Watford 3 – Liverpool 0: An Analysis

How many intros have we written this season that talk of poor goalkeeping, defensive frailties and an inability to break teams down? It feels like hundreds. Copy and paste, smash head against wall and move past it seems like the only sensible solution, yet somehow this result feels worse than the others.

For perhaps the first time since his much heralded arrival Jurgen Klopp isn’t exactly blame free for a performance that absolutely stank of mediocrity and a lack of preparedness. It’s one thing to be a winner in a Bundesliga where more than half of the teams are cannon fodder, it’s quite another to consistently perform in the Premier League against teams that will make it their life’s ambition to beat you.

There are poor performances and then there are performances that can be labelled a disgrace without anyone accusing you of over-stepping the mark. The game against Watford on Sunday was, without question, an absolute disgrace. Here we’ll look back at the key talking points from the match and we promise we’ll be pulling no punches.

What Will It Take?

There are so many questions about this current Liverpool set-up that can start with the words ‘what will it take’. That’s a huge part of the problem: The issues associated with Liverpool Football Club are more than just cosmetic, more than just about the players on the pitch or the man in the dugout. Both of those are relevant, of course, but they’re far from the only thing that should be cause for concern.

What will it take for someone to start to ask questions about how the club is run? Aston Villa, for example, have been dreadful under several different managers and it is now a widely accepted notion that there are deep problems in the running of the club that go right the way to the top and will need to be resolved before the team can hope to produce a worthwhile display on the pitch.

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At Liverpool we have now under-performed on the pitch and in the transfer market under three different managers whilst Fenway Sports Group have been owners. Kenny Dalglish won a cup and got to two cup finals but was sacked because of the club’s league performance. Brendan Rodgers nearly won the league one season and took us to two cup semi-finals the next, yet was sacked for the club’s poor league display. Jurgen Klopp is one of the best young managers around, yet the club is not performing well in one of the worst leagues the Premier League has seen for some time.

The reality is there are serious problems at Liverpool on and off the pitch; from the way the club interacts with fans at the highest level through to the way players are recruited for the first team. These problems were manifest in the way the Reds went about their game versus Watford at Vicarage Road on Sunday.

What will it take for questions to be asked about Martin Skrtel’s part in Liverpool’s defensive frailties? That was the Slovakian’s 315th game for Liverpool under five different managers. He’s never so absolutely dreadful that you think he should be immediately dropped from the first team never to return, yet he’s always at the scene of the crime when something goes wrong.

Against Newcastle it was Skrtel’s half-hearted attempt to block a cross that led to the opening own-goal. Against Watford it was his inability to cope with Ighalo’s physical strength and get a tackle in that led to the London club going 2 goals up without even breaking a sweat. He also somehow managed to pick up an injury when he tried to body-block Troy Deeney when a long, hopeful pass was hit upfield by the goalkeeper rather than just heading the ball clear.

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

mooinblack / shutterstock.com

Skrtel wasn’t on his own in being terrible yesterday; in fact he probably wasn’t even in the top five things of what was wrong with Liverpool’s display against Watford. Yet the reality is that if the Reds are to be taken seriously as a force once more then they’ll need to look to upgrade on him sooner rather than later.

What will it take for John Achterberg to be relieved of his duties as Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach? The man who is quickly earning the reputation of Mr. Teflon has overseen some of the worst goalkeeping in Liverpool’s history, yet no one at the club seems to be keen to ask question of him.

Pepe Reina was a fantastic shot-stopper for the Reds, winning trophies and commanding his area with an incredible degree of authority. The end of his time at the club came for him when he started to go through something of a dodgy patch that came, coincidentally, after the departure of Xavi Valero and the arrival of Achterberg.

Since Reina left we’ve seen Brad Jones, Simon Mignolet and now Adam Bodgan suffer from extreme crises in confidence between the sticks for Liverpool. At what point will someone in a position of power ask whether it could be as much to do with the goal-keeping coach as it is the personnel on the pitch? It needs to happen soon.

Jurgen Klopp himself said that the club as a whole will benefit from a solid defence allowing the attackers to relax. Unfortunately, however, Liverpool’s defensive unit appears to be getting more shaky, not less. A huge part of this has to be down to the fact that no one in the team, from the strikers through to the defenders, can trust the man between the posts. Despite all of the talk of offering Mignolet a new contract, bringing in a better ‘keeper needs to be one of the manager’s top priorities.

Klopp Needs Time

Jurgen Klopp is one of the best managers in Europe. He would walk into the managerial position of pretty much any team in the world that was looking for a new boss. On top of that his personality is one that suits Liverpool Football Club, a place where the fans are desperate to idolise their manger, brilliantly. In short, he’s the right person in the right place at the right time.

Vlad1988 / shutterstock.com

Vlad1988 / shutterstock.com

Yet after just 9 league games in charge, working with someone else’s squad entirely, some Liverpool fans are questioning the manager and suggesting that he’s already on borrowed time. Which manager, exactly, do these ‘fans’ think Liverpool should appoint? Short of finding some way to bring Bill Shankly himself back from the grave there is no one that will please those fans that prioritise moaning and ‘being right’ over supporting the club.

There is no point in pretending that Klopp hasn’t made mistake during his time at Anfield, everyone knows he has. Yet he is only just beginning to get to know his players and he has had little to no time to work with them on the training pitch. He has given them all ample opportunity to prove that they deserve a future at Liverpool, but he is perhaps now beginning to realise the size of the task that he’s faced with in overhauling not only the squad but also the mentality of the players and the fans.

Some might suggest that Klopp got his starting line-up wrong on Sunday, with Firmino for one thing being completely absent in recent games. Is that fair, though? It was the front three that put 13 goals past Chelsea, Manchester City and Southampton. The idea, surely, was to play neat clever passes between a quickly inter-changing set of players in order to bamboozle Watford’s defence and drag them out of position. That that didn’t work has to be down to the players’ poor performances more than the manager’s choice of starting XI.

Why did he leave it so long to do anything about the poor performance, though? Ultimately it is his job to alter the game from the sidelines, yet he seemed to be out of ideas early on in the game, with the only change being forced upon him when Martin Skrtel injured himself by being a moron.

Martin Skrtel

Martin Skrtel

Watford’s front two of Ighalo and Deeney were quick to show the manager what a difference a partnership in attack can make to a team’s ability to compete at the highest level. Rather than ask two Belgians in Origi and Benteke to try to work together, however, Klopp left the players fumbling in the dark for far too long before he asked Ibe and Benteke to try to turn the game around.

Admittedly the manager is unlikely to have told Adam Bogdan to drop the ball in order to see how well the team could recover from a goal down after less than three minutes. Nor will Klopp have wanted his players to completely ignore the offside rule and just do their own thing for the entire 90 minutes, hoping the linesman wouldn’t notice they weren’t playing by the rules of the game.

 

The frustrating thing from Liverpool’s point of view is that they’ve had a week to work on all of the things that went so very wrong against The Hornets. It’s not as if it was a surprise to Klopp that the Reds struggle to defend set-pieces, are defensively vulnerable, don’t have any faith in their goalkeeper and don’t know how to break down stubborn defences.

So what have the team been doing all week? What has the German had the players working on? It seems as though they either don’t understand what he wants or have chosen to willingly ignore his instructions. Either way he needs to be destroying them when they get back to Melwood and making it abundantly clear that they will not be Liverpool players for long if they choose to repeat that embarrassment of a performance.

Where’s The Anger?

Jurgen Klopp may well have had a point in his post-match interview when he suggested that Watford’s opening goal shouldn’t have stood because the ball was kicked out of Adam Bogdan’s hands. It’s the sort of goal that feels harsh to concede and would have felt harsh had it been over-ruled.

The most alarming thing about the goal, however, was the complete lack of anger in the Liverpool players with the referee. Absolutely no pressure whatsoever was put on Mark Clattenburg when he allowed the goal. There was no surrounding of the man in black or running over to the assistant, there was just a meek acceptance that his decision was final.

Togetherness

Togetherness

The same thing happened in the match against West Brom at Anfield when Craig Gardner smashed into Dejan Lovren, slicing open the defender’s knee. Although Gardner got the ball it was a coward’s challenge that looked to intentionally injure Liverpool’s central defender – and succeeded in its objective.

At no point did Liverpool’s players show any reaction to that challenge, either. They didn’t crowd the referee or get angry with the West Brom players. Whether through a lack of leadership or a fear of antagonising the referee, no one wearing a Red shirt seems willing to show any fire or a sense of injustice.

It might well be something that we’ve been critical of when teams such as United or Chelsea have done it in the past, but as long as other clubs are doing it and getting away with it then we’re missing out by so willingly accepting the referee’s decision without making him think twice about giving something against us in the future.

Right now Liverpool are lacking leadership on the pitch, with Klopp showing more anger and desire on the touchline than any of the players in the team seem to be willing to display. If we have any desire to get back in the mix at the top of the table then it is high time the players abandoned their respectful, weak approach to games and became the warriors they’re supposed to be.

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