Klopp needs to restore self-belief at Liverpool, says Gary Lim
The German must restore self-belief in Reds as they host leaders Leicester
LIVERPOOL v LEICESTER CITY
(Tonight, 10.55pm, Singtel TV Ch 104 & StarHub TV Ch 229)
Well, the honeymoon's over.
Perhaps Juergen Klopp is finally beginning to grasp the enormity of the task he has undertaken.
His electric start to his Liverpool job has papered over the cracks.
Now, after picking up just one point from their last three Premiership matches, the veil has been lifted to reveal the same old pair of troubled eyes.
Four months ago, when the calls for Brendan Rodgers' dismissal were at their loudest, Liverpool crashed to a 3-0 home loss to West Ham.
Last week, Klopp, touted to be the miracle cure for all problems, stood helpless in the technical area as his team were ripped apart by Watford in a 3-0 defeat in disturbingly similar fashion.
To the Koppites, it was a case of deja vu - a poor defence which couldn't cope with pressure, an absence of creativity in the final third and a lack of fighting spirit when the chips are down.
Gone was the sky-high confidence they exuded when they thrashed Manchester City 4-1 or thumped Southampton 6-1. The swagger has been reduced to a limp.
If a Champions League spot remains their goal this season, then Klopp has no time to waste.
A clash with surprise league leaders Leicester City at Anfield tonight is just what they need.
There's nothing better than a test against the best to introduce a badly needed jolt to the system.
The Foxes have just about all the necessary weapons to prick Liverpool at their sore spots.
Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined for a whopping 28 league goals, will stretch Liverpool's suspect central defence, likely to be marshalled by Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren.
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri favours an attacking 4-4-2 game with a modern spin, one which will also allow Liverpool's technical players their fair share of space to demonstrate their ability at the other end.
And, if a game against the table-toppers can't draw the fight out of Liverpool's players, then what can?
Victory against the high-flying Foxes can repair psychological wounds but, more importantly, restore the team's self-belief.
The Reds need no reminder of the consequences of another season without Champions League football.
Klopp's arrival, because of his association with the German Bundesliga during his successful spell with Borussia Dortmund, has sparked speculation of imminent, top-drawer signings.
But, without top-level European football as the carrot, how can anyone realistically expect the likes of Ilkay Guendogan and Mats Hummels to join their ranks?
Two games shy of the season's halfway mark, ninth-placed Liverpool are already 14 points behind Leicester. The Reds are, however, only five points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
LEADERS LEICESTER’S FORM
It’s really deserved and I’m not surprised any more, nobody is. It’s no coincidence, it’s really hard work. They deserve the run they are in. It’s good defending and nearly perfect counter-attacking football, it’s really quick and high quality.
HIS TRANSFER POLICY
I am not the biggest friend of the January transfer window... We are not planning only to get more and more players, that is not how I think we should work but, if we have to react, we will do it.
NEED FOR WINTER BREAK
Everybody thinks Roy (Hodgson) should lead these boys to the title (Euro 2016), they have really good players. But they’ve had no break for one year. All the other teams have. You can be (successful) but it’s much harder
FIGHT FOR TOP FOUR
One win here and they are back in business.
There have been enough flashes of brilliance from the side - inherited wholesale from Rodgers - during Klopp's promising start to suggest that recent disappointments are not due to a dearth of quality.
It suggests that the root of the problem is in the players' heads, and not their legs.
If self-doubt is what ails them, then it is Klopp's job to fix it.
By the number
5: Five of the last seven teams to top the EPL table at Christmas have gone on to win the title. The only exceptions were the Liverpool sides of 2008/09 and 2013/14 (joint top with Arsenal). The Reds finished second on both occasions.
- Stoke v Man United
- Man City v Sunderland
- Chelsea v Watford
- Liverpool v Leicester
- Tottenham v Norwich
- Aston Villa v West Ham
- Bournemouth v Crystal Palace
- Swansea v West Brom
- Newcastle v Everton
- Southampton v Arsenal
- Jamie Vardy (Leicester)
- Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
- Riyad Mahrez (Leicester)
- Odion Ighalo (Watford)
- Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)
- Harry Kane (Tottenham)
- Sergio Aguero (Man City)
- Georginio Wijnaldum (Newcastle)
Ranieri: We're a likeable team
WILY FOX: Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri is likening his team to movie hero Forrest Gump, who just can't stop running.
Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri has welcomed the changing of the guard in the Premier League.
The Foxes lead the table ahead of tonight's trip to Liverpool, just 12 months after being bottom at Christmas.
Leicester, Crystal Palace, Watford and Bournemouth top the form table, with the Foxes having not lost since September and Watford just a point behind the top four.
Chelsea remain three points above the relegation zone, while Manchester United lost to Norwich last weekend to drop out of the top four.
Ranieri feels the change is a boost for English football and believes the Foxes may have become many fans' second team.
He said: "There is no easy match because if Leicester, Bournemouth, Watford and Crystal Palace are top of the form table, that means everyone wants to win.
"I think if we go through this fantastic moment - because now we have Liverpool, (Man) City and then Bournemouth, who are in great form, then Tottenham - maybe if we are still top, not only Leicester fans are behind us, but a lot of English fans as well, because Leicester I think are a likeable team.
"Maybe the people say, 'If my team don't win, I'm very happy if Leicester win', and this is a good thing."
Leicester are two points clear of Arsenal, the only team to beat them this season.
Robert Huth is available after suspension to face Liverpool and Ranieri must choose either Shinji Okazaki, who scored at Goodison Park, or Leonardo Ulloa to partner Jamie Vardy.
He added: "I have good strikers. They're different players - Ulloa and Okazaki.
"But, when they play, the team are the same. Of course, each player gives me the opportunity to make something different."
Ranieri has refused steadfastly to discuss his team's title chances despite their stunning form.
Recently, though, the Italian's tone has changed as his team close in on their initial target of 40 points, the tally traditionally needed to avoid relegation.
The 64-year-old insisted that Arsenal remain his favourites to win the title and his Christmas leaders are still underdogs.
RUN, FORREST, RUN
However, he believes that their stamina will serve them well after comparing them to movie hero Forrest Gump, following their dramatic "great escape" last season.
"I am very confident because if Leicester last season saved themselves in the last two months, that means the stamina is fantastic," said Ranieri.
"Why can't we continue to run, run, run? We are like Forrest Gump - Leicester is Forrest Gump.
"We must continue to play and work hard. We know very well our stamina is good and as long as our stamina is good, we can continue to fight against anybody.
"We don't have the high quality like City and Arsenal, but we fight together."
- Wire Services.
Mignolet and Huth return
Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has recovered from a hamstring injury and is set to return for tonight's game against Leicester City.
Centre back Martin Skrtel is out for six weeks with a hamstring problem but will be replaced by fellow defender Dejan Lovren, who has recovered from a similar problem which kept him out of last weekend's 3-0 defeat by Watford.
Midfielder James Milner (calf) faces another couple of weeks out, while striker Daniel Sturridge (hamstring) will continue to train for the next 10 days before a decision is made on his selection chances.
For Leicester, Danny Drinkwater is expected to sit out the trip to Liverpool. The midfielder missed last Saturday's 3-2 win at Everton with a hamstring injury and Claudio Ranieri will not rush one of his stars back into action.
Defender Robert Huth is back after suspension and could replace Marcin Wasilewski, who deputised for him at Goodison Park, while Jeff Schlupp remains sidelined. - PA Sport.