Since the debacle at Wembley back in October, Liverpool’s form has been impressive. (Editors Note: This article was written before Liverpool’s 4-0 win over Bournemouth)
Emphatic wins over the likes of Huddersfield Town, West Ham, Southampton, Stoke and Brighton have put the Reds back on course to keep in touch with the top 3 – and Klopp’s side do appear to have banished their previous struggles against deep-sitting sides lower down the table. This ultimately led to dropped points against the likes of Southampton, Bournemouth, Sunderland & West Ham last season.
However, that’s not to say the purple patch hasn’t come without its blips. The 3-3 draw away at Sevilla in the Champions League served to underline the lack of defensive leadership present in the side, whilst most recently, a 0-0 draw against West Brom at Anfield highlighted the need for midfield acquisitions in January.
Another takeaway from these games could be Liverpool’s failure to hold onto leads this season. The frustrating draw in the Merseyside Derby little under a week ago was the sixth time so far this season that the Reds had dropped points from a winning position.
Whilst it is possible to point to the refereeing decisions which have played a part in these encounters – such as the incredibly soft challenge which led to Wayne Rooney’s penalty last Sunday in the derby, ultimately it cannot detract focus from the fact that Jurgen Klopp’s side simply do not have the mental strength or character to hold onto a lead thus far this season.
The most obvious reason for this is the defence. The general consensus among Liverpool fans was that at least one centre-back acquisition was required if the Reds were to challenge on four fronts domestically in 2017/18.
Fast forward five months later, and there haven’t been any new signings at the heart of the defence – apart from left-back Andy Robertson who arrived from Hull City. Many have blamed the transfer committee for not giving Klopp the support he required in the transfer market, but whichever way you dress it up, the manager has to take responsibility for failing to find alternatives to primary target Virgil Van Dijk soon enough.
Although Joe Gomez has established himself as a promising young centre-back with a very high ceiling, his lack of experience has at times been telling. Also, the likes of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan have somewhat enjoyed a renaissance of late with the change in system – but they are still yet to prove that they are good enough to be starting centre-backs for Liverpool.
The 3-3 draw in Andalucia emphasised how much the Merseysiders were a laughing stock in defence, with the lack of communication, professionalism and composure telling.
This could additionally be traced to the lack of leaders in the middle of the park. With Jordan Henderson taking over as captain from club icon Steven Gerrard in 2015, the Sunderland-born midfielder has done little to prove that he is worthy of carrying such a responsibility with the captain’s armband thus far this season.
Despite an impressive start to 2016/17 in a new defensive midfield role, his confidence appears to have taken a turn for the worse since his injury in February. He seems incapable of protecting his centre-backs and full-backs, as well as lacking the much-needed leadership and rallying of the troops which has been desperately absent since Gerrard’s departure at the end of the 2014/15 season.
This has cost Liverpool dearly on several occasions this season – when they have needed the composure and reliance of their captain, Henderson has failed to deliver.
And if you wanted to, we could have a moan at the officials too. More recently, the Reds have been the victim of two very controversial refereeing decisions which frankly, could’ve gone either way.
Referee Craig Pawson adjudged Dejan Lovren’s soft challenge on Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin to be deserving of a penalty – with Wayne Rooney converting the resultant spot-kick. This annoyed Klopp in his post-match interview with Sky Sports, and it would go on to change the complexity of the game completely.
And on Wednesday’s midweek clash against West Brom at Anfield, substitute Dominic Solanke’s effort was harshly disallowed for what was judged as handball. These two decisions alone indicated the fine margins for the Reds at the moment.
Either way, though, Liverpool face a daunting and hectic Christmas schedule ahead – with five fixtures between now and the New Year. With the German rotating more than ever of late, the Merseysiders should eventually get their reward in due course. But the art of holding onto a lead is something which no doubt, needs work.