Chasing a Premier League title is an immensely draining experience for any manager. But imagine how much tougher it must be when the weight of expectation of a club who haven’t won a championship in 29 years is sitting on your shoulders.
That’s the challenge which has been facing Liverpool gaffer Jurgen Klopp all season long – a challenge he coped very well with until the calendar flipped over into 2019.
When Liverpool travelled to the Etihad Stadium on 3 January, they had the chance to go a commanding 10 points clear at the top of the table. But by the end of the 90 minutes, they had fallen to their first league defeat of the season with their lead cut to just four points.
The pressure had been ramped up.
Scouse conspiracy theorists laughably claimed the length of the grass was to blame for the Reds’ misstep, but it appears that struck a chord with a manager who is cutting an increasingly erratic figure.
We’ve taken a look at his bizarre behaviour and excuses since then to scientifically discover just how much the pressure is telling…
5. Liverpool blown away in the cup
Just days after their defeat to Manchester City, Liverpool took on Wolves in the FA Cup third round.
A rattled Klopp fielded a weakened side and promptly saw his team get knocked out.
But the reason why? Sore throats and weather, obviously. As he explains: “After the City game, we immediately had a few players who showed a sore throat and all you can have in this period of the year… the wind didn’t help.”
Put one big tick in the laughable excuse column, please. Must do better.
Klopp crack-o-meter rating: 4/10
4. Snow excuses at Anfield
Jurgen and the British weather clearly don’t see eye-to-eye, as it was at fault once again when Liverpool dropped two vital points against Leicester at a snowy Anfield.
“You saw that the ball didn’t roll really,” Klopp said. “If you then have the ball pretty much for 70 to 80 per cent of the time it makes life really uncomfortable. The only problem is if it stays on the pitch and that was actually the case.”
Which is all well and good, other than the fact the ground staff cleared the pitch of snow at the end Liverpool were attacking. Funny how selective your memory can be under pressure…
Klopp crack-o-meter rating: 6/10
3. Ref rage at the London Stadium
With the snow safely melted away, two more points went missing in a costly draw at West Ham.
Clearly feeling the strain, Klopp decided to blame referee Kevin Friend for allowing the Reds’ offside goal to stand. Yep, you read that right.
“We had good moments and we score the goal which was offside, the referee must know that at half-time. It explains the second half because I think the referee knew and you saw there were a lot of strange situations, not decisive, just rhythm breakers.”
Managers blaming referees for their team’s failings is nothing new, but having a pop for letting your lucky goal stand is something new on us. He was fined by the FA for his troubles.
Klopp crack-o-meter rating: 7/10
2. Man United having too many injuries
Klopp’s team then failed to reassert their title credentials at Old Trafford but, shock horror, this time it was their opponent’s fault… for picking up too many injuries.
“It was a strange game. We started really, really well,” explains the German. “Then the injury crisis started as well. That obviously cost us our rhythm. It was like, ‘What’s going on now?’
“United played with a completely new midfield, pretty much a new three up front. We lost the rhythm and couldn’t get it back.”
You’d think playing your table-topping first-choice team against a vastly depleted rival would play into your hands as you go into the title run-in. But, not in Klopp’s world. He’s desperately clawing for excuses at this point.
Klopp crack-o-meter rating: 8/10
1. The derby day meltdown
A fourth draw in six games at the home of bitter rivals Everton saw Liverpool slip to second in the table for the first time since December. Klopp did not take it well.
Trudging off the pitch, Klopp confronted a sarcastically applauding ball boy (excellent fishing young man) before just about laughing it off.
Then it was straight into the press conference, where the German proceeded to blame the wind once more: “I know people don’t like it when I say it, but the wind came from all different directions.”
Seriously, Jurgen. You must know by now nobody is buying that nonsense?
Then came the all-time classic behaviour of a manager very much feeling the heat in this particular pressure cooker. Klopp lashed out at journalists who questioned Liverpool’s supposed cautious approach, accusing them of treating Premier League football like playing on PlayStation.
The German went on to say he’s “completely fine” with the title race situation as it stands. Hmmm… where have we heard that one before?
Klopp crack-o-meter rating: 10/10