Liverpool’s loss to Brighton was our fourth since the turn of the year. We also chucked in draws to Newcastle and West Brom at the back end of 2020 to confound the feeling of delusion surrounding the team’s current slump.
So what exactly is going on?
Here’s our Editor Jordan Chamberlain (Jordan_AC90) with six takeouts following the 1-0 Anfield defeat.
Strap yourselves in!
1) In many ways, Liverpool are overachieving this season…
So, let’s get the benefit of the doubt stuff out of the way. Last night, an injured Liverpool XI would have included Alisson in goal, Virgil van Dijk partnering Joe Gomez in defence (and Joel Matip as backup). Fabinho and Naby Keita in midfield. Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota up front. Barring the fullbacks, who again looked lacking in energy and ideas, that is better than the side we put out v Brighton. Not in my memory has a side ever suffered such an absurd season of absences.
Obviously we’re at the top of the ‘matches missed through injury table,’ and shockingly, we’re 78 GAMES MISSED ahead of the team in second.
It’s quite an outrageous achievement that until last night, we were realistically in a discussion about the title – especially considering the four points VAR stole from us against Brighton first time out and Everton at Goodison Park.
There isnt a team in @premierleague history to have suffered this volume to this level of player
— SimonBrundish (@SimonBrundish) February 4, 2021
2) What is the point of corners and freekicks anymore?
When Liverpool win a corner, I’d rather the opposition are allowed to have one instead, as we have a greater chance of scoring on the break than via a set-piece header. Last night, the only outfield Liverpool player 6ft. or above was Nat Phillips, and he’s never scored a professional goal in his life.
Obviously this is down to our injury situation. Joel Matip is 6ft.5, Van Dijk is 6ft.4, Gomez is 6ft.2 and Fabinho is 6ft.3.
All the height and a heck of a lot of physicality has been ripped from our side. Last season and the term before we scored more goals from set-pieces than anybody. This season, we have just SIX GOALS from a non-penalty set-piece, according to WhoScored; the eighth best in the Premier League.
This means we have to rely on scoring intricate, perfect goals from open play. We’ve proven we can do this, like we did against Spurs and West Ham – but it’s much harder to do every week.
3) The threat of our fullbacks is being nullified by slow, predictable ball
Our opponents have nine or ten men behind the ball. We work it quite cleverly between our centre-backs and midfielders. We’re dominating possession. Trent and Robbo wait on the touchline, about ten yards from the opposition penalty area. They eventually receive the ball to feet, where they control it, look up – realise there is nothing on and pass it back to the midfielders. Repeat.
The fullbacks are such a threat in our side when they get a ball they can run onto and whip a cross in first-time. It makes the defensive line panic and you score goals from lucky breaks or balls that fall into the path of onrushing attackers and midfielders. At the moment, the only way a cross will work is if Robbo or Trent somehow find the head of Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah who are being crowded out by multiple players four inches taller than them.
Our midfield needs to produce zippy, fast passes to aid our attackers. I’d much rather see them lose it when attempting a creative ball than endlessly recycle it.
4) No crowd is killing our tempo and draining us of belief
Everyone is affected by the lack of fans. Obviously. But there is frankly no way a packed Anfield allows Liverpool to pass it between the centre-backs in injury time v Brighton when we’re 1-0 down! The lack of urgency in the matches in which we’ve needed a goal since the turn of the year has been baffling. We had a five minute period last night where Brighton were penned in and we were playing fast ball. It was the only time we looked like scoring. As soon as our tempo slowed our chances of scoring became zero. Fans would roar the lads on to play fast and get the ball forward. The last ten minutes would have been thrilling, but instead they were suffocating.
Pep Lijnders once famously and rightly said, ‘our identity is intensity’. It’s missing.
Lacklustre performance by Liverpool. No tempo going forward and too predictable in attack. Brighton excellent. Liverpool struggling against low block sides. No game changers on the bench to come in and change a game. Jota is a huge loss at the moment. Kelleher had a great game.
— DaveOCKOP (@DaveOCKOP) February 3, 2021
5) Early goals change games – but the longer we don’t score one – the less likely it comes
Until we score a goal, as we did v Spurs and West Ham, our games are utterly attritional and utterly dull. Versus Newcastle, Southampton, Burnley, Manchester United and Brighton we failed to score – which meant the pattern of the games never changed. A Liverpool goal releases the anxiety from the side, forces the opposition into offence which then creates space for our attackers. But the longer it goes on without one, the more confidence our opponents get that sitting ridiculously deep will work and their chances on the break increase, too. The Burnley and Brighton games were more or less identical, although Graham Potters’ side did at least press out of possession.
Our opponents’ tactics, combined with our one-dimensional, stuttering offence, has made watching Liverpool games boring.
It feels like every Premier League game is the same at the moment. Watching us play Manchester City on Sunday will be a relief, to see two teams trying to make things of their own accord.
6) Top four and a good crack at the Champions League is a good season, all things considered
Accepting the Premier League title is unlikely is almost a cathartic act. The reasons why are myriad, but none of them are down to us not being good anymore. We’ve simply been ravaged by absences that as explained in the first point, would have seen any other team mid-table. We’ve also lost a bit of belief as a result, as I mentioned in a previous column.
Remember, Manchester City had Aymeric Laporte out last season and were 30 points behind us at one stage.
Whether the injuries are down to bad luck, the schedule, or the intensity of training is one for another day. It’s unfathomable, though. If it happened to your team on Football Manager, you’d quit the game because it had a bug.
The season is not lost. Perhaps knockout football and getting up for two-legged ties will suit this Liverpool team – as our elite European opponents our unlikely to park the bus and hope to go through on penalties. Despite everything, I still think Liverpool have a great chance of doing something special in the Champions League, providing we get past a tricky Rb Leipzig. Domestically, top four should be the aim. Alisson, Fabinho and Sadio Mane’s imminent return improves the starting XI plenty – and wins against Leicester and Everton this month (we’re always better in big games, nowadays) will set us on our way.
Keep the belief – keep the trust in Jurgen Klopp and keep supporting. It’s a crying shame we can’t do this in the stadium, but we’ll be alright.