From the sublime to the ridiculous. Haven’t we been here before? For fifteen minutes against Arsenal Liverpool look absolutely electric. The heavy metal football that Jürgen Klopp promised was delivered with aplomb during a blitzkrieg of a second-half, only for the same old defensive issues to crop up again at The Emirates. We’d learn from our mistakes before heading off to Turf Moor though, right?
In this day and age of 24-hour rolling news and social media there is often a rush to judgement over performances. I like to take a bit of time and allow the dust to settle before completely losing my head, so hopefully this review might offer a touch more balance than if I’d written it in the immediate aftermath of the game. The frustration of feeling as though this match was just a case of history repeating will hopefully have been tempered by the passing of time. I’m still fuming, mind…
Starting A Goal Down
I desperately don’t want to talk about Simon Mignolet. I spent last season repeatedly talking about Simon Mignolet. But the truth is we need, once more, to talk about Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool’s defence isn’t perfect. Anyone who claims otherwise is either a liar or a fool. Yet isn’t an imperfect defence entitled to ask its goalkeeper to bail it out every now and again? Let’s look at Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal for a second. The crazy Dutchman was known for installing a defensive set-up and United only conceded 35 goals under him last season – the joint fewest in the league.
Yet David De Gea regularly won Manchester United’s Man of the Match award. Isn’t that odd? That he played behind a stingy defence in a team that was set-up to protect the backline before trying to attack but he was regularly the best player on the pitch? That’s what a good goalkeeper is supposed to do. He’s meant to bail his defence out on the rare occasions that they aren’t at the races.
Last 5 shots on target Simon Mignolet has faced:
5 conceded without saving 1. pic.twitter.com/7JPTbg75vm
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 20, 2016
The last 5 (five – FIVE) shots that Simon Mignolet has faced have resulted in a goal being scored. Now it’s entirely fair to say that none of them were his fault, but isn’t it also fair to ask whether he could have done better with them? I have watched them all repeatedly and I’m convinced that a top class shot-stopper doesn’t concede any of them. Even Cazorla’s brilliant taken free-kick in the Arsenal game is only going to one place if you watch it. Mignolet was nowhere near it.
None of this is to needlessly slag off the goalkeeper, of course. The reality is that we have brought in Loris Karius as our new number one and he would almost certainly have started these games if he hadn’t broken his finger on Dejan Lovren’s head. It’s pointless to get too down on the Belgian when you consider the very real possibility that he’ll be our number two moving forward and that he’s a definite improvement as a number two on Adam Bogdan.
The point I’m trying to make is that he’s a massive part of our problems at the back. I’m not suggesting that we’ll immediately stop conceding when Karius is fit again, but the likelihood is that the young German will completely change the way the team defends. In pre-season it was clear that he caused the defence to start much higher up the pitch and was keen to command his backline; something that we rarely, if ever, see from Mignolet. You also have to hope that he won’t concede virtually every single shot on target on his goal.
Perhaps I’m just being biased, but it’s incredible how ruthless #LFC‘s opponents are when we make an error. Shots always seem to go in.
— Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) August 22, 2016
This match felt, in so many ways, like a case of history repeating. For Saturday’s game see Watford away last season. In both games, though, the Reds started the match as good as a goal down, having conceded in less than five minutes. At Vicarage Road it was Bogdan’s fault, at Turf Moor Mignolet didn’t do enough. Regardless, the team is being asked to play with a goal handicap and then criticised for running out of ideas.
Until Karius returns from injury there’s little that can be done about the goalkeeping situation, of course. But when having conversations about the state of the defence it is important to acknowledge that they’re not being aided in any way, shape or form by the man between the sticks. Goalkeepers aren’t a separate entity from the defence, they’re part of the same unit. Mignolet might not be being helped by the lads in front of him but they sure as hell can’t be happy by the protection he’s offering them should they make a mistake or get caught on the counter. Of course we could continue to just blame everything on Moreno, but it’s almost as if he’s being scapegoated for a collective issue.
Daniel Sturridge Shouldn’t Start
Daniel Sturridge is Liverpool’s most natural finisher. He is a striker of supreme intelligence and ability who is perhaps second to only Sergio Aguero on that front in the entire Premier League. He is a tremendous player who is close to unstoppable on his day.
But I don’t think he should be starting games up front for Liverpool Football Club.
This might be my most controversial opinion to date, yet I’m more and more confident in my opinion every time I see him play for us. Andrew Beasley has just written a very good piece on Sturridge’s declining touches inside the opposition box that is well worth your time. The only question unanswered – because Andrew couldn’t possibly know – is whether Sturridge is spending less time in the opposition box because he is being instructed to by his manager or because he’s choosing to as a player. Either way, it’s not working.
Many Liverpool fans realised on Saturday that Sturridge essentially seemed to be playing in midfield. Time and again he would drop deep to pick up the ball before attempting to move the play forward. The problem with that was that he is the player who he would then want to be passing to. If the ball was picked up by Coutinho, Firmino or Lallana they would be wanting to find Sturridge in front of them only for the striker to be alongside them instead.
Liverpool have completed 14 passes in the box, but Sturridge has only received one of them… https://t.co/tKM92tFdwh
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) August 20, 2016
Sturridge is a selfish player. That’s not a criticism. I want my striker to be selfish. I want him to feel as though he’s the most important player in the team and that other players should bow down before him and do everything they can to help him get on the scoresheet. But when that selfishness appears to devolve to the point that he is constantly dropping deep to pick up the ball and do everything himself then it just doesn’t work for me.
Sturridge definitely has the ability to engage in quick, one-touch football but watching him in a Jürgen Klopp team is frustrating. He constantly wants to stand his man up, do stepovers, shimmies and numerous other things that takes the pace right out of a Liverpool attack. It was also ridiculous to seem him repeatedly try ambitious shots from distance when they really weren’t work. He wasn’t even close to being the worst exponent of this against Burnley, of course. Philippe Coutinho followed up his heroics against Arsenal with another one of ‘those’ performances that makes you want to punch him in the head.
I love Daniel Sturridge. I think he’s a brilliant player and he comes across as a very nice chap when he’s interviewed and so on. There’s nothing I want more than to be proven wrong about him fitting into a Klopp team. Yet I must confess I would rather see Divock Origi or even Danny Ings start in games where there opposition are likely to play with a deep, compact line. Sturridge is at his best bursting in behind the defenders, giving them something to think about and pressing them. He’s not one to constantly press, close and harass for the duration of the match. Sadly, Liverpool as a team suffer because of that.
A Few Cross Words
It’s a cliche, I know, but football in the Championship is a lot more ‘agricultural’ than in the Premier League. Teams don’t worry too much about beautiful, attractive football but are delighted to stick a couple of groks at centre-back and deal with anything and everything that you can throw at them. There’s a reason that relegated sides so often struggle to bounce straight back up unless they kept hold of the players who got them promoted in the first place.
Jürgen Klopp was absolutely right to sell Christian Benteke. He is a very good player but he doesn’t suit Liverpool’s style of play. That style of play is to move the ball about quickly and with intelligence, trying to find gaps in the opposition’s defence. So why oh why did we repeatedly try and cross the ball against Burnley on Saturday afternoon?
Jürgen Klopp: “I saw crosses – really good crosses – when nobody was in the box. I saw shots when the whole box was full.”#LFC
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) August 20, 2016
Crosses into the box are bread and butter to a newly promoted team like Burnley. We’re terrible at it at the best of times, too. So I’m really struggling to understand why the choice was so often made to chuck crosses in when they were being dealt with so easily. It is lazy, stupid play and it is on both the manager for not screaming for them to stop it from the sidelines and the players themselves to realise it’s not working and to try something else.
I’ve said time and again that titles aren’t won or lost by how you play against the big teams. Liverpool have no problem getting themselves geed up for games against the likes of Manchester United or Chelsea. Where the problem lies is in realising that matches against the likes of Burnley won’t be won merely because we’re Liverpool and they’re not. Refraining from playing into their hands by crossing balls into the box that they dealt with for fun last season will be a big step in the right direction. If Klopp can’t learn that and quickly then any hopes of getting us back to the right end of the table will quickly disappear.