Jurgen Klopp is not the messiah, he’s just a very happy German guy who coaches the European champions. It’s true that he is quite good at that coaching job, but he is also a master bluffer. Like any seasoned poker player, Klopp has his strategy that he sticks to doggedly, but what most people don’t realise is that this is his greatest weakness, and it’s about time someone called his bluff.
Klopp’s poker face
Spend a bit of time at the casino and one thing you’ll see is a lot of stern faces at the poker table. They’re intent on not giving away too much by hiding their emotions and hiding behind a mask of indifference. Klopp is the mirror opposite. Or is he?
Klopp wears his heart on his sleeve, says what he thinks, and whatever other clichéd phrase you can think of for a guy who isn’t afraid to show his emotions. But this is in actual fact, Klopp’s poker face. While others hide behind that stern look we mentioned earlier (Rafa and Jose were prime examples), Klopp prefers to mask his emotions with emotions. He plays the happy guy who hasn’t a care in the world, and he plays it to perfection.
He’s clever enough to know that if he gives the media a nice soundbite or a big laugh, they won’t question him too much. He’s a master of the art of deflection and he does it all by embracing everything. Sounds like a complete paradox, but it is precisely what he is doing.
So why does he need to do this? Well, it gives him an edge when it comes to the mind games that coaches like to play. Klopp is such a nice guy that he can say whatever he wants and people will either laugh it off or just accept his criticism.
It also helps in the transfer market where he makes it very clear that he only buys if the price is right or if the player is the right fit. We all know that this is patently false as we saw with the huge sum he paid for Virgil. That worked out well, it’s true, but his claim that he would never pay exorbitant fees for a player was just smoke and mirrors. He wants to be known as a spendthrift so clubs won’t take advantage of him in the transfer market. And to a certain extent, it has worked. But what about the summer window that just closed?
Caption – A rare image of glass man Lallana playing football
Now if you play poker, you know that trusting your gut goes against poker psychology, but it seems that this is exactly how Klopp played the summer transfer window. He trusted his gut and banked on Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Naby Keita, and Adam Lallana to rise to the occasion and provide that creative spark that’s missing from central midfield positions.
Unfortunately, that likely won’t go to plan. In the Super Cup match vs. Chelsea, Oxlade Chamberlain was a peripheral figure in the first half with only 21 touches in a miserable outing. It’s true he did play in Salah with a brilliant outside-of-the-boot pass, but it wasn’t enough to stop Klopp replacing him with Firmino at half time.
Keita and Lallana are another story. One is seemingly made of glass while the other, well, he suffers from a similar condition. Klopp’s insistence that the return of injured players is like signing new players will have rankled fans. And after Keita getting injured in training just before the Super Cup, you can see that they have good reason to feel aggrieved. Right now, the team seems like it’s just a couple of injuries away from a crisis.
Should Klopp have signed more than a back-up keeper and two promising youngsters or should he have trusted his gut? Only time will tell, but you probably already know the answer to that one.
Calling his bluff
Like any seasoned poker player, Klopp is playing his cards close to his chest, but we all know he’s bluffing. All we need to do is take a look at the subs bench at the Super Cup to see how little depth there is in this squad. Two keepers and three players who have yet to start in a competitive game for the club? Who are you trying to fool Mr. Klopp?
So the question is, who calls his bluff? There’s no doubt that Liverpool are prioritizing the league this season and so when they come up against their top six rivals, they will play their strongest side. But with so much football to play, it’s only a matter of time before the likes of Salah, Mane, and Firmino start to tire. And that’s where they’ll slip up with very little comparable talent coming off the bench.
But it’s not just the squad depth that is the team’s weakness. Lower placed teams need to push Liverpool as hard as they can, especially when hosting the European champions. There’s a good chance that Klopp will either leave his best players on the bench or start them, then take them off when in control against teams like Sheffield United or Brighton. This is when they’ll be at their weakest and when their opponents need to throw caution to the wind and attack, attack, attack.
Last season saw teams back off Liverpool in fear. They knew how devastating they were on the counter attack and could easily find themselves two or three goals down in as many minutes. As a result, Liverpool boasted the meanest defence in Europe. Of course, their Brazilian goalkeeper and a certain Dutchman helped a great deal but it’s much easier to keep clean sheets when they team are afraid to attack. It’s time for lower placed teams to bet on their own poker hand, call Liverpool’s bluff, and attack from the outset. Norwich tried and failed, but they did open up the Liverpool defence on several occasions and scored one great goal albeit a consolation.
Lower placed teams need to control their fears and believe in their abilities. Klopp’s team aren’t actually all that good defensively. There are massive question marks over Alexander Arnold’s defensive strengths, while Van Dijk can only be in so many places at the same time.
All of this may not matter at all come next May and Liverpool could prove to be the best team in the land. But if they manage the seemingly impossible feat of toppling City off their perch, it will be all down to the master bluffing skills of one Mr Klopp. If he manages to win the league with a bench like that, then he truly deserves a medal.