As Leo Tolstoy once said: “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Tolstoy couldn’t have realised at the time but patience has been the warrior that has been Liverpool’s greatest foe this season.
The Reds supporters should be used to disappointment at this point of the season, as the club once again found themselves on the losing side in a 2-0 defeat against Hull.
Liverpool dominated possession and shots but had nothing to show for it. The past month has not only dashed any chance the Reds had of winning the Premier League but has provided other teams with the blueprint to beat them.
If you want to beat Liverpool all you have to do is be patient, sit back and let them beat themselves.
Hull’s victory have shown that if you sit back, clog the middle of the park and block shots it does a great deal to disrupt Liverpool’s attack.
Hull used a 4-2-3-1 formation to pack out the midfield and were content on letting Liverpool possess the ball around the perimeter for much of the time, sitting back and waiting for an opportunity to counter. This works because Liverpool have lapses in concentration that allow teams to be very successful on the counter attack.
Klopp and company enjoyed 72.2% of the ball and had 15 corners to Hull’s one, but that one corner led to a goal after Liverpool failed to clear their lines and left Alfred N’Diaye unmarked.
Liverpool’s inability to make the most of their chances against Hull is a microcosm of their play over the last month. For large portions they control play but the opposing team will counter, leaving Liverpool finding themselves behind and trying to dig themselves out of trouble.
Since the start of January, Liverpool’s attack have been a shell of its former self, which had them at the top of the Premier League in goals scored. In all fairness to Klopp’s side, Coutinho has yet to return to his best after coming back from injury while Mane was playing in the AFCON, so it makes sense that the club have lost a bit of the cohesion that made their attack a nightmare to defend against earlier this season.
That doesn’t excuse their anemic attacking effort because even without getting help from some of their elite players, only scoring seven goals in the 10 matches since their turn of the year is not going to get the job done.
By taking away the middle of the field and cutting down on easy scoring opportunities in the box, Hull challenged Liverpool to settle for contested shots. Of Liverpool’s 22 shots, half of them were blocked.
Liverpool have been struggling to finish attacking chances and by Hull’s decision to invite pressure it builds up frustration for the Reds and prevents them from gaining any momentum.
If you can weather the storm of Liverpool’s barrage there are holes to exploit in Liverpool’s defence.
As frustrating as it is for the fans to see Liverpool control the pace of play and the ball for large portions of the game it must be even more frustrating for Klopp and his players.
One can think of Hull’s style against Liverpool in the context of two men in a boxing match. Liverpool is the stronger fighter, has the capabilities to throw a knockout punch at any moment, but can be coaxed into letting their guard down.
Hull does not possess the ability to match Liverpool punch for punch and therfore has to be careful about taking chances as to not leave themselves exposed. By defending against the big shot and haymakers, they can limit the barrage of shots Liverpool hits them with.
Hull keeps Liverpool at a safe reach with jabs to make sure they don’t take a knock-out punch. Liverpool gets frustrated and tries to force something. It is at this moment where there is an opening that Hull lands a decisive blow.
If clubs are going to defend against Liverpool in this way, though, how can they beat it?
There are a few possible moves that can be made to try and exploit this style of defence. One way to try and take advantage of an overly defensive approach is to put a lot of players into the box and use softly hit high chips that have a lot of backspin. This will allow attackers to have an easier time judging the ball and moving to a position where they can score a header or get a one touch shot.
Liverpool are going to have to try something to counteract what clubs like Hull have been able to do against them or an uplift in form could be a long time coming.