Ethan Golding has a look at the talking points from Liverpool’s win over NK Maribor at Anfield in Group E of the Champions League.
Following Liverpool’s dismantling of Maribor 0-7 away from home, fans and pundits alike were maybe suspecting, more than expecting, a similar showing from the Reds in Wednesday’s reverse fixture.
However, the message coming from Klopp and his team was one of pragmatism and consistency and this is what we saw. And so here are five talking points from last night’s 3-0 win.
During Klopp’s tenure at Anfield fans have been treated to some astonishing examples of the “Heavy Metal” football that Klopp made famous at Dortmund. In almost equal measure, we have been subjected to lacklustre and wholly disheartening performances.
Wednesday night was another example of a third kind of performance that has not been seen too often. Sunday’s 3-0 win against Huddersfield was more than a prelude to the win over Maribor, with the two matches playing out in almost the exact same manner. A slow first half followed by a clinical second with just a dash of missed opportunities, most notably in the shape of two missed penalties.
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This writer for one is truly in favour of more performances like these. Scoring in the second half proved a difficulty for Liverpool at times this season as well as last. This, thankfully, no longer seems to be a problem.
Too often have Liverpool been guilty of not putting lesser teams to the sword, more than simply struggling to break down organised, defensive sides. Wednesday night at Anfield and last Sunday represent a ‘Plan B’ which until now seemed to be missing. The absence of Liverpool’s creative players (Lallana, Coutinho, Mane) no longer seems to be detrimental to results as they had this time last year.
Consistency at home
Defensive problems are by no means a thing of the past, and a clean sheet against a side like Maribor should not be praised as much as it has. If you are conceding goals against teams of Maribor’s ilk then there is a serious problem, but Wednesday night’s clean sheet represents another home game where Liverpool has successfully kept the ball out of their own net.
Liverpool have conceded just the 1 goal in their 5 home games in the league, while conceding 2 in their 2 in the Champions League, both coming against Sevilla. Overall, that’s 3 goals conceded in 7 home games, with 5 of those games producing clean sheets.
It doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but at least during a period of supposed ‘turmoil’ for Liverpool, the rot has not spread to Anfield. It’s only when home form becomes a problem that a team is truly in trouble. Here’s to the return of Fortress Anfield.
Lack of Lovren
If there’s one thing we have learned from Coutinho’s summer transfer saga it’s that the club is not afraid to keep up a facade of injury in order to protect themselves and a player. With Dejan Lovren winning October’s Player of the Month it is evident that he is in clear need of protection right now.
Regardless of form, some of the direct abuse the Croatian centre-half has received is uncalled for. With this in mind, it would not be too surprising if Lovren’s absence from the starting XI is a repeat of Moreno’s handling last season.
Lovren may have suffered a last minute knock at the weekend, but his presence on the bench against Maribor suggests it’s not too severe. If he is once against absent for Saturday’s visit to West Ham, it could be a while yet until we see him feature for Liverpool again.
This approach to shielding his players from criticism has seemingly worked wonders for Alberto Moreno, with the left-back playing out of his skin thus far and if it can work similarly well for Lovren then it may prove worthwhile. (Let’s still hope a certain Dreaded Dutch Defender arrives in January though).
Leadership in midfield
Liverpool’s primary midfielders have continuously come under fire for a lack of leadership on the pitch. Although Jordan Henderson is very much appreciated by the Liverpool faithful, he is often accused of not being enough of an out and out leader on the pitch.
The problem with captaincies is that no two are the same. In many ways, Gerrard was not a great captain. He may have been the best player at the club during his time, but the player who best represented a typical captain was always Jamie Carragher. It was the centre-half that would marshal the side, barking orders and organising throughout the 90 minutes.
Henderson’s captaincy falls somewhat in between the two styles, occasionally leading by example and occasionally barking orders. Last night, however, was an example of three players all on the same page in midfield. Before Henderson’s introduction, it was Emre Can who occupied the no.6 and was directing the front 3 as well as the back 2.
After Henderson’s introduction, James Milner was still visibly communicating with the referee following a yellow card was given to Maribor’s no.8 for a shirt pull, while there was no yellow following Milner being absolutely cleared out moments before.
It was Can and Milner who grabbed the match by the neck, combining for the second goal and providing breathing space and settling any nerves that may have begun to grow around the ground.
As it stands Can’s future at the club is uncertain and so is not likely to be handed the armband, Milner is closing in on the end of his career and so Henderson is the best option for now. But at least there are 3 players capable of marshalling the troops.
Sturridge scores in back to back matches
Say it quietly and only in circles of trust but Sturridge seems to have found a vein of form and a compromise between his own style and Klopp’s. Sturridge’s goal last night was the first time he’s scored in back to back fixtures for LFC since April of 2016.
Sturridge’s time at Anfield has been disappointing simply because it should have been incredible. His record is fantastic despite innumerable injuries, but two goals in the Premier League and goals in back to back matches offers some hope for the England international’s season.
Sturridge is quite clearly Klopp’s number one choice off the bench this season with two of his 3 goals being scored after coming off the bench and coming in the last 15 minutes of games.
There are far, far worse strikers to have on the bench and if Sturridge can reach double figures this season it would represent a good season for the striker and possibly raise his price tag should he decide to move on this summer.
It appears that in Klavan, we have found the Zoolander of centre-halves with the Estonian defender seeming unable to turn left. For the second time in the game, the Anfield crowd was treated to a surprise dummy from the Estonian. Instead of taking the ball into his feet, he opted to allow it to run past his left side, while the defender pivoted to his right before passing it off to Alberto Moreno.
Ultimately pointless but it’s important to stay entertained and involved when you don’t have much to do during a match. Keep ’em coming Ragnar. You do you.