Liverpool’s Champions League hopes hang by a thread. The humbling 3-1 defeat at the hands of managerless Leicester City means the Reds are fifth in the Premier League, a point ahead of Manchester United having played a game more. Arsenal visit Anfield on Saturday evening knowing victory would extend their lead over the Merseyside club to four points, and they would still have a game in hand.
In the seven league matches Jürgen Klopp’s men have played since the win over Manchester City on New Year’s eve they have picked up just six points. It’s a run of form which has seen them go from shoe-ins for Europe’s elite competition to Europa League hopefuls.
The 2-0 win over Spurs in early February was supposed to be the adrenaline shot their waning season needed. Turns out that it wasn’t. Instead it was a false dawn.
The match against the Foxes gave them the ideal opportunity to build momentum and make the most of the fact their rivals weren’t playing over the weekend by picking up all three points and putting the pressure on them. Points on the board is better than games in hand. They failed to do that.
Liverpool went to the King Power stadium to face a side without a league win in six matches and goalless in 2017. Yet Klopp set them up in such a way it was like lambs walking into the Foxes' den.
You wouldn’t know that Klopp had over a fortnight to prepare for the match. If it wasn’t in the press then it’s unlikely you would believe the team had been on a trip to Spain for team bonding and training purposes. In all honesty, it looked as though it was the Liverpool manager who had been drafted in three days before the match to help salvage the season.
Of course, Claudio Ranieri’s sacking influenced proceedings. The home side had a point to prove and it couldn’t have been a surprise to see them play with high intensity. Liverpool’s task was to take the sting out of the game by either dominating the ball and dictating the tempo or looking to to counter the counter-attacking side.
The Reds did neither.
Instead they did everything you shouldn’t do against the Premier League champions. They played Lucas Leiva in a high defensive line against Jamie Vardy. That alone is unacceptable. They allowed the Leicester midfield to continuously play balls over the top. Instead of cutting off the supply line they played right into their hands. It was as though the 2-0 defeat In February 2016 never happened because the same mistakes were made.
More Questions of Klopp
Liverpool’s German manager seemed shocked by what he’d witnessed.
“It was clear how emotional the game was because if Leicester didn’t show emotion it would be really strange. It wasn’t that intense but we weren’t ready for this.”
We weren’t ready for this.
Is it not his job to ensure his team are ready for all scenarios? Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez are both centre-backs by trade, but the manager opted to partner Joel Matip with Lucas Leiva. It was under his instruction that the team played a high line against Vardy. There’s only so many times a player can be exposed before you have to question why he’s continuously allowed to be playing there and look at the man selecting him.
Furthermore, Liverpool changed their shape at half-time and went to a 3-5-2 of sorts. It’s a formation Klopp has turned to a few times this season when things haven’t been going his way but is it acceptable for him to dramatically change the system, putting players in different positions, just 45 minutes after being able to plan for this match for 16 whole days? That points to poor preparation.
Many may claim the absence of Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren played a part in the loss but, once again, it’s their own doing.
Liverpool passed up the opportunity in both the summer and January transfer windows to bring in reinforcements. Mamadou Sakho wasn’t a part of his first-team plans, yet no effort was made to bring in a replacement of his quality. There was no cover brought in for Henderson, Sadio Mané — who departed for the AFCON at the beginning of the year ‚ or Roberto Firmino.
The excuse that none of their rivals strengthened in the winter only gets you so far. None of their rivals are so reliant on as many players as Liverpool are. It's not as though the club follow suit anyway — you don't see them spending £50million on a player in the summer because their rivals did just that.
You can't pick and choose when to follow your closest competitors if you plan to topple them.
Deja-vu for Liverpool fans
The latest capitulation is the latest in a long line of underwhelming performances against mid-to-lower table sides. Does Klopp have an issue motivating his side when they’re the favourites? Consistency is key to a successful season and the only thing consistent about Liverpool is their inconsistency.
They followed up positives results against Arsenal, Chelsea, Man United, Man City and Spurs by picking up one point against Burnley and Sunderland, while losing to Swansea City, Hull City and Leicester City.
Throughout Klopp’s time as manager he’s seen his side concede three or more goals nine times in the league. Of the teams who have put his side to the sword only Arsenal currently sit in the top half of the table. Swansea have managed it twice, Watford, Southampton, Norwich City, Bournemouth and Leicester make up the numbers.
Liverpool have conceded 181 PL goals in the last 4 seasons – only 8 teams have conceded more. pic.twitter.com/JZpZUPfFwZ
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) February 27, 2017
Klopp's men are set to concede 48 in the league at their current rate. It's a worrying trend but it's expected after he looked to build on rotting foundations. Liverpool can't defend and won't be able to until it's addressed. It's not a systematic problem but a personnel one, and it all comes down to poor recruitment.
Simon Mignolet has been the goalkeeper for the majority of the seasons in the Sky Sports graphic. Loris Karius had a hard time settling in but if he's the long-term ‘keeper for the club he should be playing games ahead of a tried and tested error-prone Belgian. Matip arrived and replaced Sakho so the overall quality of the defence effectively stayed the same.
“Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein
Liverpool are still starting with a goalkeeper, a centre-back in Lovren and a centre-midfielder in Jordan Henderson — the spine of a team — who have conceded over 130 goals in just over two-and-a-half seasons. It's not difficult to understand why they continue to concede goals at an alarming rate but it is confusing as to why these problems haven't already been addressed.