EPL

Klopp happy for half-time opportunity as Liverpool boss praises 'world-class' Salah

By Sports Desk October 03, 2021

Jurgen Klopp acknowledged it was a tale of two contrasting halves for Liverpool after they fought out a pulsating 2-2 draw with Manchester City at Anfield.

City, the reigning Premier League champions, were the dominant team before the break, Phil Foden twice denied by Alisson while Kevin De Bruyne wastefully headed over.

Pep Guardiola's side had a strong claim for a penalty when Foden was clipped by James Milner, but some half-time words from their manager helped Liverpool finally come alive after the interval.

The home team twice went ahead, Sadio Mane opening the scoring before Mohamed Salah's wonderful solo strike made it 2-1, but Klopp felt a point was "completely fine" after City pegged them back on each occasion.

"Thank god a football game has two halves. We are really happy about the second and not so happy about the first, for obvious reasons," Klopp told Sky Sports.

"We did a lot of things wrong in the first half and City did a lot of things right, that result we could see. We never got really into the game, never played enough football. 

"I was really happy, perhaps I was the most happy in my career about the half-time whistle. It was never planned that we played like this.

"We needed half-time and we used half-time, then played a really good second half."

He added: "Man City with the ball is a proper team. There are ways to defend it – you have to close down the spaces, and to do that you have to step out in specific moments.

"I'm not sure I've seen many games where City can pass so easily through the half spaces. They had chances, but they didn't score from that.

"We had long balls, which didn't make sense. All these things we changed in the second half immediately. You could see how we set up – we were higher, more aggressive.

"The message was to play the extra pass, which we didn't do that in the first half at all. I'm really happy. Do we want to win a game like this? Yes. But we have to admit today, because the game has two halves, the point is completely fine."

Foden cancelled out Mane's goal and while Salah put Liverpool back ahead, ending a glorious run with a right-footed strike from a tight angle, Kevin De Bruyne levelled matters again, his attempt getting beyond Alisson after taking a deflection off Joel Matip.

Liverpool appeared set to go back ahead once again when Fabinho was presented with an empty net, only for Rodri to make a crucial block with goalkeeper Ederson out of position.

"I think the biggest chance we didn't take. I have to see it back, but I've no idea how he blocked the ball. For me the ball was in," Klopp continued.

"For our first goal, top passing, top movement. Goal number two, individual quality which you only see when you're really lucky.

"If Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo scores that goal, the whole world says, yes, because they are world-class. Mo Salah scores that goal, it's because he's world-class.

"He's one of the best players in the world, that's how it is."

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    Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets believes his side deserved more after losing 2-1 to Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season 2-1 on Sunday.

    David Alaba and Lucas Vazquez gave Madrid a 2-0 lead before Sergio Aguero grabbed a late consolation for Barca deep into added time.

    The defeat was Barca's fourth consecutive Clasico defeat across all competitions - their longest losing run in the fixture since seven losses in a row between April 1962 and February 1965.

    Busquets, 33, felt that the Blaugrana should not have ended up on the losing side, but were undone by conceding the first goal.

    "They got it right in the first part and we didn't," Busquets said to Barca TV post-match. "We knew they were going to let us have the ball but they had speed with Rodrigo and Vinicius.

    "In a team with these characteristics, when you lose the ball it is difficult to recover. And they have scored a goal in a kick, not in a play. That changes the game completely. I don't think we deserved to lose, but that's football.

    "When there are games of these characteristics, the one who scores first has the advantage. In the second half, we had possession and control, but we had not made clear chances."

    Busquets refused to blame the referee for the result and insisted that Barca remain positive despite being five points behind the top three.

    "Yes, I have seen [the controversial incidents], but it does not matter," Busquets continued. "The referee has been good in general lines and I am not going to respond to the controversies.

    "A small gap [in the table] is opening but I think we are growing little by little. Now we are going to recover Ousmane who will give us things in attack. We have to continue."

    Barca head coach Ronald Koeman - who has now lost five games against Real Madrid (three) and Atletico Madrid (two), as many as in the previous nine seasons in the competition - agreed with his veteran midfielder, insisting that his men played well but that going behind allowed their opponents to play on the break.

    "It is always difficult to understand a result like this because we made merits to have another result, especially in the first half," Koeman said. 

    "It depended on a very clear chance to have 1-0 and instead, they scored 0-1, then it was complicated because they defended the result and we knew that is very dangerous.

    "The crowd was phenomenal until the last second, we tried but we didn't get the result we wanted. We were good in the first half. We had a lot of ball possession."

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    In three games against Barca for Bayern Munich, Alaba enjoyed a 100 per cent win record.

    Bayern scored 15 goals and conceded just two across those matches, eight of those coming in Die Roten's incredible Champions League quarter-final win of 2020.

    And the Austria international remains unbeaten versus the Blaugrana, his stunning left-foot finish helping settle a game in which Barca misfired in their first Clasico since Lionel Messi's departure and Madrid's brightest young talent rose to the occasion.

     

    Alaba opens his account in style

    Alaba's goal, his first since joining Madrid, was one worthy of winning a fixture of such magnitude. Having won the ball from Memphis Depay on the edge of his own box, he surged forward before finding Vinicius Junior on the left flank.

    The former Bayern star initially wanted the return pass but Vinicius eschewed that option, instead playing a superb ball to Rodrygo Goes in the centre.

    Rodrygo's pass to find Alaba continuing his charge was inch-perfect, only bettered by the quality of a blistering finish from just inside the area.

    Barca struggled to deal with Madrid's threat down the left flank throughout, Vinicius taking the chance to emerge as the star of a Clasico absent its departed modern-day leading man.

    Vinicius shines in the spotlight

    Vinicius went into the fixture having scored seven goals and provided the assist for three in all competitions. He did not add to either of those tallies but his influence across the Brazilian's 87 minutes on the pitch was obvious,

    Ensuring Sergino Dest endured a difficult afternoon at both ends of the pitch, Vinicius attempted a game-high eight dribbles, four of which were successful.

    No player on the field participated in (20) or won more duels (10) as Vinicius excelled at putting Barca under pressure.

    Only Depay (six) and Ansu Fati (seven) had more touches in the opposition box, yet Barca's inability to make the most of those touches was telling.

    Barca bereft of attacking inspiration

    Alaba's shot that gave Madrid the lead had an Expected Goals (xG) value of 0.08, reflecting the difficulty he should have had in beating Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

    It came seven minutes after Dest had blazed high over the crossbar with the goal seemingly at his mercy from close range. Barca did not have a chance as presentable until Sergio Aguero scored with a point-blank effort from effectively the final kick of the game after Lucas Vazquez had put it to bed with Madrid's second goal.

    Barca finished with 12 shots but only two on target. Madrid hit the target with five of their 10 efforts. Nine of Barca's shots came from inside the box but they ended a frustrating encounter with only two 'big chances' compared to three for Los Blancos.

    Those numbers are reflective of a game in which, without Messi there to stretch Madrid's shape, Carlo Ancelotti's men succeeded in staying deep and compact and hitting Barca on the counter, which they twice did to devastating effect.

    When Barca got into the final third, the lack of creativity and threat in contrast to Madrid was startling.

    Ronald Koeman could do nothing to prevent Messi from leaving under the financial pressures faced by Barca and he certainly cannot be blamed for a howitzer of a strike from Alaba that tilted matters in Madrid's favour.

    Yet there will surely be questions asked as to how a man who played under Johan Cruyff at Barca can oversee a team that, at least on Sunday, was so desperately short of the attacking flair that has for so long defined this famous club.

    The final score may have looked tight but, in the post-Messi era, the gap between Barca and their arch-rivals is a chasm.

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    United were blown away as they went in at half-time four goals down for the first time in a Premier League game, making it all too easy for the Reds as Naby Keita and Diogo Jota were on target before Salah struck twice.

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    Salah has now scored in 10 consecutive games and Liverpool are unbeaten in 21 matches, while United are in disarray after the most chastening of defeats in their own backyard.

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    The abysmal Red Devils were all over the place and the ruthless Egypt forward made them pay, finishing with his right foot when he was picked out by Keita and tucking home with his left from close range just before a half-time whistle that was greeted with loud boos.

    Salah completed his treble five minutes into the second half, racing onto Jordan Henderson's incisive pass before beating De Gea with a clinical left-foot finish after Cristiano Ronaldo had a goal ruled out for offside.

    United's day took yet another turn for the worse when Pogba was dismissed for a reckless lunge on Keita following a VAR check, having initially been shown a yellow card on the hour mark.

    Keita was unable to continue and the United players look like they would rather not, as only a brilliant save from De Gea prevented Alexander-Arnold adding a sixth.

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