Alisson conceded a foul in Nottingham Forest’s six-yard box in the 93rd minute. Joe Gomez was hurling throw-ins into the area in the 95th. Liverpool were panicking at the end of a game in which they appeared to have an incredibly flawed plan against the Premier League’s worst side.
Liverpool were looking up the table after consecutive 1-0 wins in the Premier League against Manchester City and West Ham. ‘Form is temporary and class is permanent’ will have been the phrase, probably not in such a cliched form, bouncing around the training ground in the last couple of weeks.
But this display against Forest, similar to many of their games this season, suggests good displays are now the anomalies.
Injuries to Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz left Jurgen Klopp with little choice but to select Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Fabio Carvalho as his front three. But Klopp did have the choice of where to play them, made what very quickly looked to be an error in playing Salah down the middle and refused to change that plan.
Liverpool had 76 per cent possession and Salah had 22 touches in 90 minutes. Forest sat very deep, allowing him no space to run into, with all the space out wide, where Salah has terrorised defenders in the Premier League for the last five seasons. His hair seemingly more unkempt than usual, Salah looked as baffled as a teenager woken before midday as he ploughed a lone furrow up front.
Roberto Firmino meanwhile, an outstanding false nine, was forced to false from wide positions, where he made very little impact. Sometimes the less you think about things the better, as Pep Guardiola well knows, and Liverpool may well have won this game had Klopp played his forward players in the positions they have excelled in throughout his time at Anfield.
“I never saw a game where one team has four or five no-brainers from a set piece where we have to finish it off,” Jurgen Klopp said after the game. He’s right, they had the chances to win, but then again, we’ve never seen a Klopp Liverpool side so reliant on set pieces. All of their opportunities came from decent deliveries, either from James Milner or Trent Alexander-Arnold, and headers from the big lads. It’s certainly not much to look at.
There was a feeling they may nick one at the end, but that replaced a feeling of their own defensive fallibility throughout the game. One bad pass, and there were a lot of them, seemed to result in a chance for Nottingham Forest, or at least the chance of a chance had their attack been more cohesive.
Joe Gomez’s display against Manchester City was supposed to be the start of his path to the World Cup with England. Dogged by injuries, his form at centre-back has been patchy at best in the last two seasons. He combined his pace, composure and reading of the game against the champions but reverted to more recent type on Saturday.
Taiwo Awoniyi gave Gomez a torrid time, consistently harrying and outmuscling the Reds defender. Gomez was shown a yellow card, which was more of an orange, having had possession stolen by the Forest forward, who scored from the resulting free-kick, following in his own scuffed shot which came off the post.
Having played alongside the best Premier League defender in his time with Liverpool, Gomez is often guilty of trying to be Virgil van Dijk. He’s not Virgil van Dijk; not even this Virgil van Dijk, who continues to look a shadow of his best self.
Defensively, Van Dijk was fine, if not entirely dominant as he has been, but he missed an absolute sitter in the first half, bizarrely opting to try and set up a team-mate with a header bang in front of goal, before Dean Henderson produced an excellent save from a free header in stoppage time that Van Dijk should have given him no chance of stopping.
The centre-backs weren’t helped by another suspect display by Fabinho, who now seems to shrink under pressure rather than standing tall and swatting opposition players aside.
And Klopp’s right-back decisions, both before and during the game, also mystified.
Alexander-Arnold has been out injured but played the full 90 against West Ham on Wednesday. It wasn’t clear whether he had been dropped or rested for Forest. Asked about the absentees ahead of the game, Klopp explained that Nunez was out with muscle fatigue and Thiago Alcantara had an ear infection, but there was no reason given for Milner starting ahead of Alexander-Arnold, who watched from the bench for the first hour.
That recent injury has blurred things nicely for Klopp in that sense. Alexander-Arnold’s fitness troubles excuse an absence his displays perhaps merited in any case. He’s been a long way short of his best this season. But after a game in which Liverpool’s attack looked so blunt, Alexander-Arnold not starting is now a story.
He was brought on to no avail and replaced arguably Liverpool’s best player up to that point. Milner could easily have had a hat-trick of assists had the Liverpool noggins been nodding in the right direction. Klopp couldn’t not bring Alexander-Arnold on, but while his forward line needed normality, ingenuity would have been welcome to have both Milner and Alexander-Arnold operating to get Liverpool back in the game.
This was a tough afternoon for Liverpool, made harder by a manager making the few calls he had left to make badly.
Read more: Klopp fumes at Liverpool after Van Dijk, Firmino miss ‘no-brainers’ in Forest defeat