I was really angry yesterday. Annoyed at the scoreline, yes, but mainly annoyed at the manner in which we’d handed Manchester City a win that I wasn’t convinced that they deserved. Plenty of people on social media were quick to tell me that the Reds were never in the game and that Pep Guardiola’s side had us at arm’s length the entire time, but I really don’t think that’s true. We were the better team in the first-half and if Sadio Mané had put his header away then I think we’d have gone in at least one goal to the good. City’s expected goals for the first-half was something like 0.2, so they certainly hadn’t turned up at Anfield determined to blow us away. Scorelines can so often influence people’s memories of matches, leaving them convinced that one side was dominant over the other. Commentary doesn’t help with that either, with the likes of Roy Keane and Gary Neville making out as if Liverpool were awful throughout and deserved a battering.
WHY HAVEN’T LIVERPOOL GOT MUCH ENERGY, GARY? pic.twitter.com/4ogUW4aHfE
— Andrew Beasley 💙 (@BassTunedToRed) February 7, 2021
I was as angry as I’ve been for some time, which says something when you consider the paucity of results for the Reds in recent matches. We let our heads drop after the two uncharacteristic mistakes from Alisson Becker, acting as though there was no way we could possible get back into the game despite the numerous chances we’d already created and the fact that City’s defence looked very much on the back foot during the first forty-five minutes. Sadly we’ve seen it before, with the same thing happening against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League last season, with players looking visibly deflated after conceding in the wake of Adrian’s mistake. Even a team of mentality monsters sometimes has too much go against it to recover. We’re now in a situation where everyone is asking what can be done to rescue our season and I find myself saying the same thing over and over again: play the central defenders in defence.
We Bought Defenders, So Play Them
As the January transfer window opened, everyone was convinced that Liverpool needed to buy at least one central defender. There were rumours coming out of the club that the feeling was that we’d be able to muddle through with Fabinho Tavares playing there alongside A. N. Other, with everyone seemingly forgetting that the Brazilian was also able to get injured. Ultimately it was the unfortunate, though entirely predictable, injury to Joel Matip that forced a change of mindset. As soon as he was ruled out for the season, the powers that be knew that just hoping for the best wasn’t a viable option and so two centre-backs were signed: one with plenty of experience from a lower level of the English game and the other a relatively young player that is full of promise. No sooner had they signed did countless people start saying that they wouldn’t be ready to play for weeks, with some suggesting that they may never appear together in Red.
We were well in the game until alissons mistakes. It happens, but klopp will sort it. For any team to be successful there has to be certainty at the back, it gives confidence to take risks in attack. We will have a real go in Europe and with Van Dijk back will challenge again.
— St John Handclap (@StJohnHandclap) February 7, 2021
The thinking, which I completely understand, is that it takes a long time to get to grips with the way that Jürgen Klopp likes his teams to play. On top of that, Fabinho and Henderson had both done perfectly well as makeshift central defenders so the manager was likely to ask them to keep doing so for the time being. The theory is perfectly sound, but the reality is that we need to restore a sense of balance to this time and I think the best way of doing it is by asking the defenders that we’ve bought to play as defenders. I’m sick to the back teeth of watching this team compromise what it is and yet still drop points that it really shouldn’t be dropping. Forgetting the City match for a minute, we’ve failed to beat, or even lost to, all of Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion, West Bromwich Albion and Burnley. The ‘solid’ defence is of no use if we’re still dropping twelve points to those sorts of sides. We’ve bought the defenders, so play them.
The Midfield Needs It’s Best Players Back
The other major reason to play the two new central defenders that we’ve bought is that it will allow the club captain and our best defensive midfielder to return to the middle of the park. This Liverpool team is at its best under Jürgen Klopp when it doesn’t give the opposition a second to itself. Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum are amongst the best players in the game at constantly harassing and pressuring opposition players, forcing errors from them and keeping them pinned into their own third of the pitch. The protection offered to the defence by Fabinho is world-class, with that only likely to improve now that he’s seen how difficult it is to operate as a central defender in this side. Of course it’s possible that neither Ben Davies nor Ozan Kabak will completely understand the job that they need to do, but they’ll get excellent protection from the midfield and we can’t really do much worse than we’ve been doing recently.
It’s not just the injuries to key players killing us. It’s the balance & chemistry in the team. #LFC have been a well oiled machine but when you are continually swapping parts or trying to patch things up it is never going to work as intended.
— Si Steers (@sisteers) February 7, 2021
The defence featuring two midfielders just conceded four goals and whilst two of them, if not three, can be laid squarely at the door of the goalkeeper, it might easily have been five goals had City scored from the penalty spot after one of the midfielders did a stupidly lazy, midfielder challenge in the box. More importantly, the midfield is the engine room for a Jürgen Klopp team and at the moment it’s having to operate without several of its most important parts. The result of that is that the other midfielders are having to play more than is ideal, so almost every single player in the team is exhausted after having to pick up the slack in other departments. I’m not sure what the manager is expecting to change from one game to the next when he keeps making the same errors, but I’d be much happier losing and drawing if we at least looked more like our old selves. It’s sink or swim time for Davies and Kabak, but if they swim it might just rescue our season.