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Three games into the new season for Liverpool, questions are looming for the men at Anfield. If against Fulham they were confused on an opening day and were tainted by circumstances against Crystal Palace last week, the defeat at Old Trafford was more worrying.
It’s Liverpool’s worst start to a league campaign in a decade and casts serious doubt over their ability to lift the Premier League title as they have so thrillingly done in recent years. It may only be August, but something is amiss on Merseyside.
The Injuries at Liverpool
Caomhin Kelleher, Calvin Ramsay, Ibrahima Konate, Joel Matip, Curtis Jones, Thiago Alcantara, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Kaide Gordon, Diogo Jota, Darwin Nunez.
Not a bad team, right? Good enough to beat plenty of Premier League teams, you’d think. Yet this is a Liverpool XI made up entirely of players on the sidelines. No wonder the team looks a little bare right now.
Of course, Nunez’s absence is self-inflicted. But, it’s no surprise that the manager spoke of a “wizard in the building” in Kirkby last week. His options were decimated a little more than two weeks into the campaign.
Thiago’s absence was especially felt. The Spaniard, when on form, sets the team’s rhythm and pace. He also has the creativity and passing range to open up even the most organized defenses.
Jota also missed a lot, Nunez is suspended, and Roberto Firmino is struggling. In an attacking sense, Liverpool only had teenager Fabio Carvalho. The latter jumped off the bench at Old Trafford. The remaining substitutes included Sepp van den Berg, Nat Phillips, Bobby Clark, Harvey Davies, and Stefan Bajcetic.
Jota and Jones could return to training before the end of the month. Still, Keita was the latest to go down on Sunday and is now on the sidelines. Thiago, Matip, and Konate are also out until at least mid-September and Oxlade Chamberlain even longer.
Meanwhile, Klopp must cross his fingers and hope no one else steps up.
Midfield of Liverpool
“Tell me, what kind of player do we need?.” The offensive one, 1.95m, comes into the box to head balls in. What do you want? This “golden cow” that produces absolutely everything, including milk?!
So spoke Klopp at the beginning of July when a group of journalists asked whether Liverpool needed to bring in a new midfielder. Then it was clear.
According to him, no signature is required. The last thing on his mind was to get stronger in this area.
After six weeks, one wonders if one’s position has changed. Of the nine options Klopp has listed, four are injured, and of the five who are fit, two are out of form. two are 19 and have played as much forward as midfield, and one is 36. A one-year contract in the summer, knowing that his role in the team, certainly as a starter, will be significantly reduced.
Liverpool prides itself on not signing players for the sake of it, and they can point to past success in terms of waiting to get the right man. Maybe they’d stick to their guns this time too, but that would be a big risk. If the club isn’t still asking questions about their long-standing midfield targets, they’re not doing their job. Liverpool’s midfield, short-term and long-term, is an issue that has been pressing for more than just a few weeks.
Slow Starts at Liverpool
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that attacking the opposition with one goal isn’t a good idea if you want to win football matches.
Essentially, though, that’s what Liverpool is doing, conceding their last seven League One games and then having to claw their way back into the competition.
Their sluggish starts are alarming, especially away from home. Klopp criticized the “attitude” of his players after the draw against Fulham. While he insisted there were no such concerns after the United game, there were similarities in how his side struggled against the hosts’ intensity, physicality, and intention.
Like at Craven Cottage, it took half an hour for Liverpool to find some composure and rhythm. Like at Craven Cottage, they should have scored by then, and it could have been worse.
Whether it’s complacency, fitness, or a collective lack of confidence – perhaps all of them – it needs to be fixed soon. The first goal against Bournemouth on Saturday is vital.
The Key Men
For all the talk of the injury crisis and the need for new signings, it cannot be ignored that several of Liverpool’s star players have not been at their best this season.
Virgil van Dijk, for example, was not his usual self. After being rocked by Aleksandar Mitrovic at Fulham, he struggled again against United. His decision to leave Jadon Sancho for the opening goal rather than shut down the striker was strange and perhaps symbolic of Liverpool’s problems. For whatever reason, things that have been second nature for so long aren’t quite so at this point.
The Dutchman is not the only intractable. Anthony Elanga and Marcus Rashford have terrorized Trent Alexander-Arnold. Jordan Henderson has had poor starts in both games. Alisson Becker is allowing goals too easily, and Roberto Firmino has looked a shadow of the player we know he can be. Fabinho was left on the bench against United, and even Andy Robertson’s energy levels dropped.
No doubt the new arrivals will help – despite the injury situation – but above all, Klopp needs his key men to rediscover their form.
The Missing Man(E)
When so much of your success is built around the brilliant, unique skills of a core group of players, it must be not easy to recalibrate when any of that group isn’t there.
That’s certainly the case with Liverpool following the departure of Sadio Mane this summer, and the Senegalese star’s good start at new club Bayern won’t make that fact any easier to swallow.
Mane’s combination of dynamism, physicality, and mentality made him almost impossible to replace immediately. Hence, Liverpool opted to go the other way with Darwin Nunez, a No.9 who would, in theory, offer a more natural attacking force.
Nunez should be fine at Liverpool. He is a good player who will undoubtedly improve. But his moment of indiscretion against Crystal Palace was woefully ill-timed, and with Jota unavailable, Klopp has little room to select or change the game from the bench.