Back street brawlers
One of the bigger talking points from the weekend came at Anfield. Liverpool’s inability to win a game at home is certainly nothing new and not our cause for concern. What was interesting though was the slight blemish inflicted on the darling of European football, Jurgen Klopp. And guess who was there to brandish the needle that pricked him into action…the trusty Tony Pulis, of course.
A niggly game of two competing styles had clearly got under the German’s skin as he lamented the tactics that West Brom had employed. His comments that the visitors only used the long ball and that his team would never again fail to win against such a game plan, at Anfield, betrayed the idealism with which Klopp can treat football. Ultimately, one of the most intriguing elements of the game is seeing two teams come up against each other, using two totally different approaches, which is what happened this weekend. There is nothing wrong with that, certainly when smaller teams have to compete with those with far deeper pockets towards the top of the league. The challenge for one team to break down the other is as old as time itself and importantly, Klopp is going to have to find a way to beat these teams at home that bypass his midfield’s pressing game with long balls. So, this run in with Pulis looks likely to serve as a lesson that he will remember in his quest to rebuild Liverpool, but if Klopp is to learn from these experiences, he will need to avoid the all too familiar memory traits that he seems to be picking up from one of his Premier League counterparts. When it came to questions of the German’s snub of Tony Pulis at the final whistle, he suddenly came over all Arsene Wenger, “I don’t have the biggest talent to remember things like this. I only talk about football.” That’s usually fair enough but if he allows himself and his team to be drawn into brawls, it could be difficult to make great strides on the footballing side.
Talking of which, the venerable Mr Wenger was in no danger of forgetting any of his team’s display in a comfortable win away at Aston Villa. The win ended what the Frenchman referred to as a “perfect week”, following the Gunners’ last-ditch salvage mission in the Champions League . It’s that sort of away win that Wenger sees as so important if his team are to have a chance of winning the title, which he seemed to admit, is well up for grabs. Talking about the League as a whole, Wenger commented, “It’s so unpredictable,” and “You know if you’re consistent, you have a chance.” Even an Arsenal team that still bears familiar fault lines, of a lack of steel down the core and an ever mounting injury list, seems to think it has a good chance of winning the title. To be fair, it could happen. On the evidence of this season it won’t take much to lift the crown, especially when you consider that the likes of Manchester United have even been touted as possible winners and, let’s be honest, they’re pretty shit. Wenger’s talk of the importance of consistency and a focus on the sequence of games before the Champions League starts again in the new year, shows that he really thinks the title is a possibility. What he will know only too well however, is how spectacularly Arsenal have failed to challenge at the business end of recent seasons.
One man who is challenging all sorts of assumptions at the moment however, is Claudio Ranieri. I’ll be honest, I’ve been on record as saying that his appointment was doomed earlier in the summer but he’s proved me and many others wrong with that effervescent, irrepressible smile that has been a mainstay of the Premier League season so far. To many, this week’s victory over Chelsea would have been the sweetest of all if we placed ourselves in Ranieri’s shoes, but something tells me that this will mean little more to the Italian than any other win his team has conjured this season. Even when the preamble to Leicester vs Chelsea focused squarely on the artist formerly known as ‘the Tinkerman’ and his departure from West London, Ranieri remained fully focused on the task at hand, a strategy that bore great fruit in the shape of a Leicester win. In typical backhanded Mourinho fashion, prior to the game, the Chelsea manager claimed, “The worst thing that can happen to them is to finish top six, which should be a phenomenal season too.” Designed to put some pressure on the high-flying Foxes, all those comments seemed to have done was affirm Leicester’s superiority at the top of the table. No other club has exuded such joy and positivity this season and no matter what other managers hit them with in the press, Claudio seems to have them under his spell. Long may it continue.
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