EPL

Klopp's wounded animals roar: Battered and bruised Liverpool are back in the title race

By Sports Desk January 28, 2021

"I'm not only a good-weather coach," said Jurgen Klopp ahead of Liverpool's trip to Tottenham. How prophetic.

In the pouring north-London rain on Thursday, the Reds manager took a patched-up defence and misfiring attack to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and put on a show, one that will have the Manchester clubs feeling a touch of nerves.

Liverpool's 3-1 victory was their sixth in a row against Spurs and Klopp's fifth in nine league games against Jose Mourinho, but this was still something of a surprise. The Reds had won once in seven games in all competitions, lost their last two at home to Burnley and away to Manchester United, and struggled their way through 482 minutes and 93 shots without scoring in the league.

They welcomed back Joel Matip and captain Jordan Henderson but lost Fabinho to a muscle problem, and Matip himself only lasted the first half. This was a patched-up, pockmarked line-up tasked with stopping Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who have scored and assisted 41 times between them this season.

They had to ride their luck early on, the remarkably ruthless Son slotting past Alisson with his first chance only to be penalised for an offside heel. There was an element of fortune about Liverpool's opener, too: Sadio Mane's scuffed cross reached Roberto Firmino for a tap-in only because Eric Dier and Hugo Lloris chose to let it bobble between them.

But it was a goal, and a win, that Klopp's men wholly deserved.

Mourinho seemed to sense it, too. If he was furious with Firmino's goal, he was apoplectic when Trent Alexander-Arnold, another whose form has been questioned, rifled in a second just after half-time after Lloris parried the ball right to his boot. Pierre-Emile Hojgbjerg blasted in a stunning reply but it never felt as though Liverpool's lead was under threat, even after Mohamed Salah's goal was disallowed for a distant Firmino handball.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg made sure of it when he let Alexander-Arnold's deep cross reach Mane, who blasted home. It's now 21 goal involvements in the league for the right-back since the start of last season, the most of any defender in the competition. That patchwork defence then made certain Alisson did not have another save to make, even with Son, Erik Lamela, Steven Bergwijn and Gareth Bale on the pitch, the injured Kane having exited at half-time.

This was not 'vintage' Liverpool, if there can be such a thing. There were poor misses and errant backheels apiece from Salah and Mane, and Thiago Alcantara was ineffective even before suffering a cut head. They were also given a huge helping hand by some abject Spurs defending. But for a team who haven't won a league game for over a month, this was pretty emphatic.

Klopp's men are now back to within three points of United and four of leaders Manchester City. They meet Pep Guardiola's men at Anfield on February 7 – a match they will now likely go into with a far sunnier outlook.

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    Jurgen Klopp has claimed the improvement he has seen in Nat Phillips reminds him of Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski.

    The Liverpool boss managed Lewandowski at Borussia Dortmund between 2010-2014, where the Poland striker scored 103 goals in 187 games before moving to Bayern.

    Klopp was forced to rely on Phillips for much of last season after injuries decimated his defensive options.

    The Bolton-born centre back - who also has some German football experience from a loan period at Stuttgart two seasons ago - became a regular part of Liverpool's backline after Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip had all been sidelined with long-term injuries.

    While the Reds fell away from the title race in the second half of the campaign, with the help of Phillips, they were able to secure third place and Champions League football thanks to a late-season resurgence.

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    "People often ask me which player made the biggest improvements under my leadership, and I say Robert Lewandowski," he said.

    "That's probably right, but not far off that is Nat Phillips, just in a completely different department.

    "I remember when I saw Nat Phillips first. I spoke to him after the game and he's one of the smartest players I ever worked with. I told him, 'You know you are not the easiest on the eye, eh?'

    "He improved in pretty much everything since, and he's not playing. Life is sometimes not fair and I can't blame him."

    Phillips has been linked with a move away from Anfield in the January transfer window after making just three appearances this season, with Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip all back from injury and Ibrahima Konate signed from RB Leipzig at the end of last season.

    "We cannot keep him forever, that's clear," Klopp added. "We needed him, just to be safe, for that half-year. We will see what happens in the window. He was fine doing it because he's a great guy.

    "His development is absolutely insane. You saw it last year, you would have said 'Nat Phillips, oh my god, he plays in the last line?'

    "People love him because of his heading but with his feet he is unbelievable. He's a late starter, but his development is unbelievable. I would sign him for any club except Liverpool, because we have him."

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    The 2020 champions looked in control against a side they had beaten nine times in 12 previous home games, Adam Le Fondre opening the scoring from the penalty spot before cleverly setting up Elvis Kamsoba for a 2-0 half-time lead.

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    Dylan Wenzel-Halls followed up his winner over Perth Glory on November 26 with the only goal of the game at AAMI Park, firing home after being played in by Alessandro Diamanti.

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