Eight games into the new season in all competitions, Liverpool have won just three times. It was undoubtedly a disappointing start for Jurgen Klopp and his team.
Those three wins came against a dismal Bournemouth side in a record 9-0 win – a game you might see as an anomaly among these first six weeks of the season – plus 2-1 wins over Newcastle and Ajax . All three were at Anfield.
Indeed, with the exception of the Bournemouth game, Liverpool have only been ahead in two games this season – in the dying seconds (literally) against Newcastle after the 98th-minute winner, and for a 10-minute spell at 1-0 and after the 89th- Minute winner against Ajax.
Thus, in seven of their eight games played, Klopp’s side have been leading for less than 12 minutes. This lack of a lead in matches leads to tension and anxiety among players and fans. It also means more effort is needed to find a goal, which further adds to the mental and physical fatigue evident in the team. It also prevents the team from controlling the game and the tempo, with the possibility of “resting with the ball”.
1. Slow starts
Aside from that Bournemouth game, the last time Liverpool were top in a half-time game was against Newcastle in April. Indeed, those are the only two times they have been ahead at half-time in their last 18 games.
Asked about the slow starts after this season’s opener against Fulham, Klopp took umbrage, suggesting ‘you can’t compare’ games towards the end of a season when they have played so many games.
“It’s a completely different start to the season,” he insisted. A week later, he said Liverpool’s “main problem…has nothing to do with the start of games”.
The following game saw Liverpool trailing after 16 minutes at Old Trafford, lucky to be just 1-0 up at half-time. Andy Robertson was a little more open in his post-match interview than Klopp had been before the game. “We cannot continue to fight an uphill battle,” he said. “We started slowly again and that has to change.
“Fulham started better than us, they [Man United] definitely started better than us today. Last season, Wolves, Real Madrid, Southampton… that has to change. You can’t keep giving them a goal start.
Constantly having to chase a match is mentally and physically tiring. Especially for a team that looked mentally and physically exhausted in the first month of the season…
2. Player Overuse
This is where the question becomes really debatable. You’ve probably heard of Klopp’s seventh season troubles at Mainz and Dortmund, and there’s certainly a school of thought that his energetic, physically demanding style of counter-pressing and sprinting past opponents just can’t work. that so long. on the same group of players.
Liverpool have been outmatched in every game so far this season, perhaps indicating a hangover not just from last season’s 63-game campaign, but also from the past four seasons.
That the key quintet of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Robertson have looked far from their best is no surprise – these five, along with Alisson and Sadio Mane, have played the most minutes in the last four seasons.
And Mane, that other most-used outfield player, seems to be suffering from the same hangover at his new club. “He has invested so much for Liverpool,” Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann said of the Senegalese’s fitness.
“He [Mane] seemed devoid of power and momentum,” commented German journalist Raphael Honigstein.
And that’s exactly what Liverpool have looked like in this opening phase of the season, playing outdated, thoughtful and muscular with far too much regularity – and ease.
Klopp has always insisted that he prefers working with a small squad, but having a small group of players deliver the physical levels he demands over such a long period must have an effect.
What’s needed is either a bigger squad with more rotation or fresh, younger legs to bring back the dynamism that’s been missing. See Luis Diaz as the best example of that. More of his ilk are needed.
3. The midfield and being too open
And then there’s the big talking point.
The Liverpool midfielder has always been the main discussion among fans pretty much throughout Klopp’s time at the club. From the so-called ‘Brexit midfielder’ days of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum, to the debate over midfielders not scoring, to Wijnaldum not being replaced, to the failed signing of a midfielder this summer.
In the four years since Fabinho’s arrival in 2018, Thiago is the only established midfielder Liverpool have signed. Meanwhile, Henderson turned 32, Milner 36, Fabinho turns 29 next month and Thiago turns 31.
When Klopp said of the 4-1 loss at Napoli that ‘when James Milner comes too late in a challenge and we lose challenges where we usually win them, you know something is wrong’, fans could have been forgiven for wondering if he was being ironic.
Robertson offered a more honest assessment immediately after in Napoli, saying: “We were too open, we can’t come to places like this and not be compact.
“When you’re a pressing team and you miss a challenge, you need one to follow it and support its mate.”
And it is that pressure – or lack thereof – that is arguably the biggest problem facing Liverpool, creating a domino effect in which lack of pressure on the opponents’ midfield means they are able to play balls behind Liverpool’s high defensive line.
“Too often they had wide open spaces to run at us and send the ball behind and cause problems for our two centre-backs,” Robertson explained. “You can’t be wide open like that. You have to go back to basics, you have to be compact.
A week later, against Ajax, Liverpool were much more compact and had apparently used their Premier League postponement to work on exactly what Robertson had said – get back to basics.
The midfield remained more connected and more compact, including the adjustment of Harvey Elliott. While the teenager has been one of the few bright spots so far this season, his use on the right side role has its tactical issues.
Average positions of Liverpool against Napoli (blue) and Ajax (orange). Clear to see how the form, especially the right side of Trent-Elliott-Salah, has been worked. Elliott had been/played too loose either tactically or due to his style. The hit effect hurts both Salah and Trent. pic.twitter.com/U2KXMZ5OF5September 15, 2022
Too often Elliott seems to be too wide on the right, which means that when the ball is returned to midfield, Fabinho has little protection in front of him, especially if the third midfielder is Milner, who is no longer capable to do recovery shopping. necessary or press hard.
Thiago is key to everything, sitting closer to Fabinho when he plays and thus allowing the right midfielder (usually Elliott or Henderson) more freedom to push higher, but when the Spaniard is out is when the problems arise.
Liverpool finally signed Arthur on deadline day, a player who is, at least according to statistics, a very similar player to Thiago. The idea being that if the Brazilian can catch up on his fitness, then Liverpool have an assistant to play the same as Thiago when he’s out/turned out.
And let’s be honest, 13 games in 43 days after football returned from the international break, Liverpool are going to need it.
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