Stabilizing the Liverpool Ship

Liverpool has not started the Premier League season as they hoped! You have to go back to 2015 when they had a worse start (W2 D2 L2). In what was the beginning of the end for Brendan Rodgers. Aside from one demolition of Bournemouth the team at times has looked like it is lacking, searching, without the right keys to open the locked doors that opponents have successfully set up to keep them out.

AS Trio Discus Possible Formation Changes

Countless supporters make statements like “something is wrong” – while not being able to state what. My favorite one is “The midfield needs to be freshened up” – not a baseless observation and one with a populist feel, perhaps you could win an election with it as your slogan, but does it really bring change? Other than recruiting Bellingham, there doesn’t seem to be a plan on how to do this (though I’m sure Ward/Klopp has plenty of ideas in the shopping cart). But it’s a little scary to rest Liverpool’s future on a teenage midfielder in the Bundesliga.

The current midfield is the same one that was highly successful for most of last season. Now granted Klopp can see the writing on the wall. Fabinho being the youngest of the incumbent three at the age of 29 while others often struggle for fitness. This brought pursuits of a couple of midfielders during the summer. Ending in just a loan deal for Melo, and the upgrading of the fast-growing Harvey Elliott.  

Everyone Wanted a Signing?

For all the clamoring to “just make a signing”, Klopp is right to wait for the right player. Liverpool came into the season with 8 midfielders plus Carvalho. That’s a lot! With the addition of Melo, and counting Carvalho, we are up to 10! That compares to 5 senior strikers for the same number of positions. There is not a shortage of players, there never was, and adding numbers will not improve the squad – you need to add quality.

Liverpool has averaged 89.25 points per game over the last four seasons, just 0.25 behind Manchester City, an average that will normally deliver the title two out of every three years. In the last five, the club has also been to three Champions League Finals. That sets really high expectations and in order to chase down the blue boys from Manc land, they have to be met.

But Liverpool has to focus on playing well, righting the things that are not yet working. They can’t control what Manchester City is doing who – by the way – are right on their previously stated 89.5 point pace (actually 88.67 to be precise). Liverpool must identify poor-performing areas and improve them.

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What is to Blame at Liverpool?

So what has produced so many lackluster results and uninspiring performances? There’s no problem with Alisson and for the most part, the defenders are okay. You can point to individual errors by Alexander-Arnold, Van Dijk, by Henderson; but in the end, Liverpool has surrendered five goals in six games which while not great, still left every game winnable. Indeed if we could take five goals from the Bournemouth win and spread them evenly across the rest of the results, Liverpool would be top of the table.

Liverpool
A Midfield Future

The much-maligned midfield of late has never been tasked with carrying a burden of the goals under Klopp, who prefers to utilize his fullbacks for the task of providing the assists for the attacking line. Statistics that cover such things show that Liverpool creates over 80% of their opportunities for their forward three or four players and those are mostly higher percentage chances. Statistically, Liverpool’s midfield should have scored exactly once this season, and Harvey Elliott has produced exactly that.

That said a midfield with chemistry still opens up things for everyone else. Thiago’s passing in particular has only seen 50 minutes of the season and it can unlock low-block defenses. In general it hasn’t helped that the side has seen injuries and fitness issues with every midfielder bar Elliott and Milner.

Three Deficiencies Happening Up Top

Firstly, is that Liverpool has hit the woodwork 6 times as opposed to a league average of two! Is that luck that will even out over the season? Is it insufficient clinical finishing? What about top-class goalkeeping? (We’ve definitely seen some). My guess is that the Reds have a couple of goals hiding in there!

The second is that Liverpool is leading the league in shots! Obviously, enough is not going in. The results are similar in the infamous “big chances missed” category.

This comes to the 3rd deficiency; two players on the field and one who has left for Germany.

Sadio Mane

Sadio Mane’s all-around contributions were not appreciated in the way that Firmino’s are. His constant threat and reading on the game created space and opportunity for others. More importantly he often “set” the press for Liverpool when opponents took possession. Without this, some of the team’s high percentage opportunities are lost.

Darwin Nunez

Liverpool
Darwin During LFC Unveiling

Nunez is new and has only played a third of the minutes so far. But unlike Jota’s arrival, the Uruguayan hasn’t slotted in quite as seamlessly. It’s taking more time to integrate him and make the necessary tactical concessions to get the best out of him.

Mo Salah

Mo Salah is struggling! Sometimes he’s wasteful in front of goals and is still adapting to a new role. Meanwhile, his shots per game are down from 4.3 to 2.8, while his touches per game are down from last season’s 56 to 48. And the reduction in touches is all play that’s heading into the penalty area. Opponents have learned to restrict his ability to run at defenders or just onto the ball where he hits stride and produces his best play. He’s learning more of a passing game, but knowing how to maximize that and still get open is a work in progress. At some point I expect it to click.

As Salah struggles, and with Henderson’s career in the “8 Role” beginning to sunset, the offensive output of Alexander-Arnold suffers. He’s still a top talent but somewhat depends on players further up the field finding their place so he can take his.

All teams hit difficult patches! The job of the Manager at this point is to guide them back to peak performance. Typically, Klopp’s Liverpool does this in the first two months of the New Year. This past January they avoided the slump, resulting in two trophies for the club. 7-8 months on we should eagerly await the side catching fire again, especially as the health and fitness of the squad stabilizes.

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Recorded with a live audience as always, our trio covers the United game as we look ahead to the final weeks of the season
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