Liverpool’s first 10 games of the season in all competitions went something like this:
WLWDWWWWWD (followed by WWWW, for what it’s worth).
Liverpool’s last 10 games have been a grim contrast, however:
Indeed, it’s been nothing short of a shonda since the turn of the year for the Reds. Their one win in the last 10 games was against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup while their last victory in the league was what seemed like a vital 3 points against Manchester City on New Year’s Eve. For Liverpool fans, Georginio Wijnaldum’s header that day seems like a lifetime ago.
Having been the team to challenge Chelsea at the top of the league leading up to the busy Christmas period and with impressive results against the top six under their belts, Jurgen Klopp’s men have failed to build on a strong first half to the season. They now find themselves outside the top 4 and struggling to find form. So what’s gone wrong?
The word that seems to follow Liverpool from year to year is “inconsistent”. Time and time again players call for consistency in interviews and the manager claims the team are working for consistency in their performance, yet time and time again Liverpool are nothing but inconsistent.
Beating the “top” teams and then losing to teams near the end of the table is a trend that Liverpool fans are all to familiar with. Even WWE Superstar Sheamus knows it (he said it in an interview in August when he found out about the 2-0 loss to Burnley and had a canary).
In truth, Liverpool’s current slump is a combination of a number of issues. Firstly, the system. Klopp’s preferred 4-3-3 formation with high intensity running is no longer reaping the rewards and teams seem to have found out the best way to deal with it. Teams now can come to Anfield, sit back, give Liverpool possession and frustrate them. If the opposition win the ball inside their own half one would expect Liverpool to demonstrate their feared counter-pressing or “gegenpressing”, but with 10 men behind the ball the Liverpool players are back to square one, breaking down a wall. So that’s what teams are doing.
Then, when the opposition break and the pressing doesn’t come off, Liverpool are left hideously exposed. Opposition teams are also learning to pack the centre of the field, force the ball wide and wait for the inevitable, hopeful cross that will be dealt with by one of the 7 massive defenders inside the box (Let’s quickly address the massive fat elephant in the room that is Christian Benteke and say maybe if he was an option, even a Plan D, someone would be able to bully the opposition back four and get on the end of one of James Milner’s nothing crosses in the 88th minute).
Photo Credit Soccerlens
There’s also been the injuries. Of course, every team must deal with injuries, though it’s no coincidence that Liverpool showed signs of a potential dip in form the moment Philippe Coutinho sustained an ankle injury against Sunderland earlier in the season.
Since the talisman’s notable absence, the likes of skipper Jordan Henderson and Nathanial Clyne have been significant losses to injury at key moments while the voids left by Sadio Mane and Joel Matip have had negative – near disastrous – effects on performances. Mane’s involvement in the African Cup of Nations lead to further disruption in the formerly potent front three for the Reds, with the likes of Sturridge, Origi and Lallana struggling to emulate the sort of fluidity that came so naturally to Liverpool’s attack earlier in the season. Matip’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the competition also resulted in changes in a defensive line that was beginning to show signs of progress.
Then we come to the defensive issues. This was the reason Liverpool did not win the league in 2013/14. Far too many soft goals, often to poor opposition, and a general lack of any sort of defensive leadership from the goalkeeper or back four. So, naturally, nothing has changed.
As a Liverpool fan, there is a sense of inevitability when a corner is given away that the best outcome will be the opposition making a balls of it. Joel Matip was brought in during the summer and has, for the most part, been very impressive but in his absence (his bizarre, bizarre absence) Liverpool struggled hugely to keep the ball out of the net. Lovern, though much improved since Klopp’s arrival, lacks consistency and leadership skills, Ragner Klavan was brought in for cover but was a budget buy and Lucas Leiva is quite frankly crap as a half back. Karius looks totally out of sorts since his arrival with his handling and kicking somehow worse that Simon Mignolet’s.
Quality throughout the squad is a factor and Klopp must be looking at buying one, if not two, very, very good defenders in the summer. Oh, and James Milner isn’t a left back.
Photo Credit Daily Mail
And segway to our final chapter: Are the big players underperforming?
Up until the last month or so the answer was no. However, there are a number of culprits at this moment in time. Coutinho is exempt for now as he is only recently returned from injury, though the likes of Milner, Firmino, Sturridge and recently Lallana have been off the pace.
James Milner is finally starting to look like a midfielder at left back and doesn’t have the legs to get up and down the flank every week. Roberto Firmino has struggled since Coutinho’s absence and has struggled to adapt to different roles. As well as this, his recent slump coincided with his house being robbed followed by an arrest for drink driving two days later, two incidences which appear to be on the mind of the Brazilian since.
Daniel Sturridge has looked unmotivated and unconvinced of whatever Klopp has asked of him. Having recently claimed to still be Liverpool’s best striker he has shown little or no glimpses of anything to back that statement up.
Adam Lallana has in fact been very good for Liverpool this season but, similarly to Firmino, has been a victim of circumstance since Coutinho’s injury and hasn’t been able to continue his influential form since moving from midfield to a part of the front three.
However, there is a solution.
Much of the issues Liverpool have stem from a lack of quality throughout the squad. Rotation is difficult as there is a clear starting XI for Klopp (Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can, debate that yourself, but to save you time the answer is Wijnaldum) but for cup games or replacing an injured player it is often a player lacking in confidence, quality or experience that is drafted in. The solution, therefore, is investment in the squad.
Liverpool need quality throughout, not just in the starting XI, and the only way to get this is through Champions League qualification.
For too long Liverpool have had to buy the better players off the teams below and they now need the draw of European football to entice real quality back to Anfield.
But they can’t qualify without quality… So… They’re goosed…
By PUPcast Contributor Adrian