Liverpool legend John Arne Riise believes manager Jurgen Klopp should take some of the blame for the champions’ alarming slide in fortunes this season.
Riise says the champions’ tactical approach should have been changed after an injury crisis cost them a number of star players.
Back in November, Liverpool set a club record of 63 home league games without defeat, which was eventually stretched to 68 games and yet when relegation threatened Burnley ended that run in January, it began a run of six straight home losses, including a first Merseyside derby loss at Anfield since 1999.
Riise, who won the Champions League with Liverpool back in 2005, admits the pain of watching Liverpool’s demise has been hard to accept. And he has suggested all the key players in this story need to accept responsibility.
“It hurts to talk about because it is my team, but we have never seen a collapse like this,” said Riise at a BT Sport event.
“To lose six games in a row at home. I mean, it can happen when you have had a few years of bad football. But the way Liverpool have played over the last two years, you don’t expect this to happen this quickly. I’m very surprised and it is all a bit of a shock, to be honest.
“I’m not a manager of his standards and I can’t tell him what to do, but I have had a few thoughts when I’ve seen this team in 2021. For me, when you have 19 or 20 different pairings of centre-halves and the midfield keeps changing, you don’t have the same relations between the players that you normally have.”
Riise, who made 348 appearances for the club between 2001 and 2008, also suggested that the enforced changes have resulted in losing the fear factor normally associated with playing at Anfield. He believes opponents have simply figured out how to play against them.
The former Norway international also hinted the mental fatigue resulting from the club’s injuries could also have played a part. Riise pointing to their famed front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
“It feel teams have got used to playing against Liverpool at Anfield,” he continued. “They sit deep, they are more compact, they hit them on the counter-attack and Liverpool keep playing a high line defensively. They don’t have the normal midfield that could keep pressing like they used to do and win the balls, so the opposition knows that.”
“Liverpool don’t have Van Dijk or Gomez, who are quick and can cover the balls over the top. They don’t have Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum every game to win the ball in the middle, so I feel they could have changed their tactics a little.
“They don’t have the players available to play that kind of football. Nobody is going to do the job of Van Dijk or Gomez in terms of speed, so when the opposition play balls in behind they know they are not as quick. Liverpool are getting punished more now than if they had all their players available. This is why I feel they could have looked at a change of tactics.”
Midfield press missing for Liverpool
“You can say it’s confidence and mental fatigue and maybe that is a factor. But I can’t stress enough that when you don’t have the players you normally have to play the kind of football you want, it’s tough.
“Liverpool used to be able to press so high in midfield and when they won the ball back, they were already in a great position. Then the front three could just finish it off. Now, with all the swapping and different players being used, they don’t get that.
“Now the front three are looking different. Before they would shoot on instinct and it’s a goal. Now it looks like they are thinking too much, taking too much time because things are not going their way, so things are not happening naturally for them.
“There is mental fatigue, confidence is low and they are not linking up so well. In the past, it was one to two passes and they were in, but now they are trying to do things on their own. You can’t be a Liverpool player and accept that you have lost six games in a row.”
By Matt Johnson
Watch every UEFA Champions League exclusively live on BT Sport. Sign up contract free with a BT Sport Monthly Pass for just £25 per month. For more info visit bt.com/sport