Liverpool’s Super Cup win should not blind them

Klopp’s team looked uncomfortable without the ball for much of the night

In Summary

• Klopp needs his defence to tighten up again quickly if they are to compete for major honours.

• Liverpool beat Chelsea on penalties in the UEFA Super Cup after a 2-2 draw.

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson lifts the trophy as he celebrates winning the UEFA Super Cup with team mates
Liverpool's Jordan Henderson lifts the trophy as he celebrates winning the UEFA Super Cup with team mates

There has been an underlying theme to Jurgen Klopp’s words this summer. In his quest to take Liverpool forward, he has continued to repeat one key phrase: let us be the team that nobody wants to face.

From Bradford to Boston, South Bend to the shores of Lake Geneva, there has been no ambiguity in Klopp’s mantra — he knows the only way Liverpool will challenge for the biggest honours again, after collecting the first major gong of the campaign, is by recreating their miserly ways of last season.

For all the focus on their front three, Liverpool went the distance with Manchester City and became champions of Europe because they boasted the best defence. Every time they needed a clean sheet, they got one; Klopp coined the phrase ‘mentality monsters’ because they defended with their lives.

Think about it: the extraordinary escapology against Barcelona in the semi-final became possible because they shut out Lionel Messi and Company; they clinched the trophy in Madrid because they built a wall against which Tottenham’s frustrated forwards, ultimately, could only bang their heads.

Back in another European final, you wondered what has changed in the last 75 days. Liverpool’s only clean sheet in seven pre-season friendlies was against League One neighbours Tranmere and that porous form has continued since the real business started.

You can dismiss friendlies as not having any relevance but Klopp is a perfectionist, every bit as much as his great rival Pep Guardiola. His style of play is intricate and Liverpool only become potent if every cog is perfectly aligned.

For long parts of a stuffy and uncomfortable night, everything was out of kilter. Chelsea ran amok down Liverpool’s right flank, particularly in the first 45 minutes, and had they could easily have had the contest tucked up, with Christian Pulisic capitalising on wide-open spaces.

Frank Lampard had his team set up perfectly. They pressed high and N’Golo Kante was outstanding, a scuttling and scurrying pest. Have no fears about Lampard in management – he sold everyone a dummy in pre-match, suggesting Kante wouldn’t be fit. He wasn’t just fit. He was Man of the Match.

You had to have sympathy for Lampard, who will have enjoyed much of what he saw from his team. Would Klopp have been the same? Not so much. Each time the TV cameras cut to him, he was either in deep conversation with his assistants Pep Lijnders and Peter Kraweitz or standing open-mouthed about how easily Chelsea were dancing through.

Joe Gomez, who started the Community Shield and Premier League opener against Norwich alongside Van Dijk, was shifted out to full-back but he got no protection from Mohamed Salah and was often left exposed. It was no surprise Chelsea opened the scoring after exploiting that channel.

There were, however, other problems. Joel Matip, for instance, had a dreadful time with his distribution, the tone for his display set when he gave the first ball from kick-off straight to Chelsea. He looked nervous and only settled down after the interval when Sadio Mane equalised.

Anxiety is a key point. This was the first major game Liverpool have played without Alisson between the posts since the 2018 Champions League final and, for those who watch them regularly, they looked 10 per cent off what they should be.

It is not a criticism of Adrian, who had the decisive final input. He came to his team’s rescue in the 32nd minute with a tremendous save at the feet of Mateo Kovacic having pushed a thundering drive from Pedro onto the bar 10 minutes earlier.

Straight away, though, you can see the differences: it is the little things, such as the fact he will stand six yards deeper or pick the ball up when it comes back to him (Alisson always uses his feet to maintain the tempo) or kick it long out of his hands.

The Brazilian, you knew, would not have made the rash challenge that enabled Tammy Abraham to win Chelsea a penalty in extra-time. He did, of course, redeem himself in the shootout with the decisive stop from Abraham but it would be ridiculous to say Liverpool have a like for like replacement.

Alisson is not just a mighty physical presence but he also settles nerves. Liverpool, for long periods, looked like they were living on the wits and Van Dijk was so frustrated he continually jabbered and gesticulated at those around him, reminding that standards had slipped.

He knows — as Klopp does — that this is not the Liverpool way. The trophy is to be enjoyed but it should not blind them. If this continues, soon everyone will want to play against them – and that is exactly what Klopp does not want.