Liverpool lack imagination to overcome Hull City
It is fair to say that Liverpool have been a disappointment at the start of 2017. They have been knocked out of both domestic cups with losses to Wolves in the FA Cup and Southampton in the EFL Cup. Along with the poor form in the cup Liverpool have yet to win a league match this year with draws against Manchester United, Sunderland and Chelsea and a loss to Swansea City.
Prior to the turn of the year there was still a feeling around the club that this could be their year and that the league title was a realistic aim for the season. Now though it appears that the best the club can hope for is a top four finish and a return to the Champions League for next season.
It would be easy to point to a lack of activity in the January transfer window to explain this poor form, especially with Sadio Mane away at the African Cup of Nations representing Senegal, realistically though the current squad should have been more than good enough to continue the challenge at the top of the table.
There has been a lack in recent weeks of the attacking movement and patterns in the attacking phase that had seen Liverpool pull apart their opponents in the first few months of the season. With players like Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino suffering from a drop off in form there has been a definite sense that Liverpool have struggled to find the momentum to break their opponents down.
The sides struggles in their attacking phase of late has reinforced the impression that the club will have to be active in the summer transfer window with a need to bring in tactically intelligent players who can fit in to the preferred system from Jurgen Klopp. These players will need to encompass all areas of the side, defence, midfield and attack all need to be energised in order for this Liverpool side to finally meet their expectations.
Liverpool were able to field almost their strongest side with the Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet continuing in goal. The defensive line consisted of Clyne, Matip, Lucas Leiva and Milner.
Jordan Henderson again played as the controlling midfielder with Emre Can and Adam Lallana playing in the more advanced roles.
The return of Sadio Mane from international duty and Coutinho from injury saw both start once again forming an attacking trident from Roberto Firmino.
No vertical penetration from Liverpool midfield
During the initial few months of the season part of Liverpools success in the attacking phase of the game was their ability to play vertically through the defensive line of the opposition to open up attacking platforms from which they could play in the final third of the field.
In recent weeks however Liverpool have looked tired and unable to build effective attacks at the same speed as in the months before. Part of this inability to penetrate the opposition defensive structure has been a result of the midfielders failing to position themselves correctly in the build up phase and failing to threaten the opposition midfield.
In this image as Liverpool are looking to build an attack from their defensive third you can see that the man in possession of the ball is under no pressure from the opposition who are happy to sit back in a defensive block.
Whilst Jordan Henderson as the controlling midfielder should be positoned deeper to connect the defence and attack there is no reason for Emre Can to also be sitting in front of the Hull City midfield. Hull were content to allow Liverpool to have possession in this area as they provided no threat of breaking through.
If Can was able to move in to a more advanced position as highlighted in the image then Henderson would have an option to play through the midfield line for Hull City and provide an advanced central platform from which Liverpool could build their attack.
Once again in this attacking movement Liverpool are currently in comfortable possession in their build up phase. We can again see that Henderson and Can are largely passive in their positioning and that they are failing to provide an attacking passing option.
It is not unusual for Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp to use a mechanism in the build up that sees one of the midfielders drop in to a pocket of space beside the two centre backs to create almost a back three which allows the ball to be circulated across the field. Doing so when you have another midfielder also sitting in and not moving beyond the oppositions midfield structure however just makes the attacking movement passive and makes defending easy for the opposition.
Yet again Liverpool failed to make the most of their possession of the ball whilst Hull City were content to sit deep and allow Liverpool to have possession of the ball in these areas.
Solid defensive structure from Hull
Whilst Liverpool have been relatively porous in their defensive actions of late and have struggled in matches to have a clean sheet we have seen the opposite in Hull City in recent weeks.
The appointment of the Portuguese coach Marco Silva to replace the embattled Mike Phelan has given this Hull side a new lease of life and has improved their defensive actions to the point that they are almost unrecognisable.
They also of course have reinforced their defence in the January transfer window most notably with the loan signing of Italian international Andrea Ranocchia from Inter Milan. These moves to strenghten the defensive unit should serve the Hull side well in their fight to avoid relegation this season.
Here Hull are sitting in a deep defensive block as Liverpool take the ball out of defence and try to launch an effective attacking action.
Whilst there are three passing options open to Matip as he advances with the ball none of these will penetrate the Hull backline. The pass out wide right to Clyne is perhaps the best option but even then this pass is covered by the Hull left back as he has adopted a strong defensive position.
A ball played in to Mane centrally or Coutinho further forward would give Liverpool a chance to play in an advanced area but either pass would also see the player taking possession be quickly closed down by those in the defensive and midfield lines.
Here Liverpool have possession of the ball out in the wide areas and although they have four other players in the final third of the pitch they are still unable to threaten in behind the Hull defensive line.
Hull were content to sit with up to eight players in their defensive structure throughout the match choking the spaces that Liverpool had to play in.
Liverpool struggle defensively
Whilst Hull were an example of a strong defensive unit throughout the match Liverpool struggled to look like any sort of unit at all.
The presence of Lucas Leiva in the team at all divides the Liverpool fan base but in using him in the defensive line Klopp continues to compromise the integrity of the defensive structure.
Here you see an image as the initial attacking movement from Hull is repelled. First of all there is no pressure on the ball as it comes out to the edge of the box. Secondly there are two distinct issues in the defensive structure that we see from Liverpool.
First of all there is an isolation in the wide are with Clyne one on one with no cover. Next we see a potential overload situation in the central area as Can has allowed a midfield runner to go past him and Hull have a three on two situation in the central area.
It is now approaching the point of the season where we need to see a significant improvement from this Liverpool side.
They need to refind their attacking spark and start to turn draws in particular in to victories. If this period of poor and inconsistent form continues then Liverpool may even struggle to finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.