What’s Going Wrong For Liverpool?

We have injuries. Lots of injuries. Though people don’t like to talk about it, feeling as though it is some sort of excuse-making, there is no questioning the fact that our squad has been depleted in a manner that the manager wouldn’t have expected. Obviously he should have suspected that the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keïta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would miss large chunks of the season, but he would have been forgiven for feeling as though Joël Matip was beyond the worst of his problems after last season. Similarly, Diogo Jota seemed to be over the worst of his problems, only for them to re-surface. Whilst those that are keen to criticise anyone from the owners to the manager to the captain, the reality is that injuries can be season defining. Throw Darwin Núñez’s suspension into the mix and suddenly you have two goalkeepers and a load of kids on the bench at Old Trafford and not a lot of options to make changes if you need to.

The injury list that the Reds are currently facing is something that has to be taken into account as a mitigating factor. As we discovered with our defenders a couple of seasons ago, when injuries hit they have a negative impact elsewhere on the pitch. We are currently paying that price in a few different parts of our game, so it is perhaps no surprise that we’re struggling. That being said, injuries alone aren’t the reason we’re struggling this season. I’m going to talk more about what I think is happening, but it is only right that the injuries get a mention, alongside Núñez’s red card. That our new striker, brought in to give us options in how we play, wasn’t available last night caused us major problems. It meant that Roberto Firmino had to start and it now feels as though we’ve evolved past what he offers. By dropping deep so often, James Milner became out most advanced central player, which surely can’t have been our plan for scoring goals? I certainly hope not.

The Manager Is Not Above Criticism

I am genuinely of the opinion that Jürgen Klopp is the best manager in the world. He has achieved what he has in his career, both at Anfield and in Germany, without the influx of money from a murderous regime using sport to wash its reputation. He has won every trophy he could have during his time at Liverpool, with the only exception being the Europa League. I am not going to say something as evidently ludicrous as ‘it’s time for him to go’. Yet I also don’t think that he should be beyond criticism just because of what has gone before. I do trust him to fix the problems that we’re having, but it’s also ok to ask questions of him. The biggest question I have burning my head out at the moment is: what have we been doing for the past week? We all know that the manager loves time on the training pitch, regularly bemoaning the likes of pointless international breaks, yet he’s had a week with his players and I have no sense of what it is that they’ve been working on.

Pretty much everyone in football said that there would be a reaction from Manchester United following their humiliation at the hands of Brentford the week before, yet our players seemed to be entirely surprised that they were so up for the game at Old Trafford. As with Fulham, the notion that we might be pressed and harried appeared to catch the players off-guard, making the Red Devils look like a brilliant team. Indeed, the way Sky reacted suggested they were superb, when really they were just mediocre and we were abysmal. A team with any fight whatsoever will get something out of United. I have no idea what our plan to score was last night. We got a goal, but it didn’t come about because of the excellent execution of a free-flowing move. Our plan seemed to be to push James Milner into the forward line and I can’t even begin to tell you how ridiculous that is. The manager needs to stand up and be counted just as much as the players right now.

Midfield A Major Concern

One of the manager’s few faults is that his positive outlook means that he can sometimes miss what is staring everyone else in the face. It often feels as though he remembers all of the positives about a player and dismisses the negatives. Thiago Alcantara is a wonderful player, but picks up too many injuries to be thought of as anything other than a luxury. Naby Keïta is excellent on his day, but I think I could count how many days he’s had during his Liverpool career on one hand and he is also injury prone. Jordan Henderson is now reaching the point in his career where he should be faded out, meaning that when he does start he’s got the fitness to be the energetic midfielder he is at his best. Fabinho Tavares hasn’t been playing well for some time now, to say nothing of the fact that he also picks up injuries fairly regularly. James Milner, meanwhile, should be a bit-part player, not one of the first names on the manager’s team sheet as he has been lately.

I understand the club’s desire to wait for what is considered to be the ‘right’ man. We saw it pay off with Virgil van Dijk, for example. Yet sometimes pragmatism is what is needed and right now we look like we’re leaving far too much to be done next summer. By my calculations, we need at least three signings for the middle of the park, in addition to a winger that can play on either side and give Mo Salah or Luis Diaz a rest every now and then. It is also worth bearing in mind that Roberto Firmino can’t be considered as a serious option in the front three if he’s going to keep dropping so deep that he’s effectively working as a defensive midfielder, especially if the result is that the forward line is completed vacated. That a transfer team that has been so good at its job for so long has allowed this situation to develop is a real worry, given that most people could see it coming from a mile off. The manager trusts people, but maybe at times he trusts people a little too much.

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