For a Liverpool team that appears to be taking one step forward and two steps back under Jurgen Klopp thus far, this match had all the hallmarks of a banana skin. A team with a couple of ex-Liverpool players in its roster alongside some ex-United players who only seem to play well against us, managed by a xenophobic moron who sees himself as an Alex Ferguson-lite and would love to beat Liverpool more than anything. Mix all that together with a partisan crowd of good, solid, salt-of-the-earth types and some nasty weather and you’ve got yourself a disaster waiting to happen.
Sam Allardyce becomes the first manager to lose 15 Premier League matches against Liverpool (Harry Redknapp and David Moyes 14).
— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) December 30, 2015
The disaster didn’t materialise, though, despite Liverpool doing everything in their power to give Sunderland more chances to get back into the game than they could ever possibly have deserved. From missing one-on-ones through to attacking midfielders attempting to defend but instead slicing crosses right back into the centre of our own box, we seemed to have our finger firmly pressed on the self-destruct button only to get a bit lucky when the wires weren’t connected to anything.
Let’s get this right: Sunderland were absolutely dreadful. There was a moment on the Sky commentary when Martin Tyler suggested Liverpool hadn’t found their rhythm and Niall Quinn said we should ‘give Sunderland credit’. What an absolute load of nonsense; Sunderland deserve no credit whatsoever. They were genuinely horrendous and serious questions should be asked of why the Reds didn’t stick four or five past them. This was far from a vintage performance, but we got the job done and join Spurs and Stoke as the only teams to win both of our Betwixtmas fixtures.
Here we look at some of the key talking points from the game, asking what Liverpool need to work on as we head into 2016. As always, we’re keen to get your feedback so get in touch! Whether you agree or disagree with what we’ve said, leave us a comment in the box, send us a tweet or hire a carrier pigeon if you really want to and we’ll get back to you one way or another.
Benteke Needs Help
Benteke is something of a conundrum at Liverpool. He has scored the only goal in 3 1-0 wins so far this season, yet he has missed two one-on-ones in the last two matches, with the first one coming against a defender rather than an attacker (obviously ignoring the fact he couldn’t have been more offside if he’d tried). He is, arguably, giving Jurgen Klopp his biggest selection headache as we move into the new year.
There can be little doubt that his movement isn’t good enough and that doesn’t offer the team enough of a defence from the final third; he doesn’t harry, press or close down the opposition defenders anywhere near enough to be a huge success in a Klopp team, and yet he’s still the only one consistently scoring.
The reality is, however, that the Liverpool team needs to help him as much as he needs to help them. It’s all well and good saying that he doesn’t offer the sort of movement that Coutinho and Lallana thrive off, but that’s nothing new. They, in turn, aren’t offering him the sort of service that could be considered useful for a tall, powerful striker who knows instinctively how to score.
Philippe Coutinho had arguably his worst game for Liverpool in some time against Sunderland, producing the occasional bit of magic but also taking too many touches far too often, spinning into danger time and again and picking the wrong pass repeatedly. Whilst the manager might have been furious with Benteke for his lack of movement, can’t the striker himself also be a little disappointed with the service he received?
The Liverpool Echo printed an article last night regarding the fact that three number 10s can’t all play in the same position, and it’s an entirely fair point. It not only demonstrates the lack of balance in the Liverpool side but it also shows how isolated the main striker must be at times. When you play with two wingers and either a strike partner or a proper number 10 you are surrounded by options. When you have three people all vying to be your support but none of them working from a position they favour you are left isolated far too often.
There are plenty of people that don’t think that Christian Benteke is the right choice for Liverpool Football Club. We don’t know whether Jurgen Klopp is one of those people or whether he considers him the type of player that could easily be turned into a Merseyside version of Robert Lewandowski. What we do know is that he is an instinctive striker who knows how to score when all he’s got to do is put the ball in the back of the net but struggles to know what to do when he’s got time and options.
Whether Klopp sees much of a future for Christian Benteke or not, right now he is our only 100% fit striker and therefore needs must. We need to find a way to get the ball to him in places he can do something with, whilst he needs to get himself into those positions with more regularity and persistence. If we can match up his ability with the rest of the team’s movement then we could yet have a player on our hands. If not then he’ll continue to be a makeshift attacker in a halfway house of a team.
Coutinho Needs To Stop Shooting
There is an extent to which we should feel mildly sorry for Philippe Coutinho and his ludicrous shooting from distance. Like John Arne Riise before him, he has seen some success when he’s struck the ball from far away and so he can be forgiven for thinking it will work every time. Yet, also like the ginger-haired former Red, more often than not his shots don’t even trouble the goalkeeper, let alone the net.
Recently Jurgen Klopp has suggested that he wants to see more goals from Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana, so you can understand why the diminutive Brazilian constantly feels the need to shape up to unleash a shot. The fact that the Anfield crowd constantly seems to get excited when he does so must give him a bit of a buzz too. Yet the stats don’t back up the idea that this is the right way to do things.
Coutinho has had a total of 9 shots in Liverpool’s last two matches – 2 blocked, 7 off target.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) December 30, 2015
Liverpool must be working on intelligent movement and shifting attacking shapes on the training pitch. Against Sunderland there were numerous occasions when Coutinho had options in front of him from players in better positions, only to decide that blasting a shot high and wide was the best possible choice he could make. Is this a choice from the striker or an instruction from the sideline? If it’s the former then he should be dropped as a punishment for being so stupid, if it’s the latter then the manager needs to seriously reconsider his choices.
Sam Allardyce has been a manager for years and he doesn’t have the right to lace Jurgen Klopp’s bootlaces let alone question his tactics. If Allardyce can’t question Klopp then we definitely shouldn’t be, but there are only so many times you can watch your talented, hip swinging, pass-threading midfield genius take stupid, brainless shots before you start to lose your mind. It goes back to the same point as the movement of Benteke: The more the players help each other the more likely it is that we’ll score simple goals.
Coutinho is an outstanding talent and, more often than not, is the best player in a Liverpool shirt on the pitch. He is the sort of player that you should build a team around and give the freedom of the city. He is intelligent, quick and incisive and even on his worst day he can produce a piece of magic that can take the breath away. That, more than anything else, is why he must, must, must stop taking mindless shots from distance before the Kop turn from cheering, encouraging supporters to pitchfork wielding maniacs, booing his every decision.
Goalkeeping It Real
If Christian Benteke is a conundrum then it’s anyone’s guess what Simon Mignolet is. Against his former club the Belgian showed his good side and his bad in the space of 90 minutes. He made an excellent save from Jermain Defoe when the striker got a stinging shot off at him in the first half, yet he also flapped at a cross and couldn’t even get past the tiny former England striker to punch the ball clear during the second period.
With rumours persisting that Jurgen Klopp is happy for Liverpool to push ahead in offering Mignolet a new contract, Kopites could be forgiven for being more than a little confused as to what the manager sees in the goalkeeper that causes more palpitations at Anfield than a half-naked model wandering in front of the Kop. The German boss said recently that Mignolet was one of the ‘most intelligent’ shot stoppers he’d worked with, yet if that’s true why does he make so many stupid mistakes?
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 30, 2015
Those in the know have asked questions about John Achterberg and understandably so. After all, the Liverpool goalkeeping coach has been in place during Pepe Reina’s most dodgy period between the sticks as well as during the contracts of Mignolet, Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan; all of them prone to a fair few dodgy moments. Can all of Liverpool’s goalkeeping woes be put down to the bloke who trains them? If so, why isn’t something being done to replace him? And if not, why isn’t something being done to bring in a top class goalkeeper?
It is generally accepted that Liverpool have been poor at finishing their chances in recent games. In fact, the Reds haven’t been clinical in front of goal unless the person taking the shots was either Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge. Luis Suarez is, arguably, the best striker in the world right now as far as form is concerned and has been since 2013, whilst Daniel Sturridge would be up there if he could ever stay fit long enough to put a run of games together.
With the rest of the Liverpool squad being less clinical than a backstreet surgery, is it not possible that part of the reason that they can’t produce the goods during a match could come down to the fact that the goalkeepers they have to practice against just aren’t good enough? If they were up against a player like Hugo Lloris or David De Gea when they were practicing at Melwood, wouldn’t it make the likes of Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke more likely to score during a match proper?
Manchester United don’t have world class centre backs. Manchester City don’t have world class centre backs. Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City and Arsenal don’t have world class centre backs. What all of those teams do have, however, is a top class goalkeeper that not only gives the rest of his team confidence but also digs his defence out of the mire when they make a mistake. Right now it’s difficult to see anything but positives from a decision to upgrade the goalkeeper.
Simon Mignolet might end 2015 as the stopper with the most clean sheets in the Premier League, but with any luck 2016 will give his manager a chance to dip into the transfer market and, at the very least, ensure his place is under more threat than it currently is. Everyone associated with Liverpool Football Club stands to benefit if that’s the case.