When Liverpool drew 1-1 with Everton on Sunday, it looked like a smash and grab. It was a sucker punch; a controversial late penalty won not though adventure and graft, but through the naivety of a centre-back putting his hands on a striker in the box running away from goal.
And yet, even if it was a sucker punch, Wednesday night’s draw with West Brom seemed to hint that Liverpool’s problems are greater than faulty centre-backs and even disallowed goals.
It’s become something of a pattern. Liverpool find it hard to break teams down when they’re organised in a solid defence and set up in two banks of four. We’ve seen it plenty of times before, and not just this season. Last season, Burnley beat Liverpool 2-0 at Turf Moor despite Jurgen Klopp’s side having around 80% of the possession. Games aren’t won on possession stats, obviously, but being unable to translate that dominance into three points is a serious flaw.
Indeed, Jurgen Klopp’s Reds have drawn seven Premier League games already this season, including three of their last five. They’ve been beaten heavily both by Tottenham and – controversially – by Manchester City, but these have been genuine off-days. The main worry has to be the games when they’ve failed to win the games they’ve dominated. If they’d done that, they could be 10 points better off – out in no-man’s land between the Manchester clubs in second.
But instead, it’s a familiar pattern of Liverpool failing to take their chances and dropping two points.
And because it’s a pattern, you start to think about what the solutions could be – because there’s clearly a problem.
One is the defence, of course. It’s true that Liverpool don’t concede many shots, but it’s also true that they concede too many goals. Clearly the problem is that rather than having to shoot from distance, opposing teams have been able to cut through the Anfield side. Only two of Liverpool’s draws have been 0-0, suggesting that the main problem is failing to keep the opposition out at the other end is what’s stopped them from picking up maximum points.
Compare that to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, who have kept 10 clean sheets in their 17 games so far, meaning they’ve only had to score once in all of those games to take three points. Liverpool have left themselves needing to score more than once in the majority of their games.
But there is another, less obvious, reason you can point to.
It’s probably no coincidence that 2014 was the last time that Liverpool were truly in the running for a Premier League title. That was the year they had Luis Suarez at his best, and clearly that helped immensely, but they also had Steven Gerrard. And even if the former captain was past his peak, he was a leader they needed.
In that team, then, they had two players who led the team, either emotionally or by example. Now, they lack that figure: the man who would take responsibility in a game and drag his team over the line.
Perhaps that’s not the Jurgen Klopp way. The manager is a man who clearly tries his best to put the collective over the individual. But without that figure, it might explain why Liverpool have so much trouble dragging themselves to victory in games this season.
When they are on-song, they are very very good. They thrash teams and score at will. The ‘fab four’, or at least the front three with Philippe Coutinho behind them, are one of the most feared attacking lines in the country. And yet, when it’s 0-0 or 1-1 late on, they can’t seem to find a victory.
In fact, it’s only happened once this Premier League season: only against Frank de Boer’s record-breakingly bad Crystal Palace on the second weekend of the season did Liverpool manage to find a late winner in a frustrating game. Contrast that with the Manchester clubs and you see the difference. And that has to be down to a lack of leadership, a lack of a talisman.
For all the good things Liverpool are doing this season, their deficiencies in that department will ultimately be with undoes everything they’ve worked for. Under Jurgen Klopp Liverpool have improved. There shouldn’t be any doubt that, at times, they’re as fun to watch as any other team in the country. But without the mentality to get it over the line when it really counts, you get the feeling that silverware will elude them.
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