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Jurgen Klopp has set out an anger management plan for the rest of the season; he wants to see his players scowl as much as smile.
It may seem a curious instruction following the latest comfortable win, but amid the joviality of an emphatic victory over West Ham United, Klopp sensed jeopardy in enthusiastic applause.
Managers are perpetually treading the line between ensuring their side gets credit when due, but are not excessively acclaimed before missions are accomplished. For a coach who wants to win points and trophies more than admirers (although preferably all three), there is a concern players regularly taking a bow for virtuoso performances will lose their edge.
“Now we need to stay angry with the rest of the world. We need to stay aggressive,” said Klopp.
“You lose a little bit if you win all the time. We didn’t win all the time but two, three or four weeks in a row. Then it is hard to win the fifth one as well, to stay on track and do it. We all know if we lose to Newcastle [Liverpool’s next game], we stand here and talk and it is different. We have to keep going.”
A hint of misplaced bonhomie has caught Klopp’s attention. “At the beginning of the season you don’t have a lot of laughter in the dressing room,” he said. “Now when we eat it’s like, ‘Come on, please settle’. We are in a good moment, they are fantastic guys, they all like each other, there are a few jokes. Keep this going without getting soft. I don’t want to wait until I see it. That’s it.”
Klopp will have reasons for mining deep to find cause to nitpick, but there was little evidence of lowered intensity here, particularly in the second half, when Liverpool indulged in one of those 15-minute attacking blitzes that have become a feature of this era. They score, the opposition restarts, and the red arrows come again in what may seem a frenzied pursuit but, of course, is beautifully choreographed rather than haphazard. Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino added to Emre Can’s first-half header and the game was over in an hour, despite Michail Antonio’s instant impact from the bench.
Sadio Mane, who could have had a second hat-trick in consecutive games, tapped in the fourth. Salah could have had a treble, too, as he struck his 31st of the season. The potency of this strikeforce is startling, given the departure of Philippe Coutinho and the minimal impact that has had.
David Moyes, the West Ham manager, has faced several incarnations of Liverpool and can judge where this version is heading.
“We’ve played a lot of the top teams and they’ve caused me as many problems as anybody,” he said. “It’s hard because they put an awful lot of pressure on you, especially their midfield three and front three.
“Salah is definitely one you feel can make the difference. The things he does, it was always the job to try to stop him as much as we could.” Moyes still sees vulnerabilities in Klopp’s system, and Marko Arnautovic was close to exploiting them – Loris Karius’s early save onto the bar a key contribution.
The fact West Ham played well in the first half and were still soundly beaten made the overall home display more impressive.
“I decided for myself that I will stay happy for one night,” said Klopp, before promptly shifting tone from jubilation to resoluteness. “Then I would start thinking about Newcastle.”