Leicester City 3 – Liverpool 1: Match Review

Where do you even begin with that? I mean, where do you even start? It had been sixteen days since we’d last played. Sixteen glorious days in which we were able to bask in the win over Spurs and imagine that our season was back on track. Sixteen days where all we had to think about was how many goals we’d score against Leicester at the King Power. Sixteen days when the Liverpool team went to La Manga for a warm weather training camp and Jürgen Klopp finally got to spend time working with his troops, drilling them and getting them ready for what was to come.

Then the Foxes sacked Claudio Ranieri. That in itself was enough to have me concerned, but when rumours started to emerge that the sacking came on the back of a player revolt I knew what was to come. Leicester players went into this game with a point to prove, so it was vital that we started well and put them on the back foot from the off. We couldn’t let the team or the crowd get any kind of sense that there was a game to be won for them or else we’d almost certainly be in trouble. Klopp knew that though, didn’t he? He’d have spent the last two weeks working on a plan to combat the way Leicester play, wouldn’t he?

Klopp Needs To Shoulder The Blame

I want to make clear first and foremost that I am 100% behind Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool manager. He’s proven himself to be one of the best managers in the world and I think he is the perfect fit for our football club. I maintain my belief, expressed elsewhere on this blog, that we will trophies under the German’s leadership. That does not mean, however, that he’s immune from criticism. The players under-performed last night and I’ll come on to talk about them, but the manager made certain decisions before a ball was kicked that put us in a position to be vulnerable to exactly the sort of performance that Leicester City were always going to give.

Jamie Vardy is many things, but slow isn’t one of them. I was impressed with Lucas Leiva’s performance against Spurs in a game where I feared he’d be found out, so I can understand the manager’s decision to persist with him in the continued absence of Dejan Lovren. Yet I also know that he is far too slow to play in a high-line against the likes of Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. That Joel Matip isn’t exactly a speedster leaves us with real problems against a team that is desperate to play counter-attacking football and play long balls in behind our defence. So the question really needs to be asked: Why did Klopp not see that it might be a problem?

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

It feels like there have been three watershed moments so far in this campaign. The first came when we beat Chelsea 2-1 at Stamford Bridge and belief coursed through the Liverpool supporters that maybe this could be our year. That thought was compounded by excellent home performances against teams we’ve traditionally struggled against, such as Watford, Stoke and Middlesbrough. The second came when we lost at home to Swansea and the realisation that we wouldn’t be competing for the title once again set in. The third came last night, as the possibility that Klopp might not be the saviour we all want him to be reared its ugly head. We can’t get too carried away on the back of one performance, but it was a performance that revealed that so many of this side’s weaknesses have not been dealt with.

Let’s be clear about this, these problems have dogged Liverpool since the 2008-2009 season. We’ve been abysmal at the back for far too long and manager upon manager has failed to deal with it. This can’t all be laid at the current incumbent’s feet. Yet Klopp has a very specific way of playing and seems entirely unwilling to move from that no matter what. He should have seen what happened when Manchester City turned up at the King Power and tried to play a high-line. He should have known that Lucas and Matip wouldn’t be able to recover if Vardy got in behind them. He should have come up with a way of playing to mitigate that problem. Yet he didn’t. Whether or not he learns from last night will surely make or break his time at Anfield.

Jordan Henderson Was Sorely Missed, But Who Stepped Up?

The news earlier in the day that Jordan Henderson had picked up a foot injury that would force him to miss the match left any right thinking Liverpool fan extremely concerned. There are still some supporters who don’t think he’s good enough or that he doesn’t offer anything to the team. If they were willing to let evidence sway them, rather than remain stubbornly attached to their opinion, then last night’s performance will have shown them exactly what we lack without him. He brings leadership to a team that looks lost without him. He also offers the defence at least a slight bit of protection. Emre Can was ok in the second-half, but he was completely anonymous in the first period. He wasn’t alone, mind. Gini Wijnaldum has been excellent of late but he was nowhere to be seen, with Adam Lallana not much better.

If I were to write a list of players that I think I’d say were good enough to play for us week-in, week-out then it would include Sadio Mané, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson. Adam Lallana would maybe creep in there if I was in a generous mood, but after that there are far too many players that shouldn’t be anywhere near our starting XI. Worse than that, the alternatives to them aren’t any better. It’s easy now to stick the boot in on James Milner and suggest that he should be dropped, but that involves a collective amnesia regarding there sheer brainlessness of Alberto Moreno. It also requires you to completely forget how good Milner was at left-back for the first part of the season, with plenty of people arguing he was the best player in the league in that position on form.

almonfoto / shutterstock.com

Moreno fits in to the same bracket as Simon Mignolet of being a player that is mediocre but no more. Neither of them can seriously be considered as the solution to our current problems, unless you want to completely forget about all of the mistakes they’ve made throughout their Liverpool career. Milner can definitely be improved upon, but not with the Spaniard who has no brain. Equally Can is not a replacement for Henderson, yet there’s no one else in the squad that can do what the captain does in Klopp’s favoured 4-3-3 system. Joel Matip looked excellent before his injury and long lay off thanks to the confusion over his selectability during the AFCON tournament, but since then he’s been looking like a player we signed on a free transfer.

Add him to a defence that contains an already mediocre player in Dejan Lovren and you’ve got problems. Those problems are worsened when your alternatives to them both are an Estonian who cost less than £5 million and a defensive midfielder who would probably lose a foot race with a snail. If you want any evidence of how poor our squad really is you only need to look at the substitutes bench the manager could turn to last night. Divock Origi is a young player and he’s currently going through the sort of changeable phase you get from lads who lack experience. Sadly the only other option for going forward was Ben Woodburn, on the bench in place of the missing Daniel Sturridge. Klopp’s decision not to bring in some fresh faces in January is looking more and more criminal with each passing game.

Klopp

One of the criticisms of Jordan Henderson is that he isn’t good enough to be Liverpool’s captain, but who should have the honour ahead of him? James Milner got the armband last night by virtue of being our vice-captain, but where was his leadership when things got tough? Adam Lallana was Southampton captain, yet how exactly did he gee the team on when the going got tough? It’s all well and good having a side full of character when things are going well, but you need them the most when your backs are against the wall. The worst thing about last night by a country mile was that everyone knew Leicester would win the game as soon as the first goal went in. It’s a shameful indictment of players who have shown time and again that they’re not up for the fight.

Klopp deserves criticism for the way he set the team up and asked them to play, but the players did themselves absolutely no favours with another insipid display. They were up against a team whose gameplan from set-pieces was to lump it into their grock-like defenders, so why on earth did we keep crossing the ball into the box? Who exactly in our team was supposed to get on the end of those crosses? We are mind-bendingly dumb far, far too often. This squad needs a complete overhaul in the summer, with the dross shipped out and replaced by significantly better players. The question is, are FSG willing to spend that sort of money? If not, we’ll be stuck watching these sort of matches time and time again.

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