Enough praises have been sung of Liverpool’s fab four and how they have taken Liverpool’s campaign by the scruff of the neck and delivered regularly despite the failings of the defence and midfield. This has been the story since Jurgen Klopp first arrived at Anfield and while some amount of criticism must be directed towards him for failure to tackle this problem in almost 2 years, he can be given leeway for shaping probably England’s best forward line.
A 5-0 demolition of bottom-placed Swansea and a 2-1 comeback win against Leicester has sent the fans and Liverpool fraternity purring again, but one shouldn’t forget a new found problem Liverpool have started facing this term. The 5-0 demolition was not flawless. So was the victory against Leicester. A pattern of not being clinical has plagued Liverpool.
In the Merseyside derby, on the brink of half time, Sadio Mane failed to tee up any one of the 3 Liverpool players in the box for a simple tap-in; a goal if scored would have put Liverpool deservedly 2-0 up at halftime against an Everton side who wanted to defend despite trailing, to bed. Instead, he chose to shoot with his weak foot and dragged his shot wide. Everton went on to equalize with a Wayne Rooney penalty thanks to Dejan Lovren’s moment of madness. The result, 2 points dropped.
Against Arsenal at the Emirates, both Mane and Salah missed sitters just before half-time as Liverpool should have deservedly gone into the break with at least a 2 goal lead. Mo Salah was uncharacteristically rusty despite being on top of the scoring charts shooting a one on one directly at Cech and later completely missed a sitter that Mane had teed up for him. Arsenal went on to score 3 goals in a space of 5 minutes and Liverpool had to ultimately battle for a draw and settle for a point. The result, 2 more dropped points.
Against Swansea, Phil Coutinho’s moment of magic put Liverpool in front after just 6 minutes, but the reds completely switched off for the rest of the half. However, the Swans’ midfield failings led to a major error at the brink of halftime, that Firmino should have capitalized. Having gone away from Fernandez’s challenge beautifully and having dummied the last defender, Firmino dragged his shot wide off the near post. A player of his calibre should have been scoring that. Even if he wasn’t confident of scoring it, Salah had made a blistering run at the far post and would have tapped in his 21st Premier League goal, had Firmino squared it to him. Luckily, this time Liverpool were not left lo lick their wounds. Coutinho’s brilliant free-kick created an opportunity for Firmino that he didn’t miss this time. Liverpool went 2-0 up and the match effectively ended there.
Against Leicester, Liverpool conceded a poor goal inside 2 minutes thanks to Joel Matip this time around. However, Liverpool should be wondering why they didn’t enter the break on level terms. Salah had 2 glorious opportunities which he should have put away. When compared with the likes of Morata, Aguero, Lukaku and Kane, Salah has missed the most number of “big” chances. Take no credit away from his blistering goalscoring exploits but the point to be emphasized here is Liverpool’s lack of ruthlessness and clinicality throughout the pitch. Despite scoring the equalizer, Salah missed another golden opportunity in the second half when Coutinho had sent him 1v1 against Schmeichel, which he chipped over, albeit unsuccessfully when he should have been putting it away. However, he did end up scoring the winner and Liverpool were not left ruing their missed chances. We shouldn’t forget that Mahrez had a very bad day and Liverpool did enough when Leicester tried to counter-attack.
What one needs to look at here is another potential problem for Klopp. While Salah has been brilliant with his work rate and understanding with the rest of the fab four, he is not a poacher, yet. Liverpool have dropped 12 points this season from winning positions in all competitions this term and more often than not it has been because of the reds not extending their leads.
On the bright side, Liverpool have shown at times they can be ruthless and clinical. The 5-1 hammering of Brighton is testament to this. A wonderful save by Mignolet and a clearance later, Liverpool counter-attacked with pace and Firmino ended up scoring less than 10 seconds after the save. That was a supreme goal, showcasing the kind of ruthlessness that has not been put up on show all too often this season.
Liverpool’s did show some grit and worked hard for the wins against Leicester and Burnley, which is a welcome sign. The defending in the last 15 minutes when Leicester tried to bombard aerially was brilliant, something again not seen enough this season. Further, Van Dijk’s arrival is only going to help in this regard.
Against Burnley, Mane’s wonder goal was one of the few clear opportunities the reds had the entire match. The winner showed some steel and grit about the side, especially in the absence of the fab four.
Liverpool have drawn a great number of matches at home this season and there is a recurrent theme among them. When teams sit deep and defend with 10 men, no side can create plentiful in all matches. When on song, Liverpool can do just that, which is why the reds are where they are now. However, that won’t be the case all time. The bottom line is Liverpool need to convert more chances.
Liverpool have ended 2017 on a positive note and started 2018 in the same fashion. They have finally qualified for the Knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in a decade and have a great opportunity to advance further as well. The first milestone has been reached, but Klopp’s era will ultimately be judged on whether they can progress and achieve the rest of the milestones in their path. Despite the best efforts of the statisticians, I do believe Liverpool have improved by leaps and bounds under Klopp. However, Liverpool are still not a side capable of winning the title just yet and this is where Klopp needs to work on. It won’t be easy. After all the proof lies in Moore’s law. The effort needed to make a mediocre side a good one is much less than the effort required to make a good side a great one. Look at Sam Allardyce and Everton for example. Klopp has the time and resources at his disposal and hopefully, we will see him lifting the Premier League title soon.