Saturday saw the potential Premier League top 4 contender slugs it out for early supremacy, which they’d hope would afford enough wind in their sails to mount their galleons with trophies towards the end of the season. T4O picks three fixtures from Saturday, to peruse how far along each of the top managers and their teams are from clicking into gear, and grade their progression accordingly.
Step forward Herr Klopp, Monsieur Wenger, and Senor Guardiola.
Manager: Juergen Klopp
Result: Liverpool 4 – Leicester 1
Tactical knowledge hasn’t taken as much precedent in football management as it does today, and while Juergen Klopp isn’t half-bad in that particular avenue (though, frankly, perhaps not in the league of Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez, Marcelo Bielsa, etc) that attribute can be over-estimated, disproportionately.
Much of football management also, goes into conditioning, coaching and motivation, and that is the three-step pyramid, that forms the foundations of Herr Klopp’s fierce reputation in world football. Coaxing the best out of Adam Lallana in the central midfield role, who now has two important goals in two equally important matches (Arsenal and Leicester) may be one such leap of faith among many other undertaken by the gregarious German. And it seems like, for the most part, his incorruptible belief in the potential of maximising a player’s output, and in general, has reaped dividends.
His deployment of Roberto Firmino as a Raumdeuter has shot the Brazilian’s game to stratospheric levels. While, despite his outspoken comments, and despite not getting a goal in the 4-1 demolition, it will be crystal for Daniel Sturridge to see how staggeringly his influence can be, once his movement to and from the flanks facilitates the riveting passages of play of Bob Firmino and Sadio Mane, to the benefit of the entire unit. In many ways, Juergen Klopp harks back to the beliefs that the club was founded upon, one of Bill Shankly.
There, however, remains question marks in defence, but that should be ironed out by the virtues of summer acquisitions of Ragnar (RAGNAAAR!) Klavan and Joel Matip. James Milner put in another competent display at left-back, while Lucas Leiva at defensive midfield (despite the glaring error), vindicated Klopp’s decision to not overpay and stockpile for one more match.
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Team: Manchester City
Result: Manchester United 1 – Manchester City 2
It takes a big man, and a bigger manager to scrap all of his modus operandi and philosophies and to imbibe the nuances of the league he’s in. While managing Bayern Munich, the performance vs Dortmund was yet another fork in the road, where he opted to go route one and bypass the geggenpressing entirely and inflict perhaps one of the most one-sided defeats in the fixture in recent times.
Pep further distanced himself from his tiki-taka tag with this centrepiece event of the Manchester derby, where he hoodwinked Mourinho into falling into his own trap. Pep instructed his players to ship the ball into advanced areas with no more than two touches, which saw a flurry of through balls directed at Bailly (who looked like had too much of Bailey’s) and Blind (who looked… well, Blind.) Such adaptation will surely consolidate his pedestal as one of the best tacticians in modern football.
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Result: Arsenal 2 – Southampton 1
For too long a criticism has been levelled at Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. One of brittle mentality. The theme seemed like it’d continue with Liverpool’s 4-3 romp at the Emirates, where it just took an equaliser from Lil’ man for the big matches, Phil Coutinho to conjure up and absolute worldly of a free-kick and consequently, disapparate the collective spirit of the Gunners, who lowered arms and gave in, despite the flattering scoreline.
Things, however, were different, where Southampton were entertained in a sun-kissed Emirates. Petr Cech’s unfortunate own goal could have played a domino effect, but it was the man, they lovingly call the Ninja, Laurent Koscielny who made amends. There was a sense of definitude after the equaliser, and it was Santi Cazorla who duly converted a stoppage-time penalty to give the North London team a much-needed shot in the arm.
Wenger, while his legacy will be forever be cherished in these quarters, if, god forbid, doesn’t finish with the flourish of another Premier League title – the least he could do, and should do, is add character to this team of also-rans.