Column - Klopp to edge ‘same old’ derby

YOU could call it "the same old derby." A clash between teams whose fans know what to expect. Liverpool's expect that no matter how slick they are up front daft goals will be conceded, Arsenal's just expect the worst.

Seldom can a Big Six clash be surrounded by such doom and gloom, but the Gunners' visit to Anfield on Saturday night (1.30am on Sunday in Malaysia) has the feel of a "relegation" battle – well, dropping out of the Champions League places at least.

Both clubs will already be outside that coveted zone by kickoff time if, as expected, Manchester United beat Bournemouth at home in the early game. Liverpool have already slipped to fifth and Arsenal to fourth at the time of writing. After the glorious autumns they both enjoyed, it should not have come to this.

But with what feels like excruciating inevitability, it has. Liverpool simply can't defend, Arsenal simply wilt as the season wears on. The Gunners have been doing this for so long it seems as regular as the change in the seasons, but Liverpool's lapses are a more recent phenomenon and have not acquired the same sense of resignation.

For that reason, there is perhaps more hope in the hearts of the Kop than the travelling Gooners about the outcome. After the latest debacle against a lowly team on Monday, there's the sense that there must be a response. And Arsenal will have their minds on the small matter of overturning a 5-1 deficit to Bayern Munich on Tuesday.

If the timing of this game favours Liverpool, fans will not be confident of which version of Jurgen Klopp's (pix) side will actually turn out. Optimists might say it will be the slick-passing one of pre-Christmas as it's a top team they're facing and the Reds are unbeaten in that mini league. But you could just as easily argue that Arsenal are easy meats against whom Klopp's men seem to develop a maddening complacency.

Defeats to Burnley, Bournemouth, Swansea, Hull and now Leicester are irrefutable evidence of that, but all jokes aside, Arsene Wenger's men can hardly be put in that category. Alexis Sanchez could dribble around the Reds' defenders as if they're training cones.

Klopp's defence ain't good enough – it is well documented but the manager has been pretending otherwise. Yes, he's been unlucky with injuries but he allowed January to come and go without finding any replacements. In fact, you can go back to the summer transfer window when he did not shore up the rear as well as had been expected.

For a club of Liverpool's stature to be fielding what can only be described as a makeshift defence for almost an entire campaign is not good enough. James Milner has made a creditable fist of playing at left-back but he is increasingly being found out – as he was ruthlessly by Jamie Vardy on Monday.

The other fish out of water is Lucas Leiva, a decent defensive midfield squad player but no way a centre-back. And he was also hopelessly exposed by Leicester. It makes you wonder how Klopp managed to keep clean sheets at Dortmund.

Well, he did so by having a reliable centre-back pairing in Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic who were the first names he wrote on the teamsheet during his title-winning years. He hasn't got that at Anfield and, having been there for three transfer windows now, you have to ask why?

It has been said – and he's even come close to admitting it – that he has over-estimated certain players. For a manager who prides himself on polishing diamonds rather than writing cheques, he was always going to use the latter as a last resort. And that policy was the main reason the owners rewarded him with a six-year contract before he'd been there a full season.

The Fenway Group thought they'd found the perfect manager to implement their Moneyball philosophy even though they did allow him to top up with two £30m purchases in Sadio Mane (a success) and Georginio Wijnaldum about whom the jury is still out.

Despite spending £60m on two players, Liverpool still made a profit on their transfer dealings as they sold off several of Brendan Rodgers' mediocrities. Mention the name of the German's unloved predecessor and you can still make a Scouser flinch: but the sobering truth is that after 55 games in charge, Klopp has fewer points than the Northern Irishman did.

A certain Luis Suarez may explain that but also a fit and firing Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, not to mention Steven Gerrard before the slip. Besides the lack of stardust, it only emphasises the lack of personality in the current side.

Klopp has had success in improving players, notably Adam Lallana whom he has turned from £25m flop to outstanding and Dejan Lovren who has gone from calamitous to half-decent - when he's fit.

But if Liverpool are to bridge what seems like a chasm again between nearly men and Champions League regulars, a change in thinking is needed – by both manager and owners.

Forget the Moneyball nonsense about buying youngsters and developing them: to belong among the Big Boys you have to buy big players. Liverpool lack leadership and I never thought I'd write this but at Leicester they missed Jordan Henderson.

As many United fans are prepared to ask: "Where would we be without Zlatan?" Liverpool's must wonder where they might be if they possessed a similar talismanic figure. Can't win the title with kids?

Alan Hansen's infamous claim was ridiculed when United won the league in 1996 with Fergie's Fledglings breaking into the side. Overlooked, however, is that playing more than half the games that season were Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Dennis Irwin, Andy Cole and Eric Cantona. And no one has come near to winning the title "with kids" since.

Liverpool need to change their philosophy, Arsenal need only to change their manager. If not, it will be the same old story.