Liverpool won the Premier League through grounbreaking risk which Jürgen Klopp must again take

FPL360
FPL360
7 Min Read


It was obvious throughout Sunday’s defeat against Manchester City that Liverpool were cautious and hesitant. And that’s understandable. Any team missing their three first-choice centre-backs would try to compensate, to make sure that particular vulnerability isn’t constantly exposed.

In compensating, though, Liverpool appear to have lost their edge. The usual bite and energy was missing as City, after an almost equally tentative start, eased to victory at Anfield.

Oddly, the absence of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip has not damaged the Reds most as a defensive unit. Yes, four goals were conceded on Sunday, but other problems had emerged long before Alisson’s uncharacteristic mistakes.

The home defeats against Burnley and Brighton were not indicative of a team simply lacking quality options in defence. Instead, the issue – as it was in the 0-0 draw at Newcastle, the 1-0 loss at Southampton and several other results this season – was a dearth of ideas in the final third, a lethargy and stodginess unfamiliar to anyone who has become accustomed to a Liverpool team that usually attacks with ferocity and urgency.

Why, then, do Jürgen Klopp’s team look so laboured, so unimaginative when faced with a low defensive block? Some have pointed to the introduction of Thiago in midfield, claiming that the classy Spaniard unintentionally slows things down. But that’s not true.

What is true is that Liverpool are consciously playing with more precision and care. They have averaged 63.8 per cent possession in the Premier League this season, up from 59.6 per cent last term. Too often, though, that possession has been stale.

This is likely because of a shift in mentality. Klopp’s Liverpool, at their best, have always been about risk and reward, playing on the cutting edge. At times they have seemed almost reckless, pressing with wild abandon and pushing the defensive line as high as it will conceivably go.

That has had to be reined in, without the pace and organisation of Van Dijk and Gomez, and with the likes of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Nat Phillips asked to fill in. Those who have deputised at centre-back have generally done so admirably, but the consequences have been a more general effect on the whole team.

When Liverpool are constantly worried about their potential defensive weaknesses, when compensating feels like a necessity, the midfield and attack is inhibited. Klopp has spoken about “mental fatigue”, and the enforced changes at the back – and as a result to the whole team’s approach – will have contributed to that.

Finding a solution to this isn’t easy. Integrating new defenders Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies should help, hopefully allowing Fabinho and Henderson – both indispensable – to move back into midfield. The energy and intelligent pressing of the latter has been sorely missed while he has been playing as a makeshift centre-back.

Most importantly, though, Liverpool must rediscover what made them such a difficult prospect for opposition teams at Anfield. City, on Sunday, were prepared for the kind of frenetic, backs-to-the-wall opening ten minutes they had grown used to from their previous trips to the stadium. But it never came. The Reds were too concerned with their own issues, rather than trying to hurt the visitors.

Liverpool were, not so long ago, brazen and confident, so sure of themselves that they appeared almost invulnerable. Now they look self-conscious, uncertain and reluctant to try new things.

But this more risk-averse approach has proved unsuccessful. Even if it means reverting to the kind of absurdly open football we saw during Klopp’s first two seasons at the club – the 5-4 wins and 3-3 draws – the Reds need to rediscover the irrepressible energy that took them to the very top.

Maybe they need a break. Maybe a tactical tweak is necessary. Above all, though, Liverpool must clear their minds and press the reset button. They have not become a bad team, but they have become encumbered and hindered by events out of their control.

A mental refresh, a simplification of the team’s approach, could help Liverpool put this rare barren spell behind them.





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