Make or break time for Klopp and Liverpool
Saints game kicks off tough run that could revive or ruin Liverpool's season
The court jester's mask slipped off yesterday.
Juergen Klopp, the bouncing, fist-pumping powerhouse of a manager, revealed his players were not enjoying their jobs.
It was a startling admission.
Liverpool host Southampton tomorrow morning (Singapore time) knowing that a two-goal victory will earn a place in the League Cup final. Yet there is also the very real risk of them losing their way.
Klopp knows he cannot fix the club's longstanding shortcomings in one season, but he can bring the fun.
He's the German joker, ready with a goofy grin and a daft touchline dash to manipulate the masses. He gets the Scousers swinging.
But the milk of Klopp's kindness turned sour against Swansea. It's all gone a bit stale at the worst possible time.
The match against Southampton kicks off a punishing run of fixtures that includes tricky contests against Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Leicester City, Manchester City and Everton.
By the time of the Merseyside Derby on April 1, Liverpool could either be chasing Chelsea at the summit or waving away their hopes of Champions League qualification.
Statistics can do funny things. They can be both smokescreen and suicide note.
On the one hand, Liverpool's 3-2 loss at home to Swansea was their first at Anfield in more than 12 months, hardly a crisis.
But the Reds have picked up just one win in six games since New Year's Eve - and that was a replay against League Two's Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup.
That's the kind of spiralling decline that leads to blinking red lights in panic rooms, so it's hardly a surprise that Klopp called in the squad for a Sunday debrief after the Swansea stumble.
We are Liverpool, a really good footballplaying side... In most of our games we are dominant, so we have to enjoy this, even when we don’t come through after five minutes.Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp
He acknowledged that morale was low, which could do more long-term damage than the actual defeat.
Morale is Klopp's thing.
When all else fails, there's always the manic motivator on the touchline.
If Klopp can't rouse the troops, then Liverpool's obvious limitations will seep through his sticking plaster. Their season will unravel.
Klopp deserves great credit for lifting Brendan Rodgers' dishevelled mob of overpriced misfits and knocking them into any sort of shape.
But the club's reluctance to spend serious money - with the exception of Sadio Mane - left Klopp relying on sly squad tinkering (James Milner at left back) and his charismatic influence on introverted artists (see Adam Lallana's revival.)
But even his powers of inspiration are finite. The German's infectious enthusiasm is no substitute for a competent defence.
All of Swansea's goals included unforced errors and Klopp wasn't entirely blameless.
With the Fifa nonsense concerning Joel Matip settled, it remains a bone of contention why the club's most consistent centre back didn't start.
Liverpool's static back four also struggled with too many routine balls through the middle, suggesting a back three could be an option. Such a move might liberate Milner and Nathaniel Clyne, allowing them to play more to their natural attacking strengths.
And the enigma that is Daniel Sturridge continues to confuse and confound in equal measure. He's too good to leave, but not good enough to start.
His short-term future looks just as hazy as that of his club.
For the first time, perhaps, the Klopp era is tinged with ambiguity. Trust in the manager remains absolute, but where the season goes from here is anyone's guess.
Suddenly, a semi-final of an inferior tournament becomes critical.
A day at Wembley is the obvious incentive to win, but the overwhelming priority must be to lift the mood and reassert the dressing room's ambition.
The fixture list should remind glum Reds that this really isn't the time for despondency.
In the weeks to come, a home tie against Southampton is about as good as it gets.
Lose this one and Liverpool's season may be just about done.
Reds boss: Blame the team for poor defence
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp has spread the blame for their leaky defence across the team as he prepares to pitch Cameroonian defender Joel Matip into tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) League Cup semi-final, second leg against Southampton.
On Saturday, Liverpool conceded three goals at Anfield for only the second time under Klopp as they lost 3-2 to lowly Swansea City in the Premier League, a defeat that has seen them drop to fourth in the league table, 10 points behind leaders Chelsea.
But the German coach was in no mood to concede the league title, promising his side would "fight for everything".
"The final mistake is sometimes goalkeeper or defender, but most of the time it's seven or eight players," said Klopp.
"It's clear what we did wrong and we really have to do better. If it was that easy to buy one player then all the problems are solved, I would be silly not to do it."
Liverpool have never lost when Matip has played and the 25-year-old is likely to return to central defence following his problems with injury and international clearance.
Fifa gave Liverpool the go-ahead to play Matip last week after he turned down Cameroon's call-up for the African Nations Cup, saying he had already retired from international football.
"He was injured for six weeks so we had to cope. Most of the time we did well," said Klopp, whose side trail 1-0 from the first leg.
Southampton, however, may find themselves short of options in central defence. Former captain Jose Fonte has moved to West Ham and Virgil van Dijk is an injury doubt.
Klopp also said he had spoken to Steven Gerrard about his new role as a coach at the club's academy, which the former Liverpool captain starts next month.
"We had a very good talk together," said Klopp. "For me it was important to know what Steven wants. He said he wants to be manager in the future. That's cool.
"We spoke about what I can do to help him. When a person like Steven Gerrard is ready to make the steps, that's wonderful news for Liverpool." - REUTERS