We covered the five mistakes that Jurgen Klopp made in January recently. Some might make another appearance here…
The Lucas problem
Just how does a midfielder who can’t get into midfield end up as one of your regular central defenders? Just how does a player who has seemingly been on the verge of leaving in each of the last three transfer windows suddenly become such a key player?
Those are two questions that Klopp must answer. The German’s decision to freeze Mamadou Sakho out of the first-team picture at Anfield was down to more than on-pitch form, but Sakho was magnificent on debut for Crystal Palace. The same cannot be said of Lucas in any of his recent games in that position.
With Jamie Vardy the latest striker to identify the obvious weak point of Liverpool’s defence and expose that weakness accordingly, Klopp must surely make a change. Ragnar Klavan is not the perfect central defender, but he’s a damn sight better than a 5ft 10in box-to-box midfielder.
“Lucas should never be playing there,” said Jamie Carragher at half-time against Leicester. “He doesn’t have the skill-set for the position and he’ll always get found out there.” We couldn’t agree more.
Finishing their chances
Liverpool may sit 15th in a Premier League table for 2017, but they rank third for shots and first for shots on target. While Tottenham are leading the way on 90 chances created in 2017, Liverpool’s total of 86 runs them close. Klopp’s side have played one less game, too.
Unfortunately, that isn’t reflected in Liverpool’s goalscoring. Klopp’s side rank 11th for goals scored, despite playing one extra game than Manchester City and Manchester United. Their shot conversion rate is 11.69%, better only than Burnley, Hull, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Middlesbrough.
The problem isn’t even the typical Liverpool issue of shooting wildly from distance from areas which rarely end in success. Just 36% of Liverpool’s shots in 2017 have come from outside the penalty area, with only Southampton, Stoke, Arsenal and Everton registering a lower figure. Instead, this is a question of spurning chances and giving opposition goalkeepers the opportunity to make saves.
The striker issue
Which brings us neatly on to the striker issue, and one which is becoming quite the problem. Roberto Firmino’s excellent form at the start of the season is now a distant memory – five shots on target in his last 540 minutes – while Sadio Mane’s absence at the Africa Cup of Nations also caused Liverpool to look predictable. The concern is that if Mane doesn’t play well, nor do Liverpool.
And then there is Daniel Sturridge, missing at Leicester after failing to recover from a virus but too often underperforming when he has been used by Klopp. Sturridge last played in the EFL Cup semi-final defeat against Southampton at Anfield, where he spurned a number of chances as Liverpool were eliminated.
The reality is that, if Firmino is not performing, Klopp has no like-for-like replacement. Divock Origi is still raw and inconsistent, while Sturridge has increasingly become ineffective at running in behind a defence or holding up play. That means his entire game is based on his ability to finish chances created for him.
Sturridge’s shot conversion rate in the Premier League this season is 8.00%, lower than ten other Liverpool players and down from 19.05% last season. Whether that is because Sturridge is a confidence player and his belief has been dented at being regularly left out of the team or simply due to poor form is open to debate, but does not change the conclusion: it might be unpleasant to hear, but Sturridge is currently unfit for Liverpool purpose.
One way, or another?
The defeat against Leicester on Monday was the latest in a series of defeats which indicate that teams have found the best way to combat Liverpool. Craig Shakespeare got his tactics spot on.
Here is a list of the four away league games in which Liverpool have had the most possession, and made the most passes:
Burnley – 80.4% – 848 – lost 2-0
Hull City – 72.2% – 636 – lost 2-0
Sunderland – 70.8% – 698 – drew 2-2
Leicester City – 69.1% – 621 – lost 3-1
You can add the home defeat against Swansea too, where Liverpool had 73.6% possession and completed 785 passes. In the seven games during which Klopp’s team have had most of the ball, they have taken just seven points. In the four away games during which Klopp’s team have had most of the ball, they have taken just one point.
This would not necessarily be an issue if Liverpool had another style, a Plan B. Teams regularly have to alter their system in order to counteract a particular type of opponent, and there is no secret in how to thwart a Liverpool team running lower on energy than earlier in the season. Klopp’s task is to find that effective alternative plan, and it’s been a long time coming.
Ah yes, this old thing again. The secret to good comedy is timing, and Simon Mignolet picked a wonderful day to discuss how Liverpool are better off without Luis Suarez, because they are now unpredictable.
“Back in the day, if you could stop Luis, you had a chance against Liverpool but now you have to face a whole team playing for each other and I guess that’s a lot harder,” said Mignolet. And you’d guess wrong, Simon.
On the same day, Mignolet accused Leicester’s players of letting their title win go to their heads, so Klopp might have a little word in his goalkeeper’s ear about making sure his own house is in order. The Belgian has not made any high-profile errors recently, but that doesn’t prove that he is in supreme form.
Since the beginning of the year, Liverpool rank fifth for goals conceded per game, but 14th for shots on targets faced per game. Simon Mignolet has the third worst save percentage of any goalkeeper during that time.
If that offers evidence of Liverpool’s defensive problems as a whole rather than just in Mignolet individually, the Belgian is hardly proving the doubters emphatically wrong. Continue this form, and Klopp may add ‘goalkeeper’ to his growing list of summer needs.