The Swansea defeat was a real kick in the teeth for Liverpool. After a weekend where all bar one of our top 4 rivals gained maximum points. Yet it is too early to panic after previously going on such a long, unbeaten league run.
Klopp’s team is still creating good goal-scoring chances. The team can do more to create better quality chances. However, sometimes the finishing touch can be lacking. This, compounded by the team’s inability to deal with a second ball off a corner, ultimately undid us on Monday night.
Liverpool could and should have won the game 2-0 looking at the expected goals models. On another day we would be hailing a scrappy, well-fought victory in windy, wet conditions on a poor pitch. Alas, it was not to be.
Yet, despite almost every player being under-par, there was enough quality to create match winning or match saving opportunities. I wonder just how much physically and mentally the City match took its toll on the players. The latter a game which saw spectacular levels of physical performance.
Lack of penetration in wide areas
I have touched on this subject in my previous article. The benefit of Klopp’s 433 is that it sends more men forward into attack compared with a 442. The fullbacks are an integral feature of this system; they help create overloads on the opposition flanks.
The fullbacks are relied on for their delivery in the current set-up. Mane and Salah are wide forwards rather than wingers. Thus they tend to drift into the half spaces or inner channels. This leaves space on the flanks for the fullbacks to run into and stretch the opposition.
Sadly, the lack of effective wide play hampered our attack against Swansea. The opponent’s game plan would have been no surprise to Klopp. I can only think that he has the team playing narrow for greater defensive solidity. It allows compactness so we can press more efficiently. Our fullbacks are not at the level of Man City, for example, so maybe it is a process of evolution. However, the fullbacks also need help.
Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wijnaldum were unable to help create the wide overloads from midfield, as City do so well, to support the wide man (be that the fullback or winger/wide forward).
This was not helped by the fact that our midfield was unable to get the ball between the lines quickly in the right zones. The passing was slow and laboured. Therefore, the defence was already set even when the ball did get wide. The Ox is certainly no replacement for Coutinho, but Klopp will expect more of him going forward as the most advanced midfielder.
Klopp may not be able to play exactly the same system as Guardiola does at City, as gegenpressing has different requirements. However, I would welcome a clearer plan for attacking out wide. City score countless goals from low cutbacks (statistically the best wide passes into the box). Such goals look well rehearsed and second nature to the attackers.
We could do with a few more of these goals against stubborn teams like Swansea. This is more sustainable than placing too much reliance on individual moments of brilliance (which are the exception rather than the norm, over time).
There is a lot of talk about the gegenpress being our main playmaker, but Klopp knows we need more against teams denying us space. The West Brom FA Cup tie gives the manager another opportunity to refine his tactics.
Van the Man
The Swansea manager, in his post-match interview, spoke about 2 different variants he had identified to exploit our defence on set-plays. Although it is no consolation, thankfully their goal came from an unrehearsed scenario.
Part of this was our ability to totally restrict Swansea on the counter and this was virtue of the high line playing Van Dijk and Karius together now allows, granting a little more security in open play.
Virgil Van Dijk put in another hugely encouraging display at centre-back, despite the defeat. Virgil showed his potency in all areas of the pitch; a commanding presence at the back, a deep-lying playmaker as the game progressed and so nearly assist-maker extraordinaire on 2 occasions.
His influence will no doubt spread to others as the season progresses. One only needs to look at the added bite to Matip’s game since his partner’s arrival. Virgil has settled so well thus far despite not being at his physical peak. Quite incredible, all things considered.
A defeat is always disappointing. But our unbeaten run was bound to end at some time. The timing is perhaps the worst thing about the defeat. It comes after the sale of Coutinho and the transfer activity of Man United and Arsenal.
The Swansea defeat didn’t expose new problems, it just highlighted problems Klopp will already be aware of. He will be working on these over the coming months, next summer and beyond. Let’s trust the man that took us on an unbeaten run to get us on another mini-run.
The stats show that recent underlying performance of the team is good. As Klopp said after the game if performance is good results generally follow. Swansea was just a bad day at the office.