Three days on, seven changes, same result. Another draw caps a disappointing week in the league following the demolition at the Etihad and the anti-climatic return to Champions League football midweek. Gomez for Trent, Trent back in for Gomez, Lovren in, Lovren out, it all sounds like a poor nursery rhyme that doesn’t make much sense, similar to the way Liverpool defend really. Lovren headed a raft of changes made by Jurgen Klopp, the Croatian was replaced by Ragnar Klavan due to a sore back apparently, although few would be disappointed after yet another mistake vs Sevilla contributed to a poorly conceded goal at Anfield earlier in the week. Sturridge, Milner, Coutinho, TAA, Robertson were all named in the starting XI as well as goalkeeper Simon Mignolet after Klopp again reiterated the number 1 status of our Belgian stopper.
Just eight games into the season and already the squad has been rotated several times, including the inclusion of Loris Karius whilst the anticipated introduction of Danny ward in the Carabao Cup is doing the rounds on social media. Jurgen Klopp addressed the need for fresh legs prior to kick-off;
“It was about the intensity of the games and the quality of the squad, there’s no doubt that the line-up we found today is a very strong one. It’s a good situation”.
The “good situation” lasted approximately 27 minutes as Burnley broke the deadlock after a bright start from The Reds. After quickly getting back on level terms the remainder of the game presented that oh-so familiar groundhog day feeling. It was only last week I wrote an article hinting that Liverpool’s days of relying on one individual may be behind them. Sadio Mané’s importance to the team has increased week by week since his arrival from Southampton. The introduction of Mohamed Salah was aimed to relieve the pressure on the Senegalese international by providing the opposition with something to think about on both flanks and he’s delivered so far. The reality is, if the basics were done, Liverpool win 1-0 and suddenly the fixture list presents 4 away games that are all winnable on paper and an opportunity to regain some much needed momentum.
Same Old Story
There is no question that the line up selected was not strong enough to beat a team of Burnley’s stature. However, over the course of 90mins it was very much a case of dé ja vu. Enter a mid-table team who are happy to sit back and soak up pressure, add in Liverpool’s defensive frailties and there you have a cocktail which oozes a very obvious and now common outcome.
How many times have we seen seen this movie Reds? It’s like one of those films your annoying little brother or sister love to watch, yet you have no choice but to sit there and endure the suffering. Okay, so arguably our most important player was missing in Sadio Mané but a team that has the likes of Firmino, Sturridge, Salah and Coutinho in a starting line up should be more than enough to break down the stubborn defensive unit that Sean Dyche loves to put up against a Liverpool side. The Reds totalled over 70% possession, recorded 35 shots, 9 of which were on target yet scored just 1 goal in solitude and still managed to concede to a team who had just 5 attempts on goal in comparison.
Not even the introduction of our little Brazilian could provide the spark the Anfield crowd were looking for. Coutinho produced little moments of magic as expected, dancing past players at will but his final product pretty much summed up Liverpool’s afternoon. Our number 10 contributed a hefty 7 shots of the 35, amazingly not even one was on target, 6 of those efforts came from outside the box although that is rarely a hinderance for our Brazilian playmaker.
Salah, who was voted player of the month for Liverpool as well as the Champions League player of the week was the man to save Liverpool’s blushes. Latching onto an accurate diagonal ball from Emre Can before cooly dispatching into the bottom corner. The Egyptian has certainly settled well on Merseyside yet it is very clear there is room for improvement. For all his ability the winger can be very frustrating at times, particularly in relation to his end product and this was no less evident than in the first 20mins in the previous league game vs Manchester City. On the face of it, “Mo” for sure looked to put this right, 6 shots, 4 on target, 1 goal scored. The former Roma man was giving City a horrid time down that right hand side but the issue was his final delivery, a cross often lacked any conviction and his effort at goal tame. This week the tricky sideman recorded 5 crosses, alarmingly none were successful. Salah was labelled a Chelsea reject on the announcement of his move back to England. 8 games, 5 goals and 2 assists. Keep that man on the training ground for some extra crossing and shooting practice and it won’t be long before rival fans will be asking why their club wasn’t in the market for Liverpool’s new number 11.
Reds supporters seemed to be in unison after the Burnley result. Some resigning themselves to fact this is the Liverpool way against teams happy to sit back and soak up the pressure. It’s hard not to disagree, the same frustrations of seasons past reared their ugly head yet again vs the so called ‘weaker sides’. Another defensive mix up between Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan wasn’t what Klopp needed after again defending his backline better than they defend balls into the box. The German insisted the signing of Virgil Van Dijk would not miraculously solve the recurring defensive issues but will instead be addressed on the training field. Perhaps he’s right but I’m in the camp that would have preferred an alternative to VVD until the number one priority is back on the radar. Chelsea missed out on several high profile targets during the window also but still brought in Alvaro Morata after missing out on Romelu Lukaku. A team with ambition to challenge for titles, a team that strives to improve on the previous season seizes their opportunity. Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp can’t afford many more repeat performances, the defensive frailties at present, greatly diminish the exciting potential The Reds hold in attack. A place in the top 4 will hinge on immediate improvement of the backline.
Unlucky or Transfer Window Regret?
The last 3 games have seen the Reds record two points from a possible nine. Five points dropped in the league on top of the opening day draw vs Watford in which three goals were shipped in calamitous fashion. Of course no game is ever the same, but to put into context, Klopp’s men got dismantled by a Manchester City team 5 goals to 0. Changes were made midweek yet they travelled to Feyenoord and put 4 past the Dutch champions and as if they weren’t having enough fun, proceeded to score almost at will again against Watford, adding another 6 goals to their total. Okay so we can’t compare to City’s riches, not many teams in world football can but the difference in quality is startling. The summer transfer window, straight off the back of regaining Champions League football was an opportunity to minimise the distance between the teams in terms of squad quality. Liverpool have one of the brightest managers in world football right now and were back in the top tier of European football for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.
Effectively just one signing was made that immediately strengthened the starting XI – Mo’ Salah. The resurgence of Alberto Moreno has kept new boy Andrew Robertson out of the team whilst Dom Solanke is one for the future and Oxlade-Chamberlain is very much a squad player. To improve the team with just ONE new starter is borderline negligent. Every team in the top six had a better squad than Liverpool already perhaps bar Tottenham but their first XI has exceeded ours for the last few years. Chelsea, Manchester City and United all recruited where they really needed to yet Klopp’s men started the season with Lovren, Matip, Gomez and Klavan as our centre back options, a risk that is right now, doing very little to ease any doubts that existed. The Thomas Lemar deal would have gone a long way to coping with any injuries or suspensions to any of our front three, the latter already occurring just last week. Another deal that failed to materialise and one that could have directly ensured our speed in attack remains with Sadio Mané about t serve a three match ban. We saw Klopp resorting to pushing Roberto Firmino out wide in order to accommodate Daniel Sturridge, the absence of the Brazilian’s influence in Liverpool’s build up play through central areas was glaringly obvious. A shuffle that was easily preventable if FSG and or/Klopp showed a little more ambition last month.
Without getting into assigning blame to FSG or Klopp, regardless of who is at fault, the club and its supporters will ultimately be the ones to suffer. It’s early days yes but the attack vs defence debate seems to be one that will rage on all season unless something changes and changes quickly. Five points separates Liverpool to the top of the table. A gap The Reds can’t afford to let increase much more if they are to stay there or there about at least until January where issues clearly need addressing.
The Manchester City game truly seems like a one-off as Klopp holds a fantastic record vs sides in the top six to date (P20, W9, D9, L2). There is a case that Liverpool were the better team in the opening 20mins with the City goal then occurring against the run of play. The Mané sending off had a direct impact on the way the rest of the game transpired but that is no excuse for the manner in which the team capitulated in the second half.
European nights at Anfield are ones to savour and revenge was very much on the agenda as The Reds welcomed Sevilla to Anfield for the first time since the Europa League Final defeat just two seasons ago. A dominant first half performance saw Liverpool go 2-1 ahead after an early setback whilst Firmino had a chance to put the game to bed before the half-time whistle. The Brazilian’s missed penalty came back to haunt us come full time as several clear cut chances were spurned and The Reds were duly punished by a clinical Sevilla forward line. Another example of how a game turned for the worst on the back of an important moment for Klopp and co.
Burnley are becoming a bit of a hoodoo side for Liverpool who have averaged 72% possession over The Clarets in there last 3 Premier League games with The Reds winning just 1. Another case for a penalty in this one, as aforementioned 35 shots on target and endless stats you’d sooner associate with a 3-0 or 4-0 scoreline. Klopp has pointed to luck not being in Liverpool’s favour in all three games, he may well have a case but what each fixture does have in common is the shear lack of competency at the back. A trip to the King Power Stadium up next, another reshuffle of the pack beckons, another opportunity to right the wrongs that continue to hinder The Reds progress this season. Silverware will be high on the priority list for Liverpool this season, Leicester represent the first hurdle at domestic level. Klopp will be keen to quickly return to winning ways, starting on Tuesday night.