Last season Liverpool were effervescent in the Champions League, breaking the record for goals scored in a single European campaign and generally taking teams by storm with a high intensity, gegenpressing style that put the opposition straight on the backburner with no hope of recovering after a 10-15 minute blitz.
It was the opposite case in Belgrade however, with the Reds struggling to get going from the first whistle to last, showing a lack of guile and creativity to fashion clear-cut chances. Credit must go to Red Star for their disciplined defending, but against far inferior opposition, far more was to be expected from Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Here are the observations from the match.
Oxlade-Chamberlain void continues
Klopp made use of his depth, opting for Gini Wijnaldum in the six with Milner and Lallana in front, tasked with adding a strong work rate and creative spark to proceedings. They failed massively though, with no tackles won inside the first forty-five minutes – a damning statistic in itself but especially when matched with a lack of proactive passing and ingenuity to breakdown the defence.
Two damning performances against Napoli and Red Star have merely highlighted just what a monumental miss Oxlade-Chamberlain is to this side. His willingness to get on the ball and drive forward at opponents last season, particularly in the Champions League ties against Manchester City, was pivotal to success and in his absence, the midfield looked bereft of ideas and unwilling to take responsibility for such a lacklustre display. No one is offering such traits at the moment which will be of particular worry to Klopp given the domestic title bid and big European games to come against PSG and Napoli.
Naby Keita wasn’t utilised on Tuesday, but you sense his return will be pivotal to any hopes of reviving the creativity within the midfield picture.
Liverpool have progressed and some have been left behind
The Reds have moved forward a lot in the last year or two, taking progressive steps to build on their foundations and close the gap on their closest rivals. The arrivals of Alisson and Van Dijk are testament to that, enabling Klopp to create a more pragmatic approach this season in order to show the necessary credentials to mount a challenge over a 38-game campaign. However, such progress has come at the expense of certain individuals.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Adam Lallana myself, particularly his ingenuity during his Southampton days in which regular Cruyff turns would see him move in between the lines. What’s become of him since troubling periods of injury is a shadow of his former self; slowing down attacking moves due to a lack of pace while no longer possessing a killer first touch to drive forward in attack, Lallana was painful to watch in Belgrade. He, like several others, were passengers on a night where Liverpool could ill afford to have any sub-par performers.
Maybe it’s time for a more bullish approach rather than Klopp’s current romanticism.
A concerning trend is emerging…
Liverpool have been praised for their calm approach to the season, grinding out results across the board to keep the pressure firmly on Manchester City. Although lacking in excitement in comparison to the freneticism of 2017/18, Klopp’s side haven’t struggled against the ‘weaker’ teams in the division while holding their own against the top six to good effect. However, with just 3 wins from their last nine games in all competitions, a lack of midfield creativity and transition in attack is becoming a worrying trend. The fact that those wins were against Huddersfield, Red Star and Cardiff merely exemplifies the recent struggles to kick fully into gear.
Of course, there can’t be too many complaints given this is one of the best starts to a season Liverpool have had in years, but there is an undertone of concern that’s starting to gain more and more traction. Let this serve as a wakeup call to Klopp and his men – improvement is needed.