TalkSport’s Liverpool Correspondent Graham Beecroft joined us back on the Anfield HQ Members Podcast to discuss Liverpool’s recent results, the Jurgen Klopp era so far, the summer transfer window and much more!
Hello and welcome back to the Anfield HQ Members Podcast, I’m delighted to say I am joined back on the pod with Graham Beecroft, the Liverpool Correspondent for TalkSport, Graham it’s great to have you back on with us.
I think there’s only one place to start and that’s with Liverpool’s 6-0 rout at Villa Park, a Valentines day massacre of sorts. What did you make of the performances?
“I thought the first half performance was poor to be honest with you, disappointing, too many wasted passes and too much over-elaboration as well. I thought the 2-0 scoreline flattered them, against a better side they might have been on the backfoot with that performance, but Villa are very poor as we saw. The second half was much better, much more direct and the passing was crisper. Altogether they looked a much better side albeit against a very very poor Aston Villa team.
Yeah and obviously it was the first time Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge had started together under Jurgen Klopp. It’s obviously a massive boost to have those three back, what did you make of their performance?
I thought they did okay, against a side which is clearly desperately looking for a result and clearly right at this moment their confidence is low so I thought they did okay. The club will be happy to have seen Daniel Sturridge come through the game before he was substituted with no ill-effect, he scored a very good header and it’s always a boost when he’s back as he does add something different.
He’s an out and out goalscorer which without him in the side Liverpool do not have, so that was an important boost. Coutinho again was vital to the side, he has something which no other player in that team has got and he’s very very important to the team indeed. Firmino, sometimes he can look very good and other times he can look bang average, and I think yesterday was one of those days where he fell between those two stalls if you like. He did okay, but you wouldn’t exactly look at him and say here was a standout player.”
It’s interesting because that team which played at Villa Park, albeit maybe Lovren in for Kolo Toure, is that a team which you think could be similar to the one that lines up against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final in a couple of weeks?
“Yes it could well be. They have availability on the bench with Origi now back, coming back and getting a goal against Villa. When I saw him originally I thought he would be a very good player for Liverpool, he will add goals, and he strikes me as a confidence player but Jurgen Klopp is just the kind of manager put him arm round him, send him out there and tell him he’s a good striker which I think he is, I think he is a very good striker.
I think we will see a lot more of him. I would have perhaps liked to have seen a bit more of Christian Benteke on the pitch just to give him that added confidence. I thought in the performance against West Ham United I thought we saw Benteke’s best performances of the season for Liverpool because here is a big centre forward who at last was using his weight and holding the ball up well.
Okay he missed three good opportunities, two of which he should of scored from and it cost Liverpool, but nonetheless it was a sign of improvement, and I think going forward and looking ahead to the rest of the season and more importantly perhaps at this stage looking ahead to next season, that could be a big boost for Liverpool.”
Another positive to take from the Villa game is that that was Liverpool’s first league clean sheet of 2016. In the last month or so the young players haven’t done themselves any harm, the likes of Kevin Stewart, Brad Smith and Joao Teixeira have all impressed having been given a run in the team under Klopp – how impressed have you specifically been with these players, especially the likes of Kevin Stewart who obviously came on against Villa?
“I think it was a big boost for Kevin Stewart to get on, I was a little bit surprised that Jurgen Klopp didn’t go for one or two more in that game against Villa but obviously there were other priorities. He obviously wanted to get Coutinho and Sturridge back with match practice, but I was a little bit surprised he didn’t start Stewart and give one of two more opportunities to the others who did so well against West Ham because that was a big boost.
The problem now for those players is who is going to make the cut at the end of the season, because if you look at Teixeira, he’s 22 years of age and although he is a talent no question about it, the number 10 position is an area where Liverpool do have alternatives, Coutinho being the prime example and the holder of the shirt. But you also have Lallana who is similar, does Teixeira jump in front of any of those? Or will at the end of the season will we see Lucas moving on and Allen moving on?
So that I think to have younger players coming through is a big bonus for Liverpool, whether that’s a bonus in terms of them keeping them players going on or a bonus in terms of how much money they will get for them in transfer fees or training fees when they move them on is another question altogether.”
Yeah it certainly is, and obviously we are 5 months or so into the Jurgen Klopp era, just taking a back seat for a minute how would you assess the Klopp era so far?
“I think he has had to come in and he’s had to learn, you know we haven’t seen an enormous amount of difference in the way to team plays to when Brendan Rodgers was in charge, I do think Brendan Rodgers was somewhat unlucky to lose his position.
I can understand why FSG made the decision when they knew that Jurgen Klopp was available and they knew that there would probably be changes at Chelsea and maybe elsewhere. They got in and got a manager of international repute, so to that extent I think Brendan Rodgers was unlucky.
I don’t think we have seen a massive change but what we have seen from Klopp is that he is learning about his players. Brendan Rodgers has three years to find out about them, to find out what their capabilities were, and Jurgen Klopp has come in and he has to find that else for himself, so I think that’s what we have seen basically. He has been fairly rigid in the way the he has played in terms of playing four at the back all the time, so whether he is inclined to alter that for certain situations like Brendan Rodgers did and was capable of doing that remains to be seen.
I think what we will see in terms of Jurgen Klopp as a manager, we will see at the start of next season after we have had three of four months of next season and the summer transfer window. Then we will find out whether Jurgen Klopp can really take Liverpool on and push them forward.”
Yeah it is certainly going to be a huge pre-season and summer for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. Moving onto individual players then, you mentioned Christian Benteke earlier, to some extent he has been heavily scrutinised in his Liverpool career, what have you made of him so far at Anfield?
“I think it’s been disappointing, there’s no question about that. When he was at Aston Villa he was that one player that was going to cause Liverpool all sorts of problems bearing in mind the frailties in the central defensive area and the goalkeeper. And he was always a player that when you played against Aston Villa and you looked at Liverpool, that he would cause them massive problems, and he did on several occasions.
You can see why Brendan Rodgers bought him, Jurgen Klopp obviously wants to get a tune out of him as well, because he is a plan B if you like, he’s an alternative, he’s a big centre forward. And I thought against West Ham United, we saw him in the second game, showing just what he can be, using his strengths, his ability to hold up the ball, he’s got a fair bit of pace as well, he’s not a slouch.
But at the same time, we’ve not seen much of that. We’ve seen a little bit of a shrinking violet for me, who seems to have had a problem with confidence, which surprises me somewhat if I have to be honest with you.
I don’t know the lad as an individual or what goes on in his mind, but if anyone can get anything out of him, it’ll be Jurgen Klopp. I think that little display against West Ham United in the second game albeit that he missed two really good opportunities, and you could say that he had two or three more that perhaps he might have done better with, albeit that he missed those chances, I thought it was a good sign, a sign that he is capable of improving and a sign that he is capable of understanding what a big threat he can be.
I think it’s all in the mind with him, and I hope Jurgen Klopp can get him being really positive.”
Do you think he has a long term future under Klopp at Anfield?
“I don’t see why not. They paid big money for him, he is an alternative to the neat passing game that Liverpool try to play and can he form a duo with Sturridge up front?
There were signs there that that’s a possibility, they can play on the same wavelength, in the second half particularly against West Ham United, so there is that to look to look forward to. There’s a lot of work to do on the training ground, I don’t see him being jettison straight away, let’s be honest about it.
I do see in the summer Jurgen Klopp picking up a top quality striker who will cover the fact that maybe Daniel Sturridge is somebody who people have to just accept is injury prone full stop.”
Moving toward the summer window, it’s come out that Joel Matip of Schalke has agreed a pre contract at Liverpool, on a free transfer. He’ll join in the summer along with Grujic as well. Focussing on Matip and Grujic, do you feel they’ll be useful additions to Klopp’s squad?
“He’s got to sort out the centre halves, no question about that. He’s got to sort out the goalkeeper, there’s no question about that. He could do with a real quality midfield player, a champion player in midfield, and he could also want to make sure that he’s got a centre forward he can rely upon.
Those are the areas, the spine of the team, that Jurgen Klopp will be looking specifically at. I think he’s well capable of ensuring Liverpool do sign the quality players that a) push the team on and b) push the others around, those players on as well, so everyone ups their game as it were, and Liverpool, can throughout the side, improve themselves.
I’ve no doubt there’ll be changes in the summer, there isn’t any question about that, but a question marks about three or four players if we exclude the youngsters who have been pushing for a first team place, there are question marks about three or four players at least in terms of whether they’ll be good enough to be championship winning players. My suspicion is that Jurgen Klopp will have made his mind up that some of them aren’t.”
It’s certainly going to be a fascinating summer. I think every year we seem to be saying Liverpool need to have a really busy summer, I think it’s going to be refreshing one summer when they don’t need to have wholesale changes. Do you think in that respect, this summer will be another big big busy summer with lots of changes, or do you think it’ll be one where three or four quality additions come in and a few leave?
“Yeah I think you made a good point, it seems to be said every summer that Liverpool have got to improve their side. You saw last summer several new faces coming in, and that has got to stop if Liverpool are going to be a top team, as top teams tend to add top quality players, maybe three of them, to keep other players on their toes.
Liverpool are having to turn around players like nobody’s business at the moment, and that doesn’t help anybody to settle in. Nonetheless, I think what we’re going to see in the summer is a change.
My suspicion is that the transfer committee will have very much a second seat as opposed to what Jurgen Klopp wants at the football club. I think Brendan Rodgers went along with the transfer committee, he was asked to go along with them, and that was set in stone. That was why we have so many disappointing signings coming into Anfield.
I think Jurgen Klopp will be a lot stronger from that point of view, and that he will have told, and I believe he has told the owners ‘I want the players. If you want your transfer committee to have a say, I’m happy to listen to them and take on board what they’re going to say.’
But at the end of the day, it is going to be my decision, there will be no more Mario Balotelli’s coming in here and causing a problem or being upto the standard that I require if Liverpool are going to get into the Champions League on a regular basis and win trophies on a regular basis’. So I think we will see that this summer, that point of view.
The signings that are going to come in will be very interesting, and they’re going to be Jurgen Klopp’s.”
It’s certainly going to be a very interesting summer. You mentioned there might be three or four current Liverpool players that might find themselves fighting for their futures. Liverpool’s squad at the moment has individual talent, but if they’re good enough to take Liverpool into the Champions League remains to be seen.
Do you think there may be a fair few number of players that may leave, because I think Klopp shifted a fair few of players in his first season at Dortmund, so he’s obviously got that ruthless streak, do you think that might be a similar happening at Liverpool this summer?
“A top manager has to have a ruthless streak. There isn’t any point in messing around with players that you think may or may not make it. You’ve got to make harsh decisions sometimes, with the likes of Lucas Leiva, who I’m sure will be leaving.
He’s a smashing lad, and he’s done well in positions that he’s been asked to be put in, he’s done well at centre half, but is he athletic enough, is he really overall good enough to change a football match?
That’s what Klopp will be looking for, can this player change a football match by his ability in a certain position. I think Joe Allen’s position will be under pressure as well, you’ve got to look at the centre halves and ask how many of them will be at Liverpool next season.
I’m sure there’ll be a change in goalkeeper, despite the fact Jurgen Klopp has backed Simon Mignolet, and he’s signed a new contract, but I’m sure there’ll be a change in goalkeeper as well, and I’m sure there’ll be a new striker up front. Someone who Jurgen Klopp feels like he can definitely rely on to be there for most of the matches of the season and to score goals as well.
He can’t keep going on hoping that Daniel Sturridge will be fit and hoping that Christian Benteke will suddenly find some goal scoring form, that he cannot do. He knows where he has to make changes, there might be one or two others go out, who knows?
Certainly I feel in those four positions down the spine of the side, we will see four, five maybe even six new faces coming in in those areas, and possibly another winger coming in, a quality winger.”
You mentioned Simon Mignolet, he’s another one that’s been heavily criticised, not only this season but even when we nearly won the league, he was scrutinised week in, week out. He’s signed this new five year deal, which a lot of fans were baffled about. Adam Bogdan doesn’t instil much confidence as a back-up keeper either, you think another goalkeeper will come in. What do you think will happen with Simon Mignolet, for his long term future? That five year deal doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be at Anfield for five years.
“No, it doesn’t. What these things do is, one, in certain instances they try to tie a top player down at the football club but Simon Mignolet isn’t one. I don’t think you would describe him as a player going on Liverpool can afford to keep at the football club, let’s put it that way. He makes too many mistakes and he unsettles the defenders in front of him.
You know, so many times this season I can think of three or four occasions at Anfield where Liverpool have played well, they got in front, they’ve scored a goal, scored a couple of goals and at the other end, Simon Mignolet has unfortunately made a mistake and you can visibly see the confidence flow out of the Liverpool players who worked so hard to get in that position and there’s been a change of demeanor amongst them.
And that’s another aspect of the importance of a goalkeeper. It’s an area where you can’t make too many mistakes. Once you start making mistake after mistake then unfortunately at goalkeeper it shows up more than anywhere else on the field and you have to have that player who is a real top class individual.
I hate to be so negative about a guy like Simon Mignolet who, like Lucas, is another fine young fellow, he’s a smashing guy and everything else and he’ll go somewhere else and he’ll make a decent career for himself but he makes too many errors and those errors have had a very negative effect on some of Liverpool’s results and that can’t go on.”
Do you think with Mignolet it might be a case that he will actually leave the club or do you think he will stay on as a number two and provide competition to a goalkeeper who may come in the summer?
“I think it just depends whether an offer comes in from another club and Mignolet says to himself I’m not going to be the number one here and there isn’t any point in me hanging around in the reserves. I need to play football. Liverpool will have been insured by the fact that they put him on this extended contract. They will get more money for him because a club coming in has to buy out that contract.
That would be part of the negotiation, a part of the deal so that I think is why they put him on that longer term contract rather than to keep a player at the club who, I don’t think in all honesty, has got a genuine future at the football club. So, whether he stays or whether he goes depends on whether a club comes in and pays the money and whether Simon Mignolet says I’d rather go play football elsewhere rather than sit and not play football.
I was almost going to say sit and play in the reserves but we haven’t go a reserves in Premier League football these days. He’s not going to get a game for the development side, the U21’s, so what’s he going to do? Train throughout the week and pick up a fat amount of money? I don’t think he’s the sort of individual who would want to do that. I think he’s rather take a pay cut, go out, and play football at the top level for the rest of his career.
You get a short time in football, you have to go out and enjoy it and do the very best you can. You have a long time out of the game, sitting in a chair, watching on the television, there’s only one opportunity you’ve got to play when you’re young and I’m sure he’s one of those individuals who understands that and wants to play rather than hang around and just train.”
In terms of Teixeira, Rossiter and Flanagan, do you think those contracts will get tied down or do you think it’s a case over the next few months they need to prove themselves to Klopp?
“If you’re asking me are they good enough ongoing to stay at the football club, which I think is the real reason behind your question, my honest opinion is I don’t think they are. Rossiter is a neat little player. Liverpool are desperately looking for another Scouser to come through and be someone the fans can get behind and latch on to.
Another Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard. Whether Rossiter can be that individual right at the very top level we are talking about now, because we aren’t talking about players who can come in and play for a mid table side, they can all do that I have absolutely no doubt about that.
But whether they’re good enough to play at the very top European level, which is what Liverpool have to buy players for, I have my doubts to be honest with you. But I wish them all the very best of luck. I hope they do well and I’m sure that wherever they go they’ll have very good careers.”
Do you think it’s all about focusing on the two trophies now, the Europa League and Capital One Cup Final? How important are these competitions for Liverpool and Liverpool fans?
“They’re very important. I thought the team that played against West Ham did really well. The youngsters did themselves absolutely no harm whatsoever and I think that was a big bonus for Klopp.
He knows now that, in at home front of 40,000 people and away from home in a hostile atmosphere, what those players can do, what they’re capable of doing, how good they are. In his mind he knows now which players he wants to push on next season and which players, if a good offer came in, he would allow to let go and move on. So, that is the big bonus of those cup games against Exeter and West Ham.
Yes, Liverpool have got to win trophies, that’s what it’s all about. The football club is all about winning trophies. Some owners may think “we can come in and make a lot of money here, we can sell these shirts…” but you don’t sell shirts and you don’t remain a world name in football unless you’re winning trophies.
Although it may only be the League Cup, that trophy is very, very important for Liverpool. It will be shown worldwide if Liverpool win it and win it by playing a really good brand of football, it could well bring new supporters on board. Youngsters who are watching football for the first time saying we’ll support Liverpool Football Club. And that will be a massive bonus for the club going around the world.
Can they win Europa League? Probably not. Although, if Sturridge can stay fit and if Coutinho can stay fit, it’s a cup competition over two legs until the final. Anything can happen in cup competitions. So, it’s a chance, no question about it and it’s an opportunity which the manager and everybody there will want to do very well in and try to get to the final and try to win that trophy, too.
I don’t think they’ll throw the league away because you can’t simply turn it on or off. The team that plays against Augsburg in the second leg before the Capital One Cup is going to be very interesting because, Jurgen Klopp this Thursday I’m sure will be hoping the team does well.
If they can somehow get some sort of win over there to give them an advantage going into to the second leg so he will be able to rest one or two or leave one or two with bumps and bruises out, and bring in some of the youngsters who’ve done so well again. That will be a big, big bonus if he can do that. No question about it. But he will certainly want to make sure, in his mind, his best eleven goes out against Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday.”
Interview Conducted by OliverBond20
Written by Oliver Bond, Martin Turner and Michael Pietrzak