Liverpool's fortunes, on paper at least, appear to have taken a turn for the better since their 4-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. Since the horror show at Wembley, Jürgen Klopp’s men have won two from two, scoring six goals in the process with the Reds’ usually porous backline failing to be breached.
Liverpool have responded well to the humbling defeat at the hands of Mauricio Pochettino’s in-form Spurs side. But, truth be told, Klopp’s charges are riding a monumental wave of good luck at the minute.
And it’s by no means sustainable.
Huddersfield Town and Maribor arrived at Anfield looking to frustrate the home side. Both teams were happy to stick all outfield players behind the ball and defend their penalty area. They put the onus on Liverpool to find a way through with little emphasis on trying to trouble the brittle defence. It’s what many teams have done in the past and more will do so in the future.
Despite it being a recurring theme ever since the arrival of the German manager on Merseyside, the Reds have failed to come up with a foolproof plan on how to break down the low defensive block. In fact, there’s been no inclination from those playing in red that they’re learning from past mistakes.
The back-to-back 3-0 victories may hint at Liverpool turning a corner but it took a lucky break in both matches for the Reds to break the deadlock. The opening 45 minutes in each of the games followed a similar pattern.
Klopp was cautious; keeping four or five men behind the ball despite the opposition having all of their outfield players in their own half for the majority of the time. This meant, even though the home side dominated possession, it was sterile and all too easy for the visitors with the game being played ahead of them.
Huddersfield finished the match with just 27 per cent possession. The home side completed 766 passes, with 250 of those coming from the midfield three of James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum. The trio, however, completed just the two key passes.
Liverpool controlled the ball while Huddersfield controlled the space. It took a slice of luck for Klopp's men to break the resolve of David Wagner's side. A long Alberto Moreno pass, intended for Roberto Firmino, was cleared straight into the path of Daniel Sturridge.
The former Chelsea man fired home with relative ease in what was a game-changing moment.
But when looking at expected goals it reveals Liverpool's lack of creativity. If you don't include Mohamed Salah‘s missed penalty the xG for the match is 1.44. Despite their dominance, the home side failed to create what many would consider being good chances.
For context, during Manchester City‘s 3-0 win over Burnley Pep Guardiola's men had 77 per cent possession but finished with an xG of 2.8 even after removing Sergio Agüero's penalty. City almost doubled Liverpool's xG and this was against arguably one of the best defensive units in the Premier League.
The league leaders dominate the space as well as the possession and it leads to an increase in chances.
It was a similar story against Maribor with Liverpool having 75 per cent of the possession. They completed 847 passes with 264 of those being made by Henderson, Milner and Juventus transfer target Emre Can. Milner completed four key passes, aided by the fact he was on set piece duty, and Can finished with one key pass.
The Reds once again missed a penalty, with Milner's effort being tipped to the post, and it took a slice of good fortune to break the deadlock. Salah connected with a Trent Alexander-Arnold cross and the ball fizzed past the Maribor ‘keeper.
On first glance, it was a superb finish but the replay shows it came off the Egyptian's shin as opposed to his boot.
Of course, every team needs luck but Liverpool appear to be reliant on this in recent matches to break down teams.
Predictability and Patience
In the past, Klopp has talked about fans needing patience. In theory, the wins against Huddersfield and Maribor show patience is rewarded. They went into both games scoreless at the break but eventually ran out as comfortable winners.
However, context is necessary. There's a predictability to Liverpool which makes fans uneasy. It's not as though the Reds are bombarding the opposition and it's more of an if and not when the deadlock will be broken.
The matches are more often than not repeats of ones that have been on show throughout Klopp's reign. The only difference between the draws against Newcastle United, Burnley and Watford to the wins over Maribor and Huddersfield is luck – in the latter two the Reds had it.
Fans are banking on the returns Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Sadio Mané to give Liverpool an attacking spark, but even with the trio available the team have toiled against organised and disciplined teams.
Klopp's tactical predictability makes it easy for the opposition to come up with a game plan for matches against Liverpool. The former Borussia Dortmund man needs to add versatility to his starting XI, just as the likes of Pochettino and Guardiola have.
It may seem like a warped idea but Liverpool need to add unpredictability to their style if they're to turn positive results into a sustainable run of form.