One suspects the Anfield faithful will be happy to sit through a dozen more snooze-worthy first halves if they are all followed by three-goal second half outbursts. After stuttering initially against Huddersfield on the weekend, Liverpool made the breakthrough after the interval, eventually rolling to a 3-0 victory. They repeated that feat at Anfield again on Wednesday night, taking care of their Champions League opponents Maribor by a similar margin, but only after a frustrating first half.
“It was a similar situation like what we had in the last game against Huddersfield,” observed Jürgen Klopp right after the match. “I would say [this was] an even more defensive side.”
It is no great secret that Liverpool are not at their best when their opponents set out to frustrate, and Maribor were not inclined to do Klopp’s side the favor of being adventurous at Anfield. As the manager noted, it also didn’t help that, despite clearly being in control of proceedings, the Reds were just slightly off in their execution, which they could not afford to do.
“We did the same things wrong,” said Klopp following the final whistle. “We had the wrong positions . . . we didn’t create enough, that’s maybe the summary of it. The start was good, we had some good moments especially in counterpressing, we got the ball back but we forgot to speed things up immediately and to use the little gaps, but that’s how it was.”
“But I said before it would be hard work from the first second, I imagine that nobody wanted to hear that before the game but it was clear. They changed completely their usual style, you could see how good they are at playing football when they did it, but they didn’t do it too often.”
So what changed? Klopp revealed that his half-time instructions were almost a carbon copy of his instructions against Huddersfield.
“We told the boys they have to stay patient,” explained the manager. “We were not going to allow ourselves to get frustrated about certain things. There were a few signs that we were not that spot on anymore when counterpressing.”
“In the second half, we had to adjust the positioning, and the boys did really well, so that decided the game.”
It was a simple, bare bones explanation, but perhaps an accurate depiction of a match in which very small adjustments made a significant difference. Once the opening goal was scored, and despite a few nervy moments, you could almost see Klopp’s reminders beginning to take root. In the end, it wasn’t exactly a completely comfortable victory - there was a missed penalty, after all - but there could be few complaints.
“I’m pleased with the result and the reaction,” said Klopp. “Not the best game we’ve ever played. Three goals - good. Clean sheet - good. Eight points - perfect. That’s it.”