Fulham 2 - 2 Liverpool: The Post Mortem
Jurgen Klopp is world class in every sense. His personality, his coaching style, his ability to evolve, his adoration of the wonderful support, and his affection towards his players.
It is this last part which can often cause the odd mishap in his spectacular Liverpool reign. His loyalty to certain players is applauded by many, and there is obviously great pride in how he treats his players. Players that have felt the warm embrace of the big German would run through walls for him, and follow him into any situation without question.
I wrote a couple of preview pieces in the lead up to the Fulham game, where I noted how attributes should dictate the team selections this season. I am no Jürgen Klopp, but the logic of what must be done is often always there to see, nonetheless. Against Fulham, the Reds needed to be quick, direct, and incisive on the ball. Against Manchester City the previous week, they basically played the role that Fulham did yesterday, that of a pack of hungry wolves eager to hunt down a team happy to have the ball. That game against City was the perfect stomping ground for Roberto Firmino, and he revelled in chasing down defenders who were instructed to maintain possession. It could also be understandable as to why Jordan Henderson started that game, where often times his game is marginally better off the ball. Though Hendo didn’t perform well that day, I assumed it was more a case of always safeguarding either Thiago or Naby. Thiago started, therefore Naby did not.
This past Saturday (at Craven Cottage) Liverpool controlled 67% of the ball, but were very much the lesser of the two teams. Despite the numbers pointing towards a controlled Reds performance, it was far from this from the very outset. The overwhelming factor is that of the two competing managers, Marco Silva was by far the more tactically astute. All coaches will (and understandably should) have off days. These giant figures of the game are only human, and this is where it is on the players to get situations over the line. I actually believe a combination of Klopp mildly righting his initial wrongs, and certain players entering the fray allowed this, but only just. Darwin and Harvey were the creative figures that were needed, and probably should have started against this type of opponent.
I was always nervous about which Fulham team may take us on. I heard big winning score lines mentioned prior to the game, and this was all well and good. My pre-game scoreline had the Reds winning 0-2, but I was still eager to point out that promotion winning form and desire can sometimes be carried over. Last year Brentford were a bullish and aggressive outfit, and Leeds were this and more the season prior. Fulham spent the previous campaign having their way with most teams, and their opening game of this Premier League saw them welcome the most famous & trophy laden club in English football. With that, are we really surprised that they came for us, and should we not have selected a team that could technically come through this likely scenario.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s easy to nod and say what we all would have done. But the fact is, neither Jordan Henderson or Roberto Firmino were ever suited to this game, and we should have been looking at players ‘now’ far more suited to on ball play. Jordan Henderson should be nothing more than a Fabinho back up, and his role as an 8 is well beyond what his regressing body can offer. Bobby should be used as a rotation piece, and his own on ball regression and impact means he shouldn’t be playing against teams that simply don’t hold onto the ball long enough.
Game 1 of the season should have seen Naby & Darwin start ahead of the players stated, and as soon as Naby bowed out with illness (he’s not injured folks), Harvey should have been slotted in. Harvey Elliott is a boy, but a boy that wants to create on ball havoc, and integrate with those gifted performers around him. He may not be ready for 50 games a season, but if he is to be sandwich between world class operators such as Salah, Trent & Fabinho, he would do just fine. Henderson may be the senior player, but he is simply in drastic decline, and offers next to nothing when on the ball. The odd cross or pass aside becomes the common rhetoric, but he simply cannot operate in a possession heavy group, and certainly not as an 8.
Darwin is a killer, and I believe his impact will come close to how Virgil evolved our backline, and how Fabinho evolved our middle core. Darwin is electric and he inspired those around him to be more direct and aggressive in their play. His impact on two consecutive games (off the bench) has been astounding, and until Diogo Jota is back, he must now start all games. We have to be aggressive, not over confident and arrogant, but aggressive in possession. We need players able to operate at insanely high speeds, and react to teams willing to hunt us down. If I am Jurgen, I’m switching to a 4-2-3-1, and putting Fabinho in there with Naby, and unleashing Harvey into the 10 / RCM role. We have to be logical, and Jürgen Klopp must now be the level of decisiveness that is also needed on the pitch.
A few seasons ago, some team somewhere (probably WBA) would have low-blocked the life out of us. This now common factor has been repeated time and time again, and we signed a multi talented striker in order to overcome this. In not starting this dominating striker yesterday, it allowed Fulham to come for us, and we saw yesterday how a rampaging Aleksandar Mitrović was able to attack our backline (and certain individuals), and show how a power forward can benefit a hungry team.
Patrick Viera would have had his note pad out yesterday, and you can now guarantee that his Crystal Palace team will look to replicate that which worked so well for Marco Silva. His own team is full of energy, desire, and strength. Much like Marco Silva, he is a talented manager that will look to harness which his team requires to compete with the Reds, and with that, Klopp has to react in kind.
With Thiago joining Ox & Curtis Jones on the injured list, I hope it pushes Julian Ward into action. We are not talking about a £100m Jude Bellingham, but Matheus Nunes would now be the ideal signing to bring to life. We have most certainly been linked, and now would be the perfect opportunity to recruit this type of player. He would offer great on and off ball attributes, great decision making and an ability to create havoc on the ball. In the next outing, this role should be undertaken by Harvey, and let him have a good run in that role. With the landscape being that which it is, we simply cannot have yet another season that hinges on not signing that one player.
Two seasons ago we needed a central defender, and we all know how that went. Last season we needed a starting calibre central midfielder, in order to transition the ageing (and rapidly declining) skipper away from the starting eleven. Darwin must also be a bonafide starter, and next week must be about reaction.
With one game gone, nothing is lost, and the early injuries have at least fallen within a transfer window with weeks still to spare. Knowledge of what has happened before will surely spur Julian Ward to move, and hopefully Jürgen Klopp can finally accept that certain players, players he undoubtedly adores, can no longer operate within the teams he picks. Liverpool are elite, and Jürgen Klopp is elite. It’s now time for the team and it’s starting pieces to be of that elite level also, otherwise we will simply see Manchester City drift away.