You could see how Jürgen Klopp set Liverpool up to play against Leicester City last night, and despite the 2-0 scoreline, it didn’t mean he got it completely wrong. On the whole we probably played in the manner he would have liked, but if we are learning one thing about this squad it’s that there is no tactic that will simply click into place and suddenly make us a great team. The incoherent, nonsensical mishmash of recent purchases have left us with a squad of players who just don’t complement each other at all, and a select few who simply aren’t good enough even if they did.
We kept the ball relatively well, but that was through Leicester’s approach rather than our own. They like to let the other team play, and then prey on the slightest mistake to burst forward and take advantage of the space behind. Against us it was the obvious way to go, because we don’t suit a possession game. The likes of Lucas Leiva, Jordan Henderson, and James Milner are all capable of keeping the ball by passing it sideways or backwards, but when asked to create something they’re not going to come up with a right lot. Leicester would have known that they only had to stay disciplined, and eventually we would try to break them down but inevitably give it away instead.
I think the main thing Klopp wants to see in this team is a quick tempo and lots of movement. With the crafty Roberto Firmino as a false nine, and the energetic legs of Henderson, Milner, Adam Lallana, and Emre Can behind him, it makes sense to ask the latter four to break ahead of play and disrupt the opposition defence. But again, there was an obvious solution to that for Leicester; which was just to sit deep and narrow the spaces – because they knew that the aforementioned players weren’t tricky and skilful enough to waltz through them, nor fast enough to burst past them. A couple of times Milner was caught out because he isn’t nearly agile enough to escape his markers in tight spots. Henderson didn’t have any space to run into off the ball, and his composure on the ball seems to be getting worse. And for a player who is supposedly very good with his feet, Lallana is so poor when it comes to attacking his man and creating any danger.
With no focal point of our game, we look completely lost in attack. Each player is looking at someone else for the spark of magic. But that isn’t even improved when Klopp decides to give Christian Benteke a chance, as his movement and link play lets us down, and his previously esteemed finishing just hasn’t been there for us so far. But then even if the gaffer wanted, he couldn’t build the team to suit Benteke’s needs, because so few of our players are capable crossers. In fact, so poor are we at it, that we preferred to play short corner after short corner just mindlessly passing the ball further and further back, than take our chances and whip it into the box.
So Klopp could have decided to play Leicester at their own game; sit deep and hope the pressure of their league position and the fans’ expectations drew them out and made it an open match. But the way our defence buckles under pressure, that would have been tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot. If we’d allowed them too much possession, no doubt eventually one of our error-prone defenders would have gifted Leicester a golden opportunity to hit the back of the net. On top of that, even if we did manage to contain them, we don’t have a Jamie Vardy or Riyad Mahrez who is lightning quick and deadly on the counter attack to snatch us a breakaway goal.
Their first goal, of course, was spectacular. But it was one that, even though it was technically against the run of play, you could see it coming. It was almost like the more we seemed in control and on the hunt for a goal, the more we were actually playing into Leicester’s hands. Because if they got one-on-one with any of our defenders, the chances were they were coming out on top.
Mamadou Sakho had a shocker for their second goal, but earlier in the game Milner was also guilty of letting the ball bounce in a dangerous area, and Dejan Lovren miskicked what should have been a bog-standard clearance. It’s basic defending, and we’re getting it wrong time after time. Another major offender was Alberto Moreno, who I’m starting to think just doesn’t have the instinctive footballer’s brain to be a top player. So many times he makes the wrong decision, or no decision at all, and it’s costing us in both defence and attack.
There really isn’t a way for Klopp to win. Whatever way he chooses to set us up, there will be gaping holes and massive issues due to the make-up of our squad. The fact that his preferred 11 currently consists of a back five followed by four central midfielders and two attacking midfielders is evidence of that. There’s no balance and no shape. We’ve got both Lucas Leiva and Can doing what should be the job of one player, and Milner and Henderson doing likewise. They may be experienced players that Klopp trusts, but it felt like both Lucas and Milner could have dropped out with very little detriment to our game, and then given us the chance to play a wildcard like Sheyi Ojo or Joao Teixeira.
Like most, I would’ve liked to see more done in the January transfer window. You’d think that surely there was at least one or two players out there at fair prices who could have come in and invigorated us. Perhaps Klopp just wants longer to make that judgement on his current players, or there genuinely wasn’t any players available who he felt would’ve improved us. But it’s certainly going to make it a fair old slog until the end of the season now. And while the imbalance in our squad remains, we’re going to have to hope our current players pull their socks up and start seizing the initiative to give us a successful run-in to the end of the season.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)