Tony Evans: “Liverpool Are in Arteta’s Head”

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Klopp’s Perfect Fit

There are so many people who say “Jurgen gets us.” Funnily enough, many of those characters also said “Brendan gets us.”

But, for the most part, Klopp has synced with Liverpool in a manner that has been beyond the expectations of most supporters. In terms of politics, social attitudes and passion, he is the perfect match.

I asked him the “getting us” question at a long interview during lockdown. Did he know how much his personality would appeal to us when he arrived at Anfield? And did he relish the thought of joining Liverpool’s pantheon of heroes who were more than just football managers. His answer surprised me.

“I didn’t know that before I came,” he said. ‘I didn’t know how big the role is at Liverpool. I knew about Shankly. I knew about Kenny and Rafa Benitez. But I knew about them as managers or coaches. Not about what they did for the city.

“I don’t think it would have helped me [to have known]. I’d have thought ‘wow, that’s really big if I have to step in his shoes. That’s not possible.’”

The thing about Klopp is he didn’t try too hard (HIYA BRENDAN!). The bonds grew organically because he is the sort of person who appeals to left-leaning types who know a fellow football fanatic when they see one.

We get him. Clearly. How about the other way round?

Anfield’s Atmosphere Debate

Well, this week suggests he doesn’t. The “if-you’re-not-in-the-right-shape-give-your-ticket-to-someone-else” outburst was badly timed and absurd.

Gary Neville’s criticism of the Anfield atmosphere caused enough consternation among the fanbase. The blame game caused fingerpointing at various mood-killing culprits. Scapegoats ranged from once-in-a-lifetime tourists to grey-haired Scouse veterans. Instead of telling Neville to check out Old Trafford before worrying about us, another bout of self-flagellation started.

Neville is best ignored on this subject – his thoughts are not exactly coming from a place of love. But then Klopp jugged in on the debate. On the wrong side.

As someone who’s been going to Anfield since the 1960s, I’ve heard people say the atmosphere is a myth just about every year since my first game. There’s always been a proportion of older fellas who complain about how tepid the Kop is compared to the days of their youth. There’s always youngsters trying to organise an atmosphere transfusion.

Yet the mad nights (and occasional mad days) keep coming. Each generation brings something different to the equation. We’ve never needed managers to bully us into being louder. In that sense, Klopp doesn’t get it at all.

It’s one of the least appealing parts of his character. He ended his first season with an embarrassing second-half performance from his team in Basel in the Europa League final of 2016. While Sevilla were taking the piss on the pitch, Klopp was trying to rouse the crowd. That was not a good look.

Here’s the deal, Jurgen. Have your team turn up tomorrow against Arsenal in the right shape. Leave the rest to us. We’ve been doing this before you arrived and will be doing it after you’ve gone.

Don’t try to teach Liverpudlians how to support. We’d hate to fall out, because we love you…

We need a conversation about Anfield’s atmosphere: the first in an occasional series.

“… the famous Spion Kop is now unrecognisable compared with the seething, noisy mass of people that used to scare opposing teams to death. Back in the good old days, which weren’t THAT long ago, the Kop was an entertainment in itself. It was witty, inventive, the singing was loud and passionate and it lasted for just a bit longer than the meagre dose we now get.

Letter to the Football Echo, December 1981

Reds’ Progress

Back in July, if anyone would have offered second place in the Premier League and a showdown home game against the leaders two days before Christmas, we would have bitten their arms off. The levels of uncertainty were so high about the potential of this new Liverpool team.

That doesn’t mean we should be happy-clappy about some of the performances lately, particularly the 0-0 draw against Manchester United. For long sections of the game, the team were sloppy, the tactics often brainless and the atmosphere muted.

Yet it’s still shaping up to be a good campaign. The team at the top of the table is not Manchester City. They are lagging behind.

Four points is not enough of a buffer over Pep Guardiola’s side because last year’s treble winners will improve in 2024. Even so, it’s better than being four points behind them. By the time they return from the Club World Cup the lead could be in double digits.

Arsenal’s Visit to Anfield

As for Arsenal, they’ll come to Anfield with City in the back of their mind. They learnt last season – as we discovered when jousting with them at the top of the league – that Guardiola’s team gives you no margin for error. That means the Gunners will be looking for three points tomorrow. This could suit us.

Klopp wants us to be a control team. The problem with this is Liverpool still look at their most dangerous when the game gets ragged. Arsenal will be aiming to win. That should make it open. It will be a very different match to the United disappointment.

The other factor that may be in our favour is that Liverpool are in Mikel Arteta’s head. He’s talked about how, as a player, he did not enjoy Anfield. Every time he looked up all he saw was a blur of red and he could never settle on the ball. The Basque famously prepared Arsenal for a trip to Merseyside by playing You’ll Never Walk Alone through speakers at training. He’s seen how ferocious the Kop can be. Let’s hope he transmits his nervousness to his squad. Again. He might even mention some of this to Jurgen.

This side is still a work in progress. What’s the best midfield? Which three comprise the most dangerous attack? Answering these questions feels a bit like guesswork at the moment. Hence the bout of bedwetting after the United game.

Well, dry your eyes and your mattresses. For a team unsure about their identity, they’re in a pretty good position. Let’s hope it’s even better after New Year’s Day.

Getting The Best Out of Nunez

So where are we on the Darwin Nunez see-saw? Oh, it’s down. He’s been a huge mistake.

Hang on. It seems like only weeks ago we were on the up. Wasn’t he everyone’s favourite agent of chaos?

It’s simple. He’s got quite a few good qualities and a number of negatives. He suits a counter-attacking approach and gets too static when possession-based, slow build-ups are in progress. Also, he’s still not quite worked out how to make the best of his physicality.

You suspect that he’s better equipped to play against an ambitious Arsenal than a negative United. Or as an impact substitute. But we’ve got to get off the overpraised/write-him-off swingometer.

There’s goals in the big dope. Quite a few of them.

How the team has missed Andy Robertson. Yes, the setup has changed and the Scot would be forced into a more similar role to Kostas Tsimikas, but Robertson’s aggression – as well as his directness – would have been valuable against United.

The sooner he’s back the better.

Getting to Wembley

Should we be arsed about the League Cup? After beating West Ham, Wembley is in touching distance. Fulham aren’t the worst side but you’d back Liverpool to beat them over two legs.

Does this mean (potentially) three games the squad could do without? Or is the chance of a trophy worth the extra playing time?

Most people involved in the game think winning cups is a good thing. It instills a mindset, they tend to say. Tiredness is obviously going to become an increasing issue at the top level (Club World Cup, Champions League format change) and analytics experts might argue for exiting domestic cups at the earliest opportunity – or even binning them altogether.

The FA and League Cups added 12 extra matches in 2021-22, although not all were anywhere near full-strength sides. Would not playing those games have given the team the edge over City? Liverpool had only played three domestic cup ties before their last Premier League defeat of the season, to Leicester City in December.

Would they have wrung out more against City or Spurs, the only two league matches where they dropped points after the new year? Questionable.

Photo by IMAGO

And, would they have beaten Real Madrid in the Champions League final? That was a game of fine margins, where the Spanish giants not only rode their luck with a superb performance from their goalkeeper but also – and crucially – produced a tactical display that put a harness on our most dangerous weapons. Carlo Ancelotti let Robertson and Luis Diaz have the ball down the left and flooded our right to deny Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold space.

For me, throwing away the domestic cups would not have won us the title or the Champions League. The season would have ended with similar disappointment, without any memorable days at Wembley to talk about in the future.

The lesson of 2022 is not that you should throw in your hand in the domestic cups. It’s when you mess with City and Real, you need a bit more luck than we got.

Football Is A Lie, Act 2, Scene 1

Club Executive Bursts onto stage

The European Court of Justice has ruled that Fifa and Uefa abused a dominant position by threatening the Super League clubs, my lord.

Owner, sitting on a throne of gold

Yes! Riches untold await. Now Uefa will fear us. We must make a statement.

Club Executive

I presumed to prepare one, my lord.

Owner

Read!

Club Executive

“We remain committed to the values of European football, and we will continue to work with fellow clubs through the ECA and participate in UEFA competitions.”

Curtain drops to sounds of sinister laughter, then rises to scenes of supporters cheering and celebrating their club’s stance.

*

Have a Happy Christmas everyone. Actually, you can have any sort of Crimbo you want. But you have my best wishes.

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