Alan Shearer today published a lengthy piece in the Athletic criticising Jurgen Klopp loudly for what Liverpool’s manager said after the 2-0 victory over Burnley on Saturday lunchtime…
“Watch wrestling if you like that kind of thing,” Klopp moaned – before adding that, “we have to stick to protecting the players,” and “it feels like we are going 10-15 years back,” on the back of an ultra-physical and often reckless performance from the visitors – which I’ll show you later in this article.
Shearer labelled Klopp’s frustration at Burnley’s very blatant taking advantage of the more lenient refereeing style in place this season, as both ‘pantomime‘ and ‘nonsense‘.
But his analysis is very much the tip of the iceberg. It’s been deafening, actually. On the Totally Football Podcast, Max Rushden suggested the only possible reason for Klopp’s interview was good old-fashioned, Sir Alex Ferguson style, mind-games.
Bary Glendenning, an often grumpy pundit, agreed on the same show, saying Klopp’s comments were completely unjustified and clearly had an ulterior motive of getting Liverpool favourable refereeing decisions further down the line.
Graeme Souness on Sky Sports said Klopp was basically requesting Burnley to play tika-taka football – which isn’t their style and would stop making the Premier League competitive and interesting to watch. You can see so in the video below. In fairness, he went off at Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, too.
🗣"How else can a small team beat a big team? No one will want to watch us."
Graeme Souness rants about Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer saying that the Premier League is too physical. pic.twitter.com/WCYuaYvuEZ
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) August 22, 2021
Immediately after Klopp’s reflection, live on BT Sport, Peter Crouch completely dismissed the hint that Burnley’s aggression was dangerous.
On Match of the Day that Saturday evening, Jermaine Jenas and Danny Murphy laughed at it – again implying that crafty Klopp was playing mind-games.
Upon being shown a clip of Burnley wrestling a Liverpool player off the ball, Jenas used a smug and slightly confusing emoji as his response.
Arrrhh 🥲 https://t.co/SeXQpn94IX
— Jermaine Jenas (@jjenas8) August 22, 2021
Burnley didn’t receive a single yellow card at Anfield this weekend just gone. Mike Dean gave fouls, but never showed any inclination to calm down some of the nastiness that grew into the game.
Here is Ashley Barnes pointlessly sliding in on Harvey Elliott in injury time. He’s very close to going over the ball and doing the teenager some serious damage.
2-0 down, in injury time and trying challenges likes 💀 pic.twitter.com/DQmFQjb7PY
— Prime Liverpool (@footiestatto) August 23, 2021
This clip shows the Burnley attacker lining up Diogo Jota, who’s in the penalty area, and completely wiping him out – with the ball nowhere in sight. It wasn’t checked by VAR.
How is Jota getting absolutely smacked in the back with no one around him with no consequences
— dave👋 (@fcDavee) August 22, 2021
This one shows Barnes tangling with Matip and dragging him down with both feet and arms late on. No freekick was given.
When Klopp was talking about wrestling after the game, I think this move from Ashley “Bulldozer” Barnes might have been fresh in his mind. Not interested in the ball, jumps in two-footed and drags Matip to the floor. No free kick. 🙃 pic.twitter.com/3RI9FnWLKp
— Biggies Malls 2.0 (@Biggies_MaIIs) August 21, 2021
The intimation from pundits that Burnley did nothing that could possibly be regarded as over the top is stupid, right?
And let’s get it straight – Klopp didn’t come out ranting and raving. He wasn’t angry. It wasn’t like some of the interviews he did last year in which I actually think he let himself down a little… It was a simple, clear explanation that if we go too far with the plans to ‘let the game flow,’ players could get hurt.
Klopp wasn’t playing mind-games. He had no long-term plan for an effect to which his comments would provoke – he was simply talking about a game of football that he just saw.
And when you see the clips I just shared, he was at the very least entitled to that opinion and at the most, spot on.
In short, there was nothing controversial about his interview – which has been weirdly overblown, exaggerated and misinterpreted by journalists – both bad ones (to be expected) and good ones (less so).
Gareth Roberts on Twitter hit the nail on the head, and his tweet was actually the inspiration for this week’s column.
The narrative Klopp’s trying to gain an advantage next time by referencing refereeing is a bit weird given there’s a string of unpunished fouls that would surely rattle any manager on Saturday. Let the game flow, sound. Skittle players and/or lash them on the deck, not sound. No?
— Gareth Roberts (@robbohuyton) August 23, 2021
So what’s my two cents on it? Well, in all honesty, I’ve really enjoyed the way the Premier League has been officiated this season from a spectator’s point of view. It’s been so much more watchable. Fans in the stands helps tenfold, but VAR has intervened less, which is great, even if it did rob Mo Salah of a beautiful weekend goal which would have earned Elliott his first Liverpool assist…
I want the referees to continue in the manner they’ve started – but I also think managers whose teams have been victims of rough-housing – deserve to be heard and not regarded tricksters with sly motives.
There is a happy medium. We can have flowing football without players being literally thrown off the ball with a judo move. Fouls should still be fouls. Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka should have had a penalty v Chelsea, and Bruno Fernandes, it pains me to admit, was clearly fouled in the lead up to Southampton’s goal at the weekend as well.
In fairness though, this is a far more promising start to the season in terms of refereeing than the past few – and I actually think Liverpool benefit from the new interpretation.
We need games to flow. To stretch. For there to be balls bouncing in funny places and for our press to be unpunished. Fast games with less breaks will help us stylistically. Whenever a game is stop-start, we lack for rhythm, understandably.
But following last season’s ludicrous injury crisis, Klopp has a right to try and protect the fitness of his players. And it’ll be interesting to see the pundit reaction if an overtly physical challenge, encouraged by the new refereeing style, results in a serious injury in the coming weeks.