Liverpool Facing a Potential Crossroads
Liverpool’s early season form has been good, flat out exciting at times, but there have also been some causes for concern. I don’t want to get all negative or try to bring down the vibrant atmosphere of late because I share the joy of our side playing swashbuckling football and doing well thus far.
However, I do feel we should keep our feet on the ground and not get carried away just yet. The Swansea game was celebrated because it was Liverpool coming from behind to win and recovering from a very poor opening 30-35 minutes to put in a commanding second half performance. To celebrate those points is entirely justifiable, but the warning signs within that match cannot and should not be ignored. In particular, how susceptible the defence was to crosses in both open play and set pieces. Swansea had opportunities to add to their lead, missing more than one clear cut chance. In fact, we can count ourselves fortunate that Borja was poor in front of goal.
Between too easily allowing crosses to be delivered, to a nervous display from Loris Karius and a very unconvincing show from both Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren. Collectively, it was a sub-par showing and perhaps worryingly, the uncertainty between goalkeeper and centre-backs highlighted that Liverpool’s defensive frailties are from being solved.
As was pointed out on the Anfield Index Under Pressure podcast, Swansea are certainly not the most proficient or dangerous team in the Premier League when it comes to offering an aerial threat. The Reds’ next three opponents on the other hand are quite the opposite, with Tony Pulis’s West Brom and a Christian Benteke-led Crystal Palace sure to be licking their lips in anticipation. First up though are Manchester United and Jose Mourinho – familiar foes with a familiar threat.
All three sides will want to put Karius under pressure, of that there is no doubt, especially given the attention there has been on how reluctant he looked on coming for crosses. For those of us that saw him in the Bundesliga, his weakness on crosses is not a surprise, but it’s not to say it cannot be improved upon and should also be remembered how young he is. David De Gea at Manchester United is a good example of a talented young goalkeeper who found his debut season in England difficult when dealing with crosses and set pieces, but was able to overcome it. The challenge to Karius will be to work on this area of his game and I’m sure he will. The responsibility this season should be on the centre-backs to take control of such situations and look to deal with the aerial threat, rather than expect their keeper to come rushing out to take command. The understanding between Karius and his defence will take some time to build, but should develop into a higher level of confidence than they could ever have in the erratic and unconvincing goalkeeper that Simon Mignolet is.
Karius will take time to adapt and deserves to be given the opportunity to do so. For some to already calling for him to be replaced by a man who has lost his place to Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan in his Liverpool career is, quite frankly, ridiculous.
It has to be said though that Jose Mourinho will not want to be forgiving and will be desperate to capitalise on Liverpool’s weakness. Mourinho is ruthless to almost vindictive levels and when you add his personal history with Liverpool and the fact that it’s Liverpool versus Manchester United, it’s sure to only intensify his methods.
You can expect Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with his aerial prowess, to target Lovren and Karius with the primary supply of ammunition is likely to come from an overlapping Antonio Valencia down Liverpool’s left side. The challenge for Liverpool will be to stem the supply, to control the game, keep possession and force them to be deeper. If Emre Can returns to the starting line-up, he can be the one to combat the physical threat of Paul Pogba and with the rest of the midfield and attackers, really press Manchester United whenever they are in possession. Another important player on the night could be Matip and his ability to carry the ball in the way that Manchester City used John Stones to break the lines and beat the press when they won the recent Manchester derby.
So, it’s not about doom and gloom because the outlook for Liverpool under Klopp appears very positive, but this is still a work in progress and that is something to keep in mind ahead of what potentially could be three very uncomfortable matches; particularly when one of them is an emotionally charged game that carries such a deep set rivalry. October’s matches will be an intriguing test for this Liverpool side and the game against United could prove to be a crossroads for the season ahead.