Aaron Curry discusses the effect that having several key players missing in recent weeks has had on Liverpool’s form.
Securing just one win from the previous eight matches means Jürgen Klopp finds himself in a perilous position. With gutless defeats to sides such as Swansea, and most recently Wolves, the German manager faces a must-win clash versus league leaders, Chelsea.
It is certainly the most inconvenient time to be playing a side as in-form as Antonio Conte’s; but if anyone can grab a result against a supposed big team, it is Liverpool.
Ever since the turn of the new year, the performance levels plummeted, and with it fell fans’ hope. Hope of silverware, hope of the Premier League title. Many people seemed to have turned from doubters to believers, and back again. Jürgen Klopp simply must find a way to stop the rot before it is too late.
One of the main reasons Liverpool’s free-flowing football flourished at the outset of this campaign was due to, what I like to call, the “Fantastic Four.” Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino. Their raw footballing ability coupled with their football intellect constantly switching positions spelt nightmare for opposition defences. While Firmino would spearhead the attack on paper, it would be no surprise to see Adam Lallana adopting the number nine role in patches.
There was a clear connection between all four starlets that allowed them to perform deft flicks and tricks without even having to look. Knowing each other’s whereabouts, automatically opened the door for the kind of football we had all hoped for. Football with plenty of goals. This came to fruition immediately – away to Arsenal – and looked set to improve.
The trend of “heavy metal” football thrived for a good length of time, until the injury to Philippe Coutinho. His setback in late November saw Divock Origi drafted into the side; where in this time, he scored five goals in as many games. Despite still winning games, Liverpool did not have that cutting edge and it was clear to see. Since this injury to our talisman, the four have not played a single minute together.
Even after Coutinho returned from injury, Sadio Mané has been playing for Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations – not to mention Firmino’s drink driving incident, and Lallana’s injuries himself. Rather than Liverpool being a one-man team, it is more reliant on a set of players that can link together in incredible fashion.
This slump could easily be put down to these four players being unable to play together. However, with Mané surprisingly exiting the AFCON on Saturday night, he along with the other three could all start against Chelsea. Light at the end of the tunnel.
Another preference I would argue for is the inclusion of Joe Gomez into the starting eleven. He has looked almost as solid as a player can (when considering the length of time he spent on the side line, due to his ACL injury). This, however, would mean replacing Borussia Dortmund hero Dejan Lovren.
I, like many others, fail to see why he is a constant first team player, as he contributes more in the way of negatives than positives. Perhaps Klopp recognises his potential, or maybe he is only there because of his hefty price tag – either way, Gomez seems a better fit for the system.
Not only is the English youngster better at the basics, he can also carry the ball out from the back and pick a pass. We have seen this evidently in domestic cup games. It is also made increasingly crucial as Liverpool’s problems always stem from defence, rather than attack. Attaining the ability to score goals has never been an issue, but stopping the ball the other way is somewhat of a concern.
A fresh centre-back partnership of Joel Matip and Joe Gomez could flourish as Liverpool look to invigorate their season.
Another aspect that Klopp could have considered, but decided against, was the signing of fresh players. He had identified a cluster of players that he wanted to pursue, and this list included the pair of Julian’s, Brandt and Draxler. The latter opted for a more lucrative deal with PSG, whereas the other simply did not receive an offer.
Klopp stated that clubs “did not want to sell”, but any player is available for the right price. Whether this has stemmed from his own mentality of preferring to train players, or whether FSG prefer profit, it has undoubtedly agitated the fans. The manager’s gengenpressing style, requires a high level of fitness and squad depth – something lacking at the minute.
An extra pair of legs in a few positions would certainly have helped the club forward for the rest of the season. However, with less than 48 hours left in the transfer window, it looks extremely unlikely.
Jürgen Klopp and the owners seem to be resting their laurels on a new contract for Philippe Coutinho, and while this is good news, it is not the calibre of action that can win football matches in the near future.
Whatever needs to be done to achieve a turn around in form, must be done, and done quickly – before it’s too late.