Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker praised Jurgen Klopp for being a “maestro” in the dressing room but the Liverpool manager admits he probably got his team selection wrong against Atletico Madrid.
The Reds won an enthralling encounter in the Wanda Metropolitano 3-2 to make it three wins from three and take a five-point lead in their Champions League group.
It was not without its mishaps, however, as they squandered a 2-0 lead before half-time with momentum switching to the hosts.
Another memorable European away win👌 pic.twitter.com/NVdTN1CHJR
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) October 19, 2021
That was when Klopp got to work, making his first tactical change by replacing Naby Keita with the more defensively minded midfielder Fabinho.
“I believe the boss is a maestro in talking in the right moments, the right things,” Alisson said.
“I think he brought us in the game again in the changing room and also our attitude changed a little bit in the second half.”
Klopp’s decision to hook Keita did bring more control, although Antoine Griezmann’s red card handed Liverpool the advantage.
Keita had scored a brilliant volley but the defensive side of his game is still lacking and he was culpable – though not the only one – for allowing opponents to drift past him too easily for both Atletico goals.
The Guinea midfielder was playing his fifth match in 14 days – four of which have been starts for club and country – and that is considered a long run for a player with a chequered injury record over three previous three seasons at the club.
With Thiago Alcantara still not back in training after a calf problem a month ago and Curtis Jones only returning this week, Klopp’s midfield options have been reduced and that has meant relying more on Keita.
But the manager accepts balancing the needs of his team and keeping an eye on the workloads of key players is difficult and probably adversely influenced his selection in Madrid.
“The period we are in is really intense. So, would I choose exactly the same line-up again? Not sure,” Klopp said.
“But we had so many things to consider: who is playing that didn’t play, who played where.
“I think in the end we had too many players on the pitch who played now for their national teams all the games, last Premier League game and stuff like this.
“My boys want always (to play well), that’s what I love most about them and if they can’t in moments, it’s most of the time my fault.”
Naby Keita with a rocket of a volley! 🚀
Liverpool are dominating early on against Atletico as they take a two-goal lead inside the first 15 minutes! pic.twitter.com/Nwi8xtDycz
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) October 19, 2021
Klopp was also keen to avoid Keita being the scapegoat for their erratic first-half performance.
“First and foremost, it was nothing to do with Naby – we just had to defend the right side a bit better,” he added.
“But Naby scored a goal and I spoke to him already. It is really important to me that nobody thinks we played the first half – or the second part of the first half – because of Naby.
“Not at all, he is in really good shape, but he played three games for Guinea there and the last Premier League game 90 minutes. Forty-five minutes I think was absolutely right.”
Liverpool have a 100 per cent record in the Champions League, are unbeaten in the Premier League – in which they are the top scorers – and have scored three or more goals in all seven away matches in all competitions.
They have not lost since April – a sequence of 21 matches which is their longest run since going 24 unbeaten from January to May 1989 – but Klopp insists they are far from being comfortable.
“We are not that confident, to be honest. We know our struggles, we know our problems but we try to ignore them very often,” he said.
Someone who is not struggling for confidence is Mohamed Salah, who set a club record in Madrid after scoring in his ninth successive match and overtaking Steven Gerrard as the club’s leading Champions League goalscorer with 31.
He has 12 goals in 11 appearances this season – two of which have been brilliant individual efforts against Manchester City and Watford – and only Burnley, in late August, have prevented him scoring.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) October 19, 2021
“He’s a fantastic player. He’s showing on the pitch all the time, making really nice goals, not just easy goals,” Alisson said.
“But he contributes a lot for the team as well, not only scoring but helping in the defensive phase, playing for the team.
“He is a hungry player, he’s a hungry striker. I’m really happy for him. I hope that he continues that.”