We’ve all been a bit dismayed after the ignominy of back to back home draws. This after a promising run of results, following the Spurs nightmare at Wembley. Whilst hugely frustrating, this is normal for where the squad is right now.
Perhaps the emotions involved in consecutive games against Spartak and Everton affected the energy for West Brom. Compounded to some extent by the robbery against Everton. Certainly, the whole team looked flat and lacked dynamism against West Brom.
Thankfully, the Bournemouth game was a welcome return to winning ways. Amends were made for the dropped points against them last season. They haven’t suffered such a heavy league defeat at home for quite some time.
A long-term project needs perspective
With the enormous scrutiny and analysis that follows dropped points, there can be a tendency to over-think or over-play certain aspects.
When all is said and done, recent results have taught us nothing we don’t already know.
Things are still a work in progress and there are a number of areas for improvement as Klopp’s project moves slowly forward. I would also suggest that Klopp is fully aware of where improvements are needed. That’s not to say he doesn’t make mistakes but, with hindsight, it’s always easier to be smarter than the manager.
The fact is that whilst this team is not the finished article, points will be dropped unexpectedly. Recent dropped points out-weighed what our performances deserved.
I feel that this will be mitigated by adding better players to the squad over time, whilst improving current players on the training ground. Luck is also a big factor in football.
Nevertheless, it’s worth looking at some of the areas that are working and those where things are not quite going to plan.
This first of a 3 part series will look at the attack and rotation.
A case for the attack
There have been many superlatives to discuss our attack. It’s undoubtedly our biggest asset. There’s no doubt the attack carries the rest of the team. When it isn’t functioning so well, we lack the quality in others areas to fully compensate. The West Brom match was a good case study.
One criticism is that (similar to last season) we don’t spread our goals across enough games. What I mean by this is that it’s either feast or famine at times (e.g. 5 and 7 goals, followed by 1 and 0). Some of this is simply down to natural variation, some down to tactics and some down to different game conditions.
Furthermore, defensive flaws or lapses manifest themselves too often for comfort. So Klopp has to compromise tactically. A recent gripe is the lack of natural width in the team’s attacking play. A strange problem we’ve seen throughout Klopp’s Anfield tenure, given Dortmund’s width.
By having the fullbacks play a more conservative game in the past weeks, it is natural to see a decline in attacking unpredictability. With this approach, our attacking play sends fewer men forward, which makes overloads harder.
However, the benefit has been the defensive record, with the exception of the Sevilla game. The latter was an example of the opposition’s technical ability simply being too much for our midfield to handle. Sometimes we just have to acknowledge that the other team played better.
The extra pressing and general effort the attack needs to exert (to make up for our defensive shortcomings) surely causes cumulative physical and mental fatigue. This is where we miss the qualities that Klopp so wanted in Van Dijk and Keita, for this campaign. That will be addressed in time but will require patience in the short term.
A potential remedy to this problem is rotation.
To rotate or not?
I discussed this subject in more depth in the recent Bournemouth Premier League Preview podcast with Hari Sethi.
Rotation is an absolutely necessary part of squad management, especially during a mad December fixture schedule. Our Fab 4 looked absolutely knackered against West Brom, despite already having had some rest. Imagine what they would have been like had they played against Everton.
I would rather trust the manager who’s the expert here, with the energy in the Bournemouth game a further vindication of Klopp’s methods.
We will hopefully see the benefits to our attacking players in the latter stages of this season. Our attackers currently bear a disproportionate burden in terms of team performance. As fixture frequency reduces, they should get longer rest and more training time to get better still as a unit.
A mouthwatering prospect indeed!
In part 2, I will discuss the midfield and Klopp’s tactics.