Klopp can learn from Leicester: Neil Humphreys
Unlike fixed Leicester, Liverpool still can't find regular pattern or personnel
LEICESTER v LIVERPOOL
(Tomorrow, 3.45am, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Claudio Ranieri has only really conformed to stereotype once.
The Tinkerman returned against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup third round. Leicester City's manager pruned his first 11 with all the finesse of Freddy Krueger.
The Foxes floundered and Spurs won. The Tinkerman hasn't been seen since.
He retreated to the shadows, as Leicester returned to the summit with their tried-and-tested playing pattern and personnel.
They will host Liverpool tomorrow morning (Singapore time), well rested after a weekend off, with their 4-4-2 formation present and most certainly correct.
Familiarity doesn't breed contempt at the King Power Stadium. It breeds confidence. Liverpool should perhaps try it. The flying Foxes offer the most productive template for the meandering Reds to follow.
Leicester's uncomplicated route to success, which is a crafty combination of guts and glory and tactical discipline, presents a sensible argument for stability.
The less things change at Leicester, the more they stay the same. They just keep winning.
It's a refreshingly simple approach that Liverpool seem to be almost wilfully ignoring, not just in the last three years under Brendan Rodgers, but also in the last three months under Juergen Klopp.
Enough has been said about the unbalanced squad that the German inherited, but his chopping and changing is creating further headaches.
Chasing a top-four finish and silverware on three fronts is a non-starter in terms of a defence for the tinkering.
Premiership clubs participate in the same competitions every season, hence the 25-man squads.
The truth is, Liverpool's bewildering inability to establish constant line-ups, formations or even performance levels are still hurting the club.
Leicester, it should not be forgotten, have lost only two league games.
Opponents anticipate the Foxes' fixed points - the 4-4-2 led by Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki, Riyad Mahrez's trickery, N'Golo Kante's workrate and Wes Morgan's leadership, but they still can't stop them.
Leicester have assembled a sleek industrialised machine that splutters along nicely, until the production line suddenly cranks through the gears to deliver victory.
They press with a purpose, en masse, with every drilled and oiled cog an integral part of the process. Maybe it is unsustainable in the long-term, but it's near-unbeatable at the moment.
Klopp, on the other hand, isn't even sure which levers to pull.
Sounding less like a manager and more like a magician trying to spin too many plates, he admits he may stick with one team for the cups and another for the league.
That's not so much tinkering with the machine as it is turning off the power entirely and turning to another machine, pulling off the dusty covers and hoping for a similar output with completely different parts.
Ten changes were made against West Ham, which only followed wholesale changes in the League Cup semi-final second leg against Stoke and recent EPL excursions.
Such a radical policy might be feasible for accomplished squads with a neat spread of talents and qualities, but most Liverpool fans would struggle to come up with a best 11.
Asking them to come up with two best 11s in consecutive weeks feels like an exercise in masochism. It hurts the head too much and leaves Liverpool fluctuating from Jekyll to Hyde from game to game.
How can a team that sliced Manchester City to ribbons at the Etihad succumb so feebly at Newcastle and Watford?
The answer is they are still not a team, but a troupe of rotating performers. Continuity is impossible.
Liverpool's reserves achieved something at the weekend that the senior side had failed to pull off twice this season. They held West Ham.
In central midfield, Cameron Brannagan was a revelation. Does he now slink back into the reserves, only to be replaced by a senior pro who found West Ham to hot to handle?
Similarly, Bradley Smith and Kevin Stewart both stated claims for regular selection, whereas senior pros Christian Benteke and Jordon Ibe laboured against the Hammers.
If Klopp was adamant that the kids were all right, shouldn't the youngsters feature against Leicester?
It's highly unlikely, which only muddies the waters further. Liverpool are still a deeply confused club and a long way from knowing what their best line-up might look like.
But Leicester know. Their first 11 pick themselves. It's a common trait among title-chasing sides.
Klopp has a reputation for being crazy like a fox, but maybe he needs to be consistent like the Foxes.
Klopp feels squeeze as leaders Leicester loom
Juergen Klopp's most significant challenge as Liverpool manager at the moment is figuring out how to manage his squad in the face of an ever-expanding fixture list.
Having played nine games in January - more than any other Premier League team - Klopp's side's trip to leaders Leicester City tomorrow morning (Singapore time) is the first of at least seven matches this month.
That tally will rise to eight if they beat West Ham United in next week's FA Cup fourth-round replay.
Saturday's 0-0 draw against the Hammers was Liverpool's 37th fixture of the campaign, and it is mathematically possible that they could end up playing 69 competitive matches this season.
With that in mind, Klopp rested as many of his senior players as he possibly could at the weekend, making 10 changes to the side who had secured a League Cup final place by overcoming Stoke City on penalties at Anfield four days earlier.
Teenager Cameron Brannagan, making only his fourth senior start, took the opportunity to make a positive impression against West Ham, as did other players with limited experience such as fellow midfielders Kevin Stewart and Joao Teixeira and fullback Brad Smith.
But Klopp has indicated that he will return to his tried and trusted senior players to face Leicester.
"Those players are in our squad because they are an option for us," Klopp said. "But we have to decide if it is the right moment or not.
"Young lads often have waves in their development. They have ups and downs, and if you bring them in at the wrong moment, then it's not too good for their development.
"They have time to develop. That's the best thing. They have enough pressure. You don't need to make that pressure bigger."
One player set to retain his place is central defender Dejan Lovren, who took the opportunity to build up his match fitness after recovering from a recent hamstring injury.
He played his part in a Liverpool clean sheet at the weekend; only their third in nine matches.
Liverpool are one of only two clubs to have beaten Leicester in the league to date, so tomorrow's game gives Claudio Ranieri's men an opportunity to avenge that defeat in December and offer further proof of their title credentials.
A 3-0 win against an in-form Stoke last week answered many of the doubts about the Foxes, but their next three games will ask more taxing questions.
After facing Liverpool they will take on Manchester City and then Arsenal, the only other club to beat them in a league game this season.
Defender Christian Fuchs (above) said: "We've got three games against big teams and they are important. We want to win against Liverpool and the (5-2) defeat to Arsenal was one of our worst games. It was our biggest defeat of the season and we want to win there.
"I don't see the game against Arsenal as a title decider. We're just having fun. We keep winning at the moment and we will try to do our best.
"We're all happy and it was an important three points against Stoke. We're solid and we believe in ourselves. We are a really good team on the field and we will try to keep winning.
"People writing us off aren't a topic for us. We focus on our work and we do it well." - AFP.
- Norwich v Tottenham
- Arsenal v Southampton
- West Ham v Aston Villa
- Sunderland v Man City
- Man United v Stoke City
- Crystal Palace v Bournemouth
- West Brom v Swansea
- Watford v Chelsea
- Everton v Newcastle
By the numbers
43 - Tomorrow, Leicester will have spent 43 days at the top of the Premier League table - only Man City (100 days) have been top for longer this season.
7 - Liverpool are unbeaten in their last seven Premier League games against the Foxes (W5 D2).
146 - Jamie Vardy has touched the ball in the opposition box more often than any other player in the Premier League this season.
31.6 per cent - Liverpool have scored the lowest proportion of their clear-cut chances in the Premier League this season.