Football Features

Jurgen Klopp plays down one worrying theme of Liverpool 3-3 Benfica: “This is not a problem”

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 23:15, 13 April 2022

Liverpool booked a place in the Champions League semi-finals after playing out an entertaining 3-3 draw against Benfica at Anfield this evening.

Jurgen Klopp’s men ultimately secured their passage into the final four eight days ago when they returned home from Portugal’s capital with a healthy 3-1 lead.

The six-time European champions will now face this season’s surprise package Villarreal, who are in buoyant mood following their historic win over Bayern Munich earlier this week.

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A much-rested Reds team — Klopp made no fewer than seven changes from their draw with Manchester City — were seemingly headed towards another straightforward victory with Roberto Firmino helping himself to a brace. But for all the good they displayed in attack, some of their defending left a lot to be desired.

Three of those personnel swaps came in Liverpool’s back-line with Joe Gomez, Ibrahima Konaté and Konstantinos Tsimikas coming in for Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson respectively. Konaté, who created his own piece of Champions League history, would nevertheless rue the fact he was part of a defence that shipped in three unnecessary goals.

All of Benfica’s strikes (courtesy of Goncalo Ramos, Roman Yaremchuk and Darwin Núñez) came in open play, all three saw the Eagles beat Liverpool’s offside trap. In fairness, Nélson Veríssimo’s men were bypassing it all night long.

Núñez, who scored his side’s third, became Benfica’s most prolific scorer in a single Champions League campaign since 1998/99 with six goals, had two other goals ruled out, which is something not many have done this season. Van Dijk, a field marshal in Klopp’s defence, was certainly missed.

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The Dutch colossus has been enjoying another stellar campaign. In the Premier League, he’s been credited with 40 successful offside traps, which is awarded to the last defender when an offside decision is given against an opponent. Barring injury, he will start against the Yellow Submarine. On today’s viewing, his importance takes on a new meaning.

Ahead of the first leg, Van Dijk addressed the idea that Liverpool’s high line is a vulnerability: “We don’t play an offside [trap] but obviously if you can put the player offside, it’s only an advantage. I think this season and last season, the way they started with the rule that we keep playing on and then the linesman puts the flag up, it looks a bit that we are conceding chances against us – even the other day when obviously Ali had to make the save, it looked like we are vulnerable when he’s offside.

“I think that rule, first and foremost, has to get out of the way, but the other thing is the high line.”

Klopp, undoubtedly pleased with his side’s progression, was not ready to sweep their charitable defending under the rug. But as usual, he’s always looking at the bigger picture.

“The day we qualify for the Champions League semi-final and I’m not happy, please come and knock me out!” he told BT Sport.

“We made seven changes. The situation was the last line had never played together and it was about details, staying 100 per cent concentrated.

“It was not exactly what we wanted, but it is absolutely not important because if we played the best game of the season tonight, it wouldn’t have made it more likely to get to the final. We are through and that’s all that matters, and I’m really happy.

“The one thing we knew is it will be hard as the last line never played together. You lose the boys like Virgil [van Dijk] and these things are normal. This is not a problem. Benfica kept believing and kept going, that’s all. It was important we could make changes and still be successful. That’s fine.”

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