Jurgen Klopp was surprisingly calm, given the circumstances.
A post-match press conference can be an emotional place, especially after a game as pulsating and as controversial as Liverpool’s at Tottenham on Dec. 19.
And had the Reds boss gone off on a rant, plenty would have understood.
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His side, after all, had dropped two potentially crucial points in the Premier League title race, drawing 2-2 after having led with 20 minutes to go. With Manchester City winning earlier in the day, and looking ominous of late, it probably felt like a defeat.
Liverpool had battled gamely, despite seeing their preparations hit by a coronavirus outbreak within the squad. Four senior players were absent, and even one of those who returned a negative test on Sunday, Jordan Henderson, was too ill to feature in north London.
And then there was the refereeing.
That, really, was THE talking point from Sunday, as far as Klopp was concerned. The performance of head official Paul Tierney, and the apparent inconsistency of the VAR, Chris Kavanagh, had him scratching his head, bowing sarcastically and smiling the kind of smile that suggested he was actually extremely unhappy with the man with the whistle, the man in Stockley Park, or both.
Liverpool certainly had reason to feel aggrieved. Not with the red card shown to Andy Robertson after his ill-advised swipe at Tottenham’s Emerson Royal — “not the smartest challenge he ever made,” admitted Klopp, while Robertson later apologized via social media — but certainly with the game’s two other key decisions, both of which went against Liverpool.
How Harry Kane avoided a red card for his studs-up lunge on Robertson in the first half, for example, is anyone’s guess. England captain privileges, perhaps?
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“I thought I won the ball,” said the Spurs striker, somehow managing to keep a straight face. Klopp, meanwhile, pointed out that had Robertson’s leg been planted on the ground — fortunately for the Liverpool left back, it wasn’t — then he might have suffered a serious injury.
“It was 100 per cent a red card,” Klopp added, and he was spot on.
VAR did not intervene in that incident, despite Tierney deeming the tackle worthy of a yellow card on the field, and it was absent again later in the half when Royal barged over Diogo Jota in the penalty area, just as the Reds forward was preparing to pull the trigger.
It looked a blatant penalty, and had the spot kick been awarded, then Royal may have been looking at a second yellow card, too. Instead, Tierney gave nothing and the VAR again remained silent.
“We thought he might not be in his office,” joked Klopp about the VAR.
Klopp received one of 10 cards shown by Tierney, and he reacted to his yellow by bowing. For a moment, it seemed as though he might be sent to the stands, only for the referee to relent.
“[With] the penalty situation, Mr Tierney told me that he thought Diogo Jota stopped on purpose [because] he wanted to get hit,” Klopp later said.
“If you watch this situation back, that’s a very exclusive view. It’s a clear penalty, but [the referee] thought it’s clearly not a penalty. Wow.
“That’s obviously two wrong decisions of his, I would say, and one right — all three against us.”
At the final whistle, Klopp was picked up by the Sky Sports cameras in discussion with Tierney.
“I have no problem with referees, only you,” he said. One imagines a few officials might disagree with that particular statement. Fourth official Andre Marriner for one; Klopp has clashed with him in the past, and he is not alone.
🗣 “I have no problems with any referees. Only you.” 😡
Audio from Jurgen Klopp’s confrontation with referee Paul Tierney after the game pic.twitter.com/jkcx4slwRk
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) December 19, 2021
Few elite managers are good losers, of course, and Klopp’s frustration speaks to the pressure he and his side are under this season, both physically and mentally, as they seek to maintain a title push while dealing with the unique challenges of this pandemic-affected campaign.
The draw at Tottenham need not be a decisive blow, but Liverpool know it can ill-afford many more, with City looking as strong and as ruthless now as it has for some time. A three-point gap is manageable, anything more looks daunting.
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It remains to be seen if the Premier League will be permitted to go through with its Christmas fixture list as it plans. There were six games postponed this past weekend, and more could follow.
Liverpool is also due to play a Carabao Cup quarterfinal against Leicester City on Dec. 22, and it remains to be seen what kind of side the Reds will have available for that one. They fielded an Under-23s team at this stage of the competition in 2019, and it would not be a huge surprise if they did something similar this time.
“We play football as long as people tell us to,” said Klopp on Sunday, though he admitted that the uncertainty surrounding postponements and positive COVID cases made planning effectively for games impossible.
“It’s tough, it’s absolutely tough,” he said.
Even more so, with decisions like the ones Tierney and Co. made at Tottenham.