicated this season, but there hasn’t been consistent evidence that Klopp has learned this lesson.
An unconvincing but spirited victory away to Ajax was a pleasing result, especially as it came shortly after Virgil van Dijk’s injury, but it wasn’t exactly brimming with quality. A Porto-esque masterclass was produced at Atalanta, before a forgettable draw against Midtjylland.
RB Leipzig caused some scares, but the Reds got the job done, before Tuesday’s awful showing against Madrid.
That’s a total of just 10 wins in 21 away Champions League games under Klopp – they did win at Hoffenheim in a playoff in 2017 – with eight defeats thrown in, which is an alarming amount for such a superb team.
It isn’t easy to put your finger on exactly why Liverpool have been so unpredictable in these games, but they have generally struggled to dominate them in the manner in which they do domestically, looking leaky in defence, one-dimensional in midfield and wasteful in attack.
They have faced some formidable opponents, so the odd bad result is to be expected, but this has been a recurring theme for too long now and the Madrid loss was just another stinker of a night to add to the list.
It remains to be seen if Liverpool will make it through next week, but if they do crash out, those shortcomings away from home will be the reason for their exit.