Liverpool’s 4-1 home defeat to Manchester City last night highlighted the already obvious notion. They will not be retaining their title this season. 10 points ahead and a game in hand is a mountain that this current Liverpool side will not be able to recover from. Manchester City have found a formula that has guided them through this difficult time in the Premier League. This was a landmark victory for the sky blues as they have not tasted success at Anfield since 2003!
Liverpool have had problems this season that have finally caught up with them and I’ll not go into them in detail as we’d be here all night. Lets just say that they’ve missed key players we all know about and are also feeling the effects of an empty Anfield Stadium. But is it just a hangover from winning their first title in 30 years or does it run deeper than that?
Driving force missing
Straight out of the blocks lets address the key issue that is hampering Liverpool the most. Jordan Henderson had one of his finest seasons last year. He won plaudits that were never said about him in previous seasons as he drove this Liverpool team to new unexpected heights. Quite simply put he was midfield engine, the general on the field. If you look back across Klopps Liverpool reign his engine came from the 3 midfielders. Henderson/Wijnaldum/Fabinho or a crossbreed of Milner and Kieta at times would also suffice. This has been the stalwart of Liverpool’s success both domestically and in Europe.
To put it in perspective, Liverpool had Wijnaldum/Thiago/Jones in their midfield 3 yesterday and have sacrificed style over substance. I’m sure when Klopp signed Thiago in the summer he seen him as an alternative to the frequently injured Kieta. A midfield of Henderson/Fabinho and Thiago would water the mouth. Instead we’ve seen a fractured midfield with Thiago being shipped from the 6 to the 8 role. You can get away with this for a few games here and there but over time this will hurt.
From Klopp to Bottom
After what Jurgen Klopp has achieved with this team i am not going to knock him but as manager the buck still stops with him. There is definitely something not right with the Liverpool scene as it stands. Klopp himself is not the jovial character we’ve seen over the past 2 seasons of success which shows in itself all is not well within camp. Traces of this were seen in his war of words in post match interviews, anger over the fixture congestion and the obvious annoyance of injuries to key players. Deep down it must cut to Klopp’s core that he must play his best midfield duo in an unfamiliar position.
Frustration is the word here. Liverpool were excellent despite all of the above in their games against West Ham and Spurs. Showing that the team can run well in fits and spurts. Then we have the incredibly poor performances against Burnley and Brighton. This shows in the form of some of their players. Trent Alexander Arnold was a world beater last season. You could wax lyrical about his ability and his feet were made of gold. But he has struggled this season. It is not a cause for concern long-term of course as he is so young in years. The greater issue is that Liverpool simply do not have alternative cover for the young Englishman.
Trent is not on his own in this department of course. Bobby Firmino has fallen off a cliff when it comes to form. Worryingly for him it has been a longtime since he has consistently hit the heights for the Reds. The loss of Diogo Jota has been amplified by the fact that Firmino and therefore the front 3 as a unit are not able to hit those lofty heights we are accustomed to. If we needed further proof that the team has had to adapt and suffer due to missing personnel we only have to notice that Shaqiri has been getting more minutes than ever before. This is a clear indication that the squad as a whole are in a bad period.
Believers turning Doubters?
What makes this story most interesting is of course the fall from grace as such. After 2 seasons of almost perfect football the Liverpool machine has come to a grinding halt. With the year that is in it, should we be that surprised? The reaction on social media and fans forums has actually been a very mixed bag in relation to the reds. Anyone that would suggest “Klopp out” should be ignored as it is simply nonsense.
More so is the opinion that Klopp must now find a way to re-energise this team of players as the new goal is to finish in the Top4. If anyone were to suggest that Liverpool would finish outside the Top4 before the season started they probably would have been committed. But this is now reality for Liverpool. We only have to look back as far as West Ham to see how they can go about it, but equally look nearer to Brighton to see where their issues lie. I wouldn’t suggest that the average Liverpool fan on the street is panicking. But the levels of worry have certainly gone up a level.
How to Turn it around
Jurgen Klopp will need to use his vast years of experience here. Something about the City game was “Off” about Liverpool than previous meetings with City. Go back over their last few encounters and Liverpool ripped City apart with high press, high speed high octane football. There was a liberty about how they went about it. Like a controlled fury.
I’m not suggesting to revert to the crazy games against Roma in the Champions League when it was a case of simply outscoring the opponents. Klopp must find a way to release his players from the burdens of worry. Attack is the best form of defence! It is stick or twist time for Klopp. He was happy to see two new Center Backs arrive in the window. Wouldn’t it be a complete turnaround to see him revert to an old formula and unleash Henderson and Fabinho into the middle?
It is time for risk and reward. A refreshing and exciting debut for both center backs against Leicester. It is time to go back to basics. He can then still try to be more creative by adding Thiago beside them or stick with a trusted trio with Wijnaldum. Diogo Jota will be back in the starting lineup soon enough which would be a huge shot in the arm for the whole team. Liverpool need to use his recovery like a new signing.
Leave your excuses at the door
Roy Keane once again opened up his black book of 1-liners this weekend when he berated Liverpool and Klopp for the excuses. Missing players, injuries, playing out of position, missing the crowd and so on. So while these are all very relevant excuses in the grand scheme of things he is correct in its context. Liverpool must move forward now stop looking back at the problems this season has thrown at them!
Life is not fair and neither is football, in fact it can be the cruelest of games at times. Liverpool are now halfway through the season and yet even the commentators cannot go 15mins without mentioning Jordan Pickford’s tackle on Van Dijk. Then quickly followed with a quip about Henderson wanting to play in the middle and Trent’s form. You cannot change the past! Stop living in it.
Trust in Klopp
Jurgen Klopp has been a revelation in the last few years since arriving in the Premier League. He is a born winner and a bad loser. I say that because it is written all over his face. But the saying “Show me a good loser and i’ll show you a man with no titles” could not be more adept here. He still has a panel of excellent players and although individually struggling at the moment as a squad they are still not to be underestimated.
Sometimes all it takes is one good result to turn a season around. Liverpool now must find that result and fast. They have a week off now to do some soul searching. It is time for them now to look only forward at how they will regain the form that we have seen only in glimpses. Klopp will have to earn his corn now. They are still in Europe and have work to do for a Top4 finish.
We will see on Saturday if the German can dig deep and get this team out of their rut. With Leicester/Leipsig and Everton games coming thick and fast we will see quickly if Klopp and his Merseysiders have the belly for a fight.