Liverpool: Groundhog day on Merseyside or a backward step?

After a summer spent failing to address the glaring problems through the spine of his team, Jurgen Klopp has failed to build on last season’s third-place finish.

With a solitary win from their last seven games in all competitions, Liverpool have experienced a vast change in fortunes since they emphatically swept Arsenal aside. For all the early promise that his team had at the start of the season, confidence appears to be quickly ebbing away.

Results so far

WinsDrawsLossesGoals ForGoals Against
Premier League3311312
Champions League02033

Nestled between Burnley and Watford, Liverpool lie seventh after seven games with seven points separating them from the two Manchester sides at the top of the table.

Liverpool’s respective strengths and weaknesses were on full display in the opening weekend, exhilarating in attack yet flimsy in defence as they lost two points to a late goal.  After beating a struggling Crystal Palace team by a single goal in a game sandwiched by a 6-3 aggregate win over Hoffenheim to qualify for the Champions League group stages, they ruthlessly dismantled Arsenal with a four-nil scoreline that served to flatter the Gunners.

September was not kind to Klopp’s men who began the month by mentally capitulating in their showdown with Manchester City.  The nature of that defeat infuriated Klopp who witnessed his side playing without belief or purpose.  With a defeat and victory against Leicester in the Carabao Cup and Premiership respectively, four score-draws have made up the remaining results in a season which has already begun to meander.

A middling midfield 

Many of the headlines around Liverpool have focused on either their defensive issues or their attacking potency with the central midfield players largely remaining out of the limelight.  However, it’s arguably here in the engine room of the team that Liverpool have fallen shortest so far this season.  

While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has only amassed 73 minutes of game time in the four matches since his £40 million switch to Merseyside, captain Jordan Henderson along with Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can have been the three players to regularly feature for the Reds.

Although they’re all proficient enough individually, they all offer similar workman-like attributes and collectively lack a commanding presence. There is neither the tight defensive discipline or any creative vision in this department which is a minimum requirement for a team with serious title ambitions. With Naby Keïta having his name already pencilled into the team sheet for next season, it’s looking obvious why Klopp courted the Guinean star with so much relish this summer.

A purist’s dream

Many football fans often claim they place the style of football their team play above all else. The desire to be entertained is at a peak, however, Liverpool’s brand of heart-stopping football is a stark reminder that style needs to be balanced with defensive ability to secure results.

Liverpool in full flow are a sight to behold, fast, fluid counter-attacking players who can rip through the opposition with ease. Their game, much like Arsenal’s style in recent years, largely relies upon the opposition approaching the game with a similarly positive attitude. When teams are set up rigidly to block their attack, Liverpool’s greatest asset is neutralised as there’s no free space on the pitch for their pacey attacking players to exploit.

Central to this is Klopp’s stubbornness to deviate from his footballing philosophy. A strong argument can be made for or against whether he should tweak his formula to adapt to the Premiership but it’s becoming apparent that Liverpool are in need of a Plan B.

Klopp’s cowboys – quick on the draw

Manchester United’s title credentials were severely hindered last season by too many drawn games. Four of Liverpool’s last six games have now ended with honours even and it’s a trend they will need to shake off to keep their aspirations at home and abroad in check. With the Reds attacking threats being equally offset by their defensive frailties, it’s not the kind of balance Liverpool fans wish to see in their team.

In the two years Klopp has now been in charge at Anfield, progress has been made, albeit slowly, as expectation has once again swelled on Merseyside. Liverpool are currently a team in need of confidence, especially in front of goal where their sharp-shooters need to regain a clinical eye. Liverpool have five fewer goals than at this same stage last year, something which has greatly impacted any build-up of momentum recently.

With games against Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur to come next, along with some crunch games in the Champions League, Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool face a potentially season-defining period even at this early stage of their campaign.

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