It was only two months ago when Liverpool had qualified for the Champions League round of 16 with a game in hand and lead the premier league by three points (End of Gameweek 13). From there, the Red men on Merseyside have slumped heavily, especially against teams in the bottom 6 whom Klopp’s men have only managed to salvage seven points from a possible 21. With Klopp conceding the title and even their hopes of a top four finish on the line, Liverpool pain for the spirit which brought them so much success last season.
It’s no secret. Liverpool have had a torrid time with injuries this season; 75-million-pound Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk being the most notable. The injury table only ever grew more occupied and their defensive line ever more shaky, but is it all down to the defence?
Well, the short answer is no.
Virgil Van Dijk, one of the worlds best centre backs, is obviously a huge miss. That coupled with the injuries suffered to the other two senior centre backs in the squad (Joel Matip, Joe Gomez), Liverpool have had to pull Henderson and Fabinho out of the midfield to plug the gaps at the back. This did not seem too much of a problem, however. Fabinho had already received man of the match awards with centre back performances this season, particularly his display away to Chelsea, successfully keeping a clean sheet and nullifying the threat from their striker Timo Werner. Henderson has also had excellent performances at the back. James Milner has even joked about the impact his positive performances could have on his career.
The defensive line of Liverpool had been strong with huge injuries to the back. In the games where points were dropped, most were in games with one goal conceded (West Brom 1-1, Burnley 0-1, Brighton 0-1, Newcastle 1-1 etc.)
It is also worth remembering in one of the most shocking results this season, Aston Villa shipped seven past a Liverpool back line of Robertson, Gomez, Van Dijk and Alexander Arnold.
This shows injuries may not be the whole story to Liverpool’s poor performances this season.
Adding to this, every side has been hit with injuries in a fixture congested season. James Maddison has already mentioned how injuries to players outside of the ‘Big Six’ “Don’t get talked about”.
And while every club has had to face with injuries, the ‘Big Six’ have a buying power which can be utilised if they choose.
FSG financial distance
Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies joined Liverpool red at the start of February to help add defensive depth to Liverpool’s squad. However, a total of £500,000 pounds spent from a team that has won a Premier League and Champions League in the last two years is underwhelming.
It was clear Klopp wanted signings in this January window and was frustrated over the lack of buying power he had despite the success he has brought to the club
Fenway Sports Group only invested a minimal amount of money into a team which have been challenging for the top prizes for the past three seasons. Their lack of investment has indicated to fans their lack of intent and desire and signalled FSG’s thoughts on Liverpool Football Club as a business rather than a sports team.
Despite these frustrations amongst fans and the team, would new transfers have helped Liverpool’s struggles?
It’s a difficult one. There are glaring gaps in the squad due to injuries, forcing certain players like Henderson and Fabinho to play out of position. The problem with making signings, however, is the eventual obstacle of the injured players returning, creating a surplus of players in one position and disappointing team members who would have an increasingly hard time of starting a match.
Another problem with transfers this year is the pandemic. Bringing in players from different countries and the passing the restrictions each nation has made transfers this January very difficult. It can be argued FSG should have made their investment at the start of the window rather than the end, giving Klopp and his scouts more time to find an appropriate target and give the extra time to pass extra precautions, but this was not done and leaves Liverpool with a centre back who plays for relegation threatened Schalke in the Bundesliga and Ben Davies, a full back lacking in top-tier professional experience from mid-table Championship side Preston. A less than satisfying window
Something Liverpool have been lucky with is their lack of injuries to the front three. Salah, Mane and Firmino have rarely spent extended periods on the side-lines for Liverpool and have been one of the most feared striking partnerships across the whole of Europe for three years. Recently though, the trio have struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. Mane is yet to score in the Premier League in 2021, and while glimmers of brilliance are shown like Salah’s goal Vs. Leicester, the overall picture of no goals at home since Sadio Mane’s opener vs West Brom in late December is an ugly one.
It is not all the front three’s fault. The midfield needs to start being more direct with their passing. In the games against teams who play with a low block, Liverpool have not provided the clinical final pass that they have been renowned for. Summer signing Thiago has looked good in terms of improvised passing ability, but a clinical final pass has been lacking from his game.
This may be due to Henderson and Fabinho being at the back. While usually they would be the ones holding the midfield and supporting the defence, being pushed into the defence means the midfield no longer have the additional defensive security. This in turn could mentally block ‘riskier’ passes in order to keep the ball and not concede to a break away from the opponents
The heads have dropped in this Liverpool side. Confidence which was once in abundance has alluded the reigning champions for nearly two months. The games against Leicester and Manchester City, conceding three goals in the final 20, are prime examples of the lack of concentration which is so uncharacteristic of Klopp’s men.
It need not be reinstated. This team has all the world class attributes to challenge for a title. It seems as if the team has forgotten who they are and lack the belief they once had.
It is a hard situation to be in. Poor form with no fans in the stadium to push you is clearly having an impact on the players. The tough part to this is every team must deal with the lack of fans so while it may be an explanation, it is no excuse.
Liverpool’s current form shows they are not the same beast which we have seen in the couple of years previously. How Jurgen Klopp and his players put these issues right is yet to be seen. The German manager cannot change anything about his squad in terms of signings until the summer. To me, the players need to give more in their performances. They need to re-discover their fantastic energy and confidence in previous season, especially now with a huge Round of 16 tie against German team RB Leipzig.
“Form is temporary, class is permanent” – Bill Shankly
All information accurate as of 3pm, 15/02/2021