The performance in the 3-1 defeat by Brentford was unacceptable. There were so many things wrong that it’s hard to know where to start. It was not the way to open the new year.
Everyone is looking for scapegoats and has their own theory: the midfield is an ongoing problem; the tactics have stopped working; Pep Lijnders is a corrosive influence; age has caught up with the team; and there are internal divisions among the backroom staff.
Not restocking the midfield from a position of strength is a complaint that goes back to winning the Champions League four years ago. Plenty of people moaned about it at the time. We looked a bit silly when the team breezed to the title the following season but it was still a mistake not to be bolder in the transfer market in the summer of 2019 (and successive buying windows).
There are two factors with the midfield. The best trio of the past five years were Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho. One has gone and you might say the same about the other two’s legs.
Okay, that’s a bit harsh but Henderson is at the age (32) where he needs to be used more sparingly. Fabinho appears to have more miles on the clock than the average 29-year-old.
But that’s only part of the problem. Those three were, in skill and style terms, a little bit workaday. None of them were showy and Wijnaldum and, particularly, Henderson, got plenty of stick for not being more creative and flashier. They were a unit that did the dirty work that often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.
Their more youthful potential replacements have more raw talent. Curtis Jones, Fabio Carvalho and Harvey Elliott are, in theory, more exciting players. In a different sort of team. If Jurgen Klopp continues with the same approach, the young guns will either have to change their style – and remember, Henderson was bought as a winger, so it can be done – or it’s not going to work. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Klopp’s midfield is not a skill position (in the traditional sense of beating men and creating chances). Running and grafting are higher on the list of required attributes than talent and technique.
As for Lijnders having too much input, a No 2 needs to be involved. Critics are using his book ‘Intensity’ as a stick to beat him with. You can see why. There was an element of hubris attached to the publication. But it’s too simplistic to point fingers at one man.
Clubs change and develop. The process was under way when Michael Edwards decided to step down. Stability was compromised when Fenway Sports Group put Liverpool up for sale. Julian Ward’s decision to depart at the end of the season brought more uncertainty. As for competing interests behind the scenes, they exist at all clubs. Victories paper over the cracks. Bad runs bring resentments to the fore. When you throw in concerns about the future because of the possibility of new ownership, it can get a bit toxic.
A run of wins won’t exactly fix things but life is always happier in the backroom departments when the side are racking up points and good performances.
Essentially, there’s no simple answer to the questions being posed to Klopp. He’s got to find better answers than Brentford “stretched the rules.”
Jurgen was stretching the truth there. His team capitulated. There are a ton of reasons why but he needs to sort it out. Quickly.
The five years since Virgil van Dijk arrived have been a golden age. It is hard to think of a single player in Anfield history who made so much of a difference so quickly.
Yes, Alisson’s arrival was the final piece in the jigsaw but Liverpool looked a different side the moment the Dutchman got onto the pitch.
His injury now is a worry. Scans over the next few days will give an indication whether he will be back by the time the Champions League knockout phase comes around next month.
One of the things about watching centre backs is that you need to be in the ground to see what they do in full. Much of the talking and organising is done when the ball is in a different part of the pitch. The other central defenders at the club aren’t talkers in the same way as Van Dijk. He keeps everyone switched on.
There are a few contenders for the most important player in the side over the past half decade. Mo Salah can make a good case. Trent Alexander-Arnold has a reasonable shout. Alisson has a highlight reel of gamechanging moments.
Big Virg is the main man, though. Everything changed when he turned up.
Troy Deeney famously talked about Van Dijk smelling good, too. It seemed like a fun throwaway line in an interview.
Later on, I did a podcast with the Birmingham striker and Watford great. As soon as he found out who I supported, he returned to the subject of smelliness. He was fascinated by VVD’s aroma.
Is that the Dutchman’s secret? Distract opponents with an unexpected fragrance? Tactical aromatherapy?
Maybe all the asthma-medication conspiracy theorists are barking up the wrong tree. Aromatics are the secret to Liverpool’s success.
We’ll get to see Cody Gakpo against Wolves in the FA Cup. He might not be exactly what the team needs but he’s a useful addition to the squad and is big, quick and clinical. Hopefully, he will bring a better balance to the front line and take some pressure off Darwin Nunez.
Some people were delighted that Liverpool beat Manchester United to Gakpo’s signature. Let it go. The days when beating United in any way was impressive are long gone.
In some ways it might have been better to have been knocked out of the cups last season. It may – and this is only conjecture – have meant that Klopp could have harnessed resources better for the tilt at the title and Champions League.
The opposite argument is that winning silverware sharpens the appetite for success and creates a positive mentality.
Whatever. Why I’m into getting to cup finals is it offers another chance to boo the national anthem. Bring on the trophies and the protests. There’s our identity right there.