How To Solve A Problem Like Liverpool

Let me be clear from the outset: Liverpool could be in the bottom three with one game to play and I wouldn’t call for Jürgen Klopp to go. The German has earned more than enough time to fix whatever trouble the Reds are in anytime that they are in it. If anything, I’d like his contract to be extended rather than brought to a premature close. Yet the simple fact is that the manager should be under more pressure than he currently is. More questions should be being asked of him as he tries to figure out how to stop our slump. The man’ is, in my eyes, a genius and I have no doubt that he’ll be able to figure out what’s going wrong, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why we seem to be doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. Isn’t that what Einstein said was the definition of madness? The Reds are driving me mad at the moment, I know that much. I was really pleased to hear the manager declare after the match last night that we ‘need to reinvent ourselves’, given that it might just mean trying something different.

In one sense, I can understand why Jürgen has stuck relatively rigidly to his tried and trusted method; after all, we nearly won a quadruple last season playing exactly that way. Yet it has been clear since the start of the season proper that all is not well for the Reds and yet we’ve persisted with pretty much the same style of play throughout. As Dan Kennett has pointed out on Twitter, Liverpool have ran less and sprinted less than the opposition in all seven matches that we’ve played so far. Given the idea that ‘intensity is our identity’, it is difficult to escape the feeling that this is a choice on behalf of the managerial team. The manager’s declaration that pre-season would continue into the season itself for a few weeks appears to have been taken very literally by the players, some of whom seem to think that they don’t need to run back to help out their defensive teammates (yes Trent, I’m looking at you). It is at the back where the biggest problems can be seen, but the lack of control in midfield isn’t helping there or in the attacking third.

The Defence Needs More Protection

If I’m being honest, I would have to say that I don’t think that Trent Alexander-Arnold has been playing well for months. He was poor towards the end of last season, but I put it down to fatigue. He hasn’t been any better this season though, which a screamer against Bournemouth can’t cover. I still think he looks exhausted, both mentally and physically, but we don’t have adequate cover for him. After James Milner’s opening 20 minutes or so last night, I’m not sure I want to see him anywhere near a starting line-up in any position ever again, let alone in the physically demanding role of right-back. Joe Gomez is better suited to the centre-back role, despite what his performance against Napoli might suggest, whilst Calvin Ramsey remains injured and, presumably, inexperienced when it comes to what will be expected of him. It limits our options, though repeatedly asking the full-backs to be so high up the pitch that it leaves the defence incredibly exposed is asking for trouble. Not compromising on that doesn’t feel sensible.

Something doesn’t feel right at the back this season, with the offside trap that was such a crucial part of what we did last season being largely ineffective. More often than not, it is Trent that is keeping an opposition forward onside thanks to his lacklustre desire to keep in-line with his fellow defenders. Whilst the midfield hasn’t been helping, in no small part due to Fabinho being in no sort of form for months now, the defenders themselves don’t seem to know how to stop the same thing happening repeatedly. The same goal that we conceded against Manchester United happened again last night, with a really simple one-two seeing the striker break our line and get a shot off. This is, in my opinion, where the manager should be doing more. The players are doing what has been asked of them, but what has been asked of them isn’t working and hasn’t been working all season. I don’t like the phrase ‘found out’, but it does feel as if other teams have at least figured out what to do to get at us and we’re not changing how we set up to stop them.

Midfield Remains A Problem

For all that the defence has issues, at least some of them are being caused by what’s going on in midfield. It was a problem when Gini Wijnaldum left and wasn’t replaced, but we managed to make do in a rather spectacular fashion last season. It remained a problem when so many of the men in the middle grew another year older and were already injury prone. Whatever is going on with Naby Keïta, and I note with interest that he’s been called up by his national team, the manager’s decision to have such faith in him has resulted in the problem of his availability coming front and centre. James Milner has the feel of a player whose legs have fallen off in front of our eyes, but once again Jürgen Klopp has heaps of faith in him and seems to be blind to the issues that most of us can see. I would run through brick walls for Jordan Henderson, yet there’s no doubt that he is not the player that he once was and too much is being asked of him alongside a Fabinho who hasn’t played well for as long as I can remember and an inexperience Harvey Elliott.

Thiago Alcantara remains a class above and the stats show that we improved immeasurably once he came on last night. The problem is how dependent we seem to be on the Spaniard, who isn’t exactly injury free at the best of times. How on earth has one of the best run clubs in the world been allowed to get into a situation where our entire way of playing seems to revolve around a player with a unique set of skills that we can’t replicate when he is, somewhat inevitably, injured? The signing of Arthur Melon might go some way to mitigating that, but it became clear last night that he will need time to get up to speed and gain some match fitness. He, of course, is also someone that picks up injuries relatively easily and so won’t be someone that we can depend on. All in all, Liverpool don’t look right at the moment and fixing it isn’t going to be an easy process. The good news is that the best manager in the world is the man making the decisions.

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