A rather somber Dave Tindall analyses Liverpool’s appalling form in this week’s Red Letter as the inquest into their fall from brilliance under Jurgen Klopp continues….
Bring on 2017 everyone kept telling me on Facebook. Trump, Brexit and all the celebrity deaths had made 2016 a complete nightmare. It was time to turn the page and start again.
But we Liverpool fans weren’t buying all that doom and gloom. We’d had some magical times in 2016, scoring goals galore and dreaming again of the title.
After signing the year off with a 1-0 win over Manchester City to move into second place and within six points of Chelsea, we flipped our calendars over with hope and expectation.
And then 2017 happened.
Our titles hopes have been smashed to smithereens, the trip to Wembley has been cancelled and chances of a top four finish appear increasingly precarious.
The stats reflect the feeling of doom. Liverpool have played seven matches in 2017. We’ve lost three, drawn three and won just one. The one was a win over League Two Plymouth. Sealed by a mundane set-piece header from Lucas.
So, Reds fans, where has it all gone wrong?
Defensively, absolutely nothing has changed. In our seven matches in 2017, we’ve conceded eight goals. Rewind to the very start of the season and we also let in that many in our opening seven matches.
The difference, of course, is going forward and the contrast is dramatic. Liverpool smashed in 19 goals in those opening seven games but from the same number of matches in 2017 we’ve netted just six – a fall of 13 goals and we’re now netting at less than one a game.
The attack is no longer bailing out the defence and that means trouble.
As usual, it’s not just one thing causing this huge drop-off; rather, a combination of factors that have coincided to depressing effect.
Seven factors behind Liverpool’s struggles
As a Reds fan, I need to make sense of it all so let’s try a list….
1/ Losing Sadio Mane. The Senegal striker is our top scorer this season. But it’s more than that. As well as missing his goals, we’re missing his pace. Liverpool have slowed up. We’re no longer putting teams on the back foot.
2/ Strikers going off the boil. Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi are both in woeful form. Sturridge has managed just two goals in eight appearances, Origi has drawn a blank in his last nine after netting in five games in succession. “If he doesn’t score you’re basically down to 10 men,” was Jamie Carragher’s withering analysis of Sturridge after he missed a sitter in the loss to Southampton. It’s hard to disagree. The half-hearted chasing down and complete loss of pace is all too obvious.
3/ Firmino drought. Mane’s absence has meant Jurgen Klopp moving Roberto Firmino out wide rather than having him as the central man in a fluid front three. The Brazilian just hasn’t been as effective there. He did score two superb goals against Swansea but take those away and he’s fired in just a single goal in 13 games. He’s meant to be one of our main marksmen and yet the goals have dried up dramatically.
4/ Coutinho finding his feet again. It was brilliant to hear that Philippe Coutinho had signed a new five-year contract but, right now, he’s struggling. Since coming back from injury in the first leg of the semi against Southampton he’s shown just glimpses of his early-season form and hasn’t managed a goal in five starts.
5/ Opposition working us out. Jose Mourinho provided the blueprint when he came to Anfield and got a 0-0 when we were flying and other teams have taken note. Sit deep, flood the middle areas of the pitch, slow up our passing and try and hit us on the break.
6/ Luck has vanished. This is dodgy ground, I know, but Man Utd’s equaliser was offside in the build-up and should we have had a penalty v Southampton? Not for Origi’s fall (he dived) but Shane Long’s arm to ball late on. A few decisions going the wrong way is standard fare for teams suffering a sticky patch and it appears it’s our turn now.
Gegenpress taking its toll
7/ Fatigue. This is the one that worries me most. Klopp had to cope with Bundesliga and Champions League with Dortmund and did it well. You can argue that their league isn’t as intense as ours but the huge difference is that in Germany they have a winter break. Dortmund had a month off to recharge the batteries and prepare for phase two of the season but we’ve had to keep on running. It looks as if it’s taking a toll. The resulting lack of spark against teams defending in numbers has had a crippling effect on our goal output.
There are probably more but I’ve started to depress myself.
One win in seven to kick off the new year is ugly stuff indeed but, for balance, it’s worth noting that others have been there too.
Between mid-October and late November, Spurs went through a run of just one win in 10 while Man Utd managed just two wins in seven in a month-long spell in October.
Both have bounced back in style and goals are the reason. Harry Kane came back from injury to spark Spurs while United’s dip coincided with Zlatan failing to score for six games.
Everything seems terrible now after back-to-back home defeats to Swansea and Southampton but, at some point soon, the planets will align again. Most likely when we return to just one game a week while the teams in Europe have two.
Mane will be back, Coutinho will find his sharpness and the goals will return for Firmino, Sturridge and Origi.
We can’t just go from genuine title contenders to no-hopers, can we? For now we’re out of synch so it’s up to Klopp to correct and find solutions to those items on the above list.
The problem is that it might have to get worse before it gets better.
Fielding a team of youngsters in the FA Cup against Wolves makes us vulnerable and on Tuesday night Chelsea are the visitors. Oh dear.
I’m clinging onto the idea that we’re very good against the big teams although our wins at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge and the draw at White Hart Lane came when we were full of early-season zip, zest and energy. For now, that has gone.
A season that promised so much is unravelling fast. It’s no good pretending otherwise or sugar-coating it, these are seriously troubling times.
Biggest factor behind Liverpool’s struggles?