Hope but no miracle cure on Klopp debut

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Match programme depicting Jurgen Klopp as Barack Obama before his first match as manager. Pic © Liverpool FC

Match programme depicting Jurgen Klopp as Barack Obama before his first match as manager. Pic © Liverpool FC

Match programmes, more often bought as memorabilia than for the words inside, have the potential to leave a lasting impression upon those who see them.

Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Rubin Kazan on Thursday had been marked on calendars long in advance — it was a special occasion.

With an extensively-hyped new manager in Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s ‘This Is Anfield’ programme offered a subtle, but powerful, portrayal. An artsy picture of the German manager it appears at first glance, but it is actually a depiction of US President Barack Obama’s famous 2008 election campaign poster.

The subtle message it delivers is the same as that promised by Obama seven years ago: hope and change.

There is hope at Anfield, make no mistake, even if Thursday night’s frustrating 1-1 draw against a pedestrian, 10-man Rubin Kazan team didn’t offer much encouragement that Liverpool will play with any greater fluidity than they did under Brendan Rodgers.

An early reality check was needed for this seemingly perfect football marriage, and anointing fans and media received it in the 15th minute.

Oleg Kuzmin’s lofted ball to striker Marko Devic left Liverpool’s defence flat-footed, offering what would turn out as a fleeting moment of creativity for the Russians on the night. The Ukrainian’s first touch was with his chest, and his second, a clever side-foot strike on the half-volley into Simon Mignolet’s goal, left a buzzing Anfield crowd swatted.

The script in everyone’s minds had been torn up, and Klopp, following the lead of Reds fans, preached encouragement through typical animation in the seconds after the goal.

Liverpool continued creating frequent opportunities, but lacked the hammer on the head. It was Divock Origi, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho who all squandered chances to level.

With half time looming, the dominant home side would feel the pendulum swing their way, as Kazan captain Kuzmin received a second yellow card for his challenge on Emre Can.

The Reds smelt blood, with Coutinho’s ensuing free-kick being nodded back across goal by Origi before the unmarked German Can finished off — a sequence his surging run began just seconds earlier. Klopp, relieved, turned to the crowd and produced a spirited uppercut.

Jurgen Klopp faces the media after his first match in charge of Liverpool at Anfield. Pic by Conor Allison © JMU Journalism

Jurgen Klopp faces the media after his first match in charge of Liverpool at Anfield. Pic by Conor Allison © JMU Journalism

With the extra man on their side, his players continued the hunt for a lead after the break. With goalscoring prospects continually being wasted, though, the crowd’s returned feeling of optimism quickly turned to impatience.

Belgian Christian Benteke’s substitute appearance in the 63rd minute brought a more targeted, aerial build-up, but the results remained the same; the final product was imperfect.

The chance-a-minute football from Liverpool continued, as James Milner, so often the source of creativity on the night, elevated a 79th minute counter-attacking move which would prove as close as Klopp’s men got to a winner.

His splitting ball up the middle was followed by a clever Lallana flick into the path of Benteke, who saw his curling shot ricochet off the post. The Reds faithful and Klopp were again left frustrated.

There were seemingly dozens of chances and corners in the closing stages, but none of them could produce the goal everybody craved.

However, the air of hope and change teased through the front cover of the match programme still remains.

There was 35 shots to Kazan’s five, 72% possession and 15 corners. It was far from clinical, with just six of the 35 aimed on target, but it was still dominant football.

An effervescent Klopp, talking to the media after the game, said: “When you come to a new house, you have a present. I’m not quite satisfied with my present tonight.”

Nor should he be, but the German, more than anyone, understands the time a new project takes to assemble.

Thursday night’s draw wasn’t a good result, but the performance showed a glimpse of the renowned ‘gegenpressing’ system Klopp will implement, and the hope that similar performances will reap greater success.

About Conor Allison, JMU Journalism