Game Details
 By Steven Kelly

Klopp must fix shortcomings at Liverpool if Reds want proper title tilt

Liverpool's recent good results have featured two of the facets all major clubs need if they are to be successful. One is the capacity to turn a losing situation into a winning one and the other is to protect a lead once you've got it.

Stoke and West Brom may not be names that send shivers down the backbones of Europe's elite but they are tricky places to visit and have hindered the ambitions of the great and the good before.

Jurgen Klopp's less than full strength side have come away with six vital points at the business end of what was in danger of becoming another erratic league season. Whether he can keep it going is another matter.

Although he only took over in the middle of last season, Klopp managed to get Liverpool into two cup finals. Since he clearly wouldn't have been given the job if things at Anfield had already been satisfactory, reaching those finals meant fans had something to see during a disappointing and transitory year.

In the league, however, there were numerous occasions when the Reds couldn't protect a lead. In some cases, ignominiously against relegated Newcastle, they could not even secure three points from a 2-0 advantage.

In a way, that still hasn't been cured to the satisfaction of most supporters. Even in the current decent run they couldn't stay ahead of Manchester City or Bournemouth. Indeed, an earlier game away to Bournemouth -- the home side turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 win -- only emphasised the problem Klopp needs to solve.

One thing he can be proud of is Liverpool's points tally in games they were losing. They've managed to accumulate 18 extra points from such games. That improves on the 12 points last season, with a further five games still to play.

Klopp's character, full of fire and visible expression of emotion, can often camouflage his coaching gifts. Anyone who has won league titles in Germany or reached so many cup finals must have something going for him.

Energy and passion for the cause are still the most notable aspects of any team he manages and it is heart-warming for Liverpool fans to see those elements creeping into their team.

Players who become unnerved and wilt in the face of a losing situation are a menace. Your best players need to be especially thick-skinned. You can have the ability of Lionel Messi but if you only do it whenever your team's on top, you'll never be as successful as you should be.

Liverpool's focus and determination in protecting a lead is what lets them down sometimes. For most of the season they've settled on a formation that features no strikers but three attacking midfielders. That seems eminently useful when a team needs to stay in front, with the option of forming a six-man barrier in front of the defence.

Liverpool rarely do this, however. Even in their last two encouraging wins they've had to be bailed out by Simon Mignolet with the kind of one-on-one save that really shouldn't happen that late in a game with so much at stake.

Klopp's pressing tactics already take it out of some players, so a tactical adjustment that sees them cover less ground and protect their defence more seems an efficient way to go.

In fact, Liverpool tend to go roaring forward for the killer goal that'll make any accident at the other end academic. As at Albion, when numerous chances to seal three points go unconverted, there will always be days where an attacking style doesn't pay off.

Liverpool led at Tottenham, Manchester United and Manchester City only to concede equalisers. It is silly to criticise a club with such a good record against its biggest rivals but those extra points -- or the five dropped against Bournemouth -- might have kept the Reds in the title race a while longer and with Chelsea currently struggling, who knows?

Despite being top scorers in the league, Liverpool lack the deadly finisher that only needs one chance to make the opposition pay heavily for leaving them free. Diego Costa, Harry Kane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku have all served their clubs well, most for numerous seasons. Spot the missing club there.

As a work in progress, Klopp's Liverpool team have already done its job for season 2016-17. They've improved, and all that remains is to keep going for five more games and exploit their advantage against the other clubs challenging for a Champions League place.

After that will come the summer, and another chance to fill gaps in the squad. By adding quality players, Liverpool have the opportunity to strengthen right across the board from an already strong position.

Yet that will still not be enough. The manager needs to address fitness and tactical shortcomings which have already denied Liverpool a chance to make this season a truly memorable one.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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