It’s a funny thing writing a weekly blog, with timing of the piece being everything. I’d started to write a piece on Monday about Liverpool being over their slump and back to their best, coming in the wake of wins over Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United. In the end, I decided to put a pin in that in order to write a piece today that I’d tentatively titled ‘A Massive Sunday’, all about how victory over Manchester City at Anfield would lead the way to the Reds being back into the title race. Instead, we end up coming off the back of another Anfield defeat after a performance that it feels like we’ve seen far too often recently; entirely fitting in the week when Americans celebrated Groundhog Day. The scenario in which the club finds itself is close to being unprecedented, with even Manchester City’s collapse last year coming largely off the back of losing just a couple of players.
City lost just 1 big player in Laporte & were 20 points behind us by January.
We’ve got 8 of our big players currently out & we’re 7 points off 1st.
It will be blown out of proportion because we’re Liverpool, but we will overcome this mess
— (@SMXLFC) February 3, 2021
We are currently without eight first-team players. Eight. It’s an incredible thing to have to deal with, with few teams having the capacity to cope. When you then remember that Jürgen Klopp enjoys having a relatively small squad to work with that he trusts implicitly, it becomes even more noteworthy just how much damage has been done to our season by injuries. There’s no question that the manager would have started Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Sadio Mané in the last few matches, had they been fit. He also would have called on the likes of Diogo Jota and Naby Keita had he been able to in order to keep things fresh. I don’t want anyone to think that I’m being dismissive of the injury list, therefore, when I write this piece. We have been absolutely ravaged by key players going missing, yet there’s also an extent to which the manager has been getting things wrong.
The Squad Is Limited But He’s Not Using It
As I’ve made abundantly clear, I understand that there are limited options when it comes to squad selection. No one in their right mind would suggest that it’s easy for the manager, yet he does seem to be making a rod for his own back when it comes to team selections. I have been a critic of James Milner in the past, but I’ve been generally impressed with him this season, to the point where I thought he was our Man Of The Match versus Tottenham. Even so, he’s now thirty-five and the idea of asking him to play three games in a week has been one that we need to avoid as often as possible. He came off during the match against West Ham United with the manager worried about his hamstring and Curtis Jones was the difference maker when he came on. Why on earth didn’t Jones make it in from the start against Brighton & Hove Albion?
Should have made changes at half time, but again we wait until after 60 minutes.
— Rory Greenfield (@RoryGreenfield) February 3, 2021
Whilst the Seasiders weren’t quite as defensively-minded as Burnley, they were never likely to turn up and play exciting, expansive football. The plan was always going to be to pack men in the defence and try to hit us on the counter, so I’m not entirely sure we needed all of Milner, Thiago Alcantara and Gini Wijnaldum in the starting eleven. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is in a poor run of form, but he’s also unlikely to be able to make any real impact from the bench. At a time when players are looking leggy, it would have made more sense to me to start him and then allow Jones or Milner to come in with half an hour to go if we needed to mix things up. Then there’s Divock Origi. He’ll always be a cult legend but, issues with height notwithstanding, there’s no way anyone will be able to persuade me that he’s going to make more of an impact in games than Takumi Minamino.
Repeating The Same Tactics
Whilst the devastation wreaked on the squad thanks to injuries is inescapable, the simple fact is that we seem to be playing the same way against low-block teams and yet expecting a different result. I very much understand that we haven’t had a huge amount of time to train, but even so we have had some moments on the training pitch and yet we don’t seem to have worked on a way to beat teams that have been handed a blueprint of how to get three points off us. Whilst most believe that we’ll persist with one or both of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at centre-half for the remainder of the season, I’ll be disappointed if that happens. We’re defensively ok, yet we’ve sacrificed cohesion in the rest of the side for that to be the case and we’re still losing or drawing against teams that we really shouldn’t be, irrespective of our injury crisis.
Liverpool haven’t conceded twice in the league since the 2-2 draw vs Everton, 17nd Oct (and have conceded only 12 goals). That’s a run of 17 games without a wreck of a defensive game, yet their record since then is just 8-6-3.
— James Yorke (@jair1970) February 3, 2021
Now that we’ve signed Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak, I’d rather see us start with them in central defence and have some sort of stability in the rest of the team than I would watch us play the same match over and over again, hoping that this time is the one where things will work out differently. We’ve got the muscle memory to get results against teams that are going to come out at us, so the manager needs to use his time working with the team to come up with a way to get points from the sides that have no intention of giving us such freedom. That we haven’t yet discovered what to do in such a situation is something that the manager has to take some criticism for. It doesn’t mean that I think he’s lost it or that he should be sacked, it just means that he’s not blameless for the current rut that we find ourselves in. I think he’s in one himself and the sooner he finds his way out the better; our top four chances depend on it.