(written by Callum Owen)
There is no doubt about it, Liverpool are in a crisis.
Last season’s champions currently sit fourth in the Premier League, six points behind leaders Manchester United, seemingly doing all they can to prove that it is even harder to retain a league title than to win one in the first place.
The crisis at Anfield? Liverpool’s inability to break down teams and provide any sort of attacking quality.
A lot has been made this season of Liverpool’s defensive struggles, injuries to key men in Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez especially, however, Liverpool’s key issue this season has been in attack.
Since beating Crystal Palace 0-7 at Selhurst Park on December 19th, Liverpool have scored just once, against West Brom, why is this?
The main issue at Liverpool currently, has been a distinct lack of quality in their final balls.
Full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, have not reached their previously world-class form that we have seen in seasons gone by. Against Burnley, a 1-0 home defeat – ending Liverpool’s near 4-year unbeaten home run in the Premier League, Trent put in 22 crosses, but not a single one was successful (Fotmob).
It is this lack of a final ball that is hampering Liverpool. Against Burnley, Liverpool had a whopping 72% of possession but were unable to do anything meaningful with it. From this possession, they were able to create just one ‘big chance’, recording 27 shots, with only 10 on target, as they looked to breakdown an excellent Burnley side.
The issue of breaking compact, defensive, teams down, is a problem Liverpool often experience against sides in the lower half of the Premier League. Against the current bottom six this season, Liverpool’s results are as follows.
0-0 vs Newcastle (A), 0-1 vs Burnley (H), 1-1 vs Brighton (A), 1-1 vs Fulham (A), 1-1 vs West Brom (H) and 2-1 vs Sheffield United (H).
One win, four draws and one defeat against the bottom six is hardly League winning form, with Graeme Souness alluding to this fact on Sky Sports, if you can’t turn up against for the smaller games, you can’t win the league.
This isn’t an unfamiliar trait for Liverpool, in the 2017/18 season, Liverpool suffered a similar dip in form, where they were unable to secure results against sides that would defend compactly against them, leading to 12 Premier League draws.
The question for Jurgen Klopp must now be, how can this issue be fixed? How can Liverpool get back to scoring goals and winning games?
Currently, Liverpool seem to be a side that is very low in confidence. Their forwards, Roberto Firmino, Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane, are low on goals, with Mane being the only Liverpool player to score since the Crystal Palace thrashing. It is vital that sooner rather than later, these three start scoring again, and they might just get the opportunity to do so.
It seems weird to suggest that a tough run of fixtures may actually suit a team, but for Liverpool, these are the sort of fixtures they thrive on.
Next time out in the Premier League Liverpool travel to Tottenham, a fixture that may allow the forwards to regain confidence. Liverpool will see this game as a game against a fellow big side, which will motivate the players in a way that we have seen many times before. However, this is still cause for concern, Tottenham are managed by Jose Mourinho, a man who prides himself on defensive, ‘park the bus’ style tactics.
Liverpool need to attack this game as though their season depends on it, because, in many ways it does. Failure to win this game could see Jurgen’s men out of the title race, with a surging Manchester City and league leader’s Manchester United threatening to run away in the title race.
Crucially for Liverpool and their title aspirations, they still have to face both Manchester City and United once, meaning there is still time to claw back vital points.
Additionally, summer signing Diogo Jota will soon be returning from injury. The attacker was vital in Liverpool’s strong start to the season and will provide competition for the attacking places, possibly even taking one for himself and providing Liverpool’s attack with a fresh outlook, much like Xherdan Shaqiri did against Manchester United.
With Liverpool set to face Manchester United in the FA Cup next time out, it seems likely Jurgen Klopp could keep the Premier League as his priority, electing to focus on the Tottenham game, as opposed to a cup run – something we have seen previously in his time with the club.
Only time will tell if Liverpool are able to stay in the race to defend their Premier League crown, they have a capable team at their disposal, for Jurgen Klopp, it is about finding the quality that made Liverpool a dominate force last season, and rekindling it as soon as possible.