Scott Groom explains why Liverpool must make a return to the heavy metal style of play that saw them obliterate sides in the Champions League last season when the face Napoli.
Another Champions League away fixture and another defeat. Liverpool slumped to another drab away loss in Group C on Wednesday evening, this time at the hands of Paris Saint Germain, with Klopp’s men going down 2-1 in the Parc des Princes.
It was a night to forget in the French capital as Liverpool rarely threatened, looking toothless, passive and below-par for large parts of the tie and as a result, have now left themselves with a tricky task in their final group stage game against Napoli.
It is perhaps of no surprise then, that Jürgen Klopp has come in for some criticism for his team selection and style of play, particularly in the first half, as the game simply seemed to pass Liverpool by and it was almost too late when James Milner slotted his penalty home in first half stoppage time.
The second half showed a marked improvement on the first, but still the Reds fell short and, in truth, rarely threatened Gigi Buffon’s goal.
Many critics pointed out Klopp’s use of his ‘safe’ midfield three of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum as a reason behind Liverpool’s failure to make an impact on the game. The trio have regularly been played together in matches that Klopp doesn’t feel like he wants to throw the kitchen sink at games.
It has worked in the past, but there have always been fingers pointed at the lack of spark, zest and creativity that is apparent when they play together.
It would be grossly unfair to put the blame solely on these three players, however, as we all know that football is a team game; but the midfield really sets the pace for this Liverpool team. If they’re not firing on all cylinders, the defence isn’t shielded effectively and the attacking force of Mané, Salah and Firmino isn’t getting any kind of quality service for them to make the most of.
The energetic, fast, thrilling brand of football that we all loved to see last season seems like a distant memory, with only the opening day victory over West Ham and September’s Anfield triumph over PSG in the reverse fixture some of the only displays of this style this season.
Perhaps this is what has left them in the predicament that they now find themselves in, needing to notch a 1-0 win against Napoli or beat them by two clear goals in order to make it out of the group.
It feels as though Klopp’s more cautious approach both domestically and in Europe has worked in the Premier League, which is more of a long-haul, but in the sprint to get out of the Champions League group it seems to have been a flawed approach.
This is why it would make perfect sense for Liverpool to return to Klopp’s self-coined ‘heavy metal’ football that earned his side so many plaudits last season.
The game against Napoli is make or break, so there is no time to play it safe. It’s time for the Reds to go for the jugular because if they don’t, do we really want to be sitting in the Europa League playing games on Thursdays and then Saturdays again, potentially putting a title challenge in jeopardy?
Plus, it’s only one game. If it all goes to plan, it looks great. If it doesn’t, then at least the Reds gave it a go.
When Liverpool did start running at PSG and looking to drive forward at pace, the French champions looked scared and far from comfortable when Liverpool were simply playing it patiently.
There were large periods during last season’s European campaign, there were so many teams who just could not cope with Liverpool’s full-frontal approach. Manchester City and Roma crumbled, and Real Madrid were shaken by the Reds until fortune worked against them.
So why not test Napoli in the same manner? The Italians certainly weren’t tested when Liverpool visited Naples, so let’s have a right go at them in front of a raucous Anfield crowd and get out of this group.