Liverpool stumbling to a draw against Brentford on Saturday flushed out a barrage of opinion as to the shortcomings of several players on the day, and it, unfortunately, overshadowed some more revealing performances of fringe players at Carrow Road the previous midweek.
Having already been surpassed by Thiago and Elliott this season, only to re-emerge because of injuries to both, coupled with a stunning goal against Crystal Palace, Naby Keita has emerged as possibly the biggest question mark in the side, compounded by the fact that he hobbled out of the League Cup game against Norwich looking inferior to his replacement – Academy prodigy Tyler Morton.
That’s quite a lot to download if it was the story of half a season but in Keita’s case it’s the saga of 6 ½ weeks, and that doesn’t include surviving a military coup while on international duty for Guinea that led to the cancelation of the scheduled match with Morocco, or rumors that he’s not going to sign a new contract.
The contract story aside (which is highly manufactured), Keita is still an issue for Jurgen Klopp. Role wise he might have found his sweet spot in midfield by replacing Wijnaldum. He does tidy possession-based work there and keeps the ball moving while keeping turnovers almost non-existent. He’s got a shot, as Palace will attest to, but beyond that, he tends to fade away. You see little to no domination, press, recovery, or defense! For me, he looks like a somewhat lesser version of Paul Pogba, a player who needs to have the game run through him to be at his most effective.
Liverpool still see plenty and are willing to negotiate a new contract (possibly with a future sale in mind) although stories arose that he was demanding more playing time in order to sign. This is a great case of manufactured social media BS. A German journalist, Christian Falk, tweeted (translated from the German): “Naby Keita still has a contract until 2023. Nevertheless, he is about to be extended, reports English media. (But) the contract extension is by no means on the dry side.”
I would conclude from that, Liverpool and Keita do not have exactly the same expectations and it’s possible they may not come into agreement in the next year or so, which in turn would make the push for a transfer far more likely from the Liverpool side. Instead, both the player and the club are being slated for holding an intolerant position that neither actually believe.
Meanwhile, Taku Minamino stole the show against the Canaries with a brace while Divock Origi put in a second successful shift for the young season. I vocalized to others in attendance that this would doubtless get Liverpool Twitter demanding more game time for both and they didn’t disappoint.
One such “poll” asked yes/no should Minamino get more game time. I responded with a comment that the question should be rephrased as to should our existing forward line also play less to accommodate this. This was met with a curt response and after two ripostes that yes Jota and Firmino should split time, as should Mane and Minamino.
Origi got lost in there somewhere but it’s interesting how uptight some supporters get when you are just trying to understand how their idea would play out. It reminds me of Dr. Sawyer in Miracle on 34th Street and his theory that when a fixed delusion is challenged, the deluded is apt to become violent.
Minamino does present a bit of a conundrum for Klopp. Unlike Keita, he’s always seeking to be relevant but his most natural role is an off-the-shoulder forward able to get away a shot in the box. It doesn’t quite suit how Klopp likes to play and it will still take time to see if Minamino can adapt his style of play just a little. No doubt he has talent and a good football brain, but he’s not quite in the Salah class where the team will get adapted to him.
When it comes to Origi he is back, sort of. Written off in the summer he’s turned in a couple of really good performances. He’s like one of those European politicians who keep getting resurrected because the party can’t find anyone else who can win things in a pinch. It’s very confounding to Americans whose politicians are often finished after a single loss.
Going into the Brentford game most teams were looking at Liverpool and thinking that they are close to being the finished product. Able to overcome a couple of key injuries at a time, the squad has all the makings of a side that could go all the way in every competition they are playing in.
The faltering in West London though, coupled with a retrospective look at the two goals conceded in the Champions League opener, and Klopp’s men have to address their midfield shortcomings and how they affect their defensive performance.
Liverpool defends primarily with seven players (many sides use two banks of four) and needs three midfielders who can control the possession if their full-backs are to play high lines and recover defensively. Fabinho, Henderson, Milner, Thiago and possibly Elliott can do this. Keita struggles while Ox and Jones are too offensively minded.
Jones, whose screaming third for Liverpool against Brentford matched the class of Keita’s goal against Crystal Palace constantly pushes up into the opposing back four. This breaks down the passing triangle on the left that Robertson depends on both to get wide and be supported by. It’s perhaps not surprising then that it’s Robertson assisting Jones for his goal.
Jones however on defense can be untidy in possession and clearly blew assignments on the first two Brentford goals, where he is supposed to shield Van Dijk and Robertson. Klopp will have to address this as the availability of the midfielders that can control possession, with the exception of Fabinho, does itself have to be carefully controlled. One solution, on the radical side for some, may be to try Tsimikas in the role since his on-ball control is superb and he knows how to close defensively.
So things to work on but the Reds have six wins and two draws to start the season and definitely know how to find the back of the net. The side is close to being the finished product but has just a little more smoothing out to do.