Joel Sanderson-Murray·21 January 2021
Joel Sanderson-Murray·21 January 2021
Liverpool may just be the crisis club of the Premier League at the moment.
It’s the unwanted accolade that has been held by many during the first half of the season but it has now passed hands to the Premier League champions.
Following the 0-0 draw with Manchester United, Jürgen Klopp’s have now gone four games without a win and three consecutive matches without scoring for the first time since 2005.
They have slipped from top of the league to fourth in the space of a week, although the real crisis will be if (or when) Everton win their game in hand and move above the Reds.
The long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have left Liverpool with a gaping hole in the centre of their defence. That would be the easiest explanation for their recent decline but it’s not quite as simple as that.
The problems are being caused by the absences of their first choice centre-backs but the issue is not with the defending.
In fact, Liverpool have only conceded eight goals in the 13 league games since they lost Van Dijk. Fabinho has stepped in to fill in at the back in the absence of the pair and has been one of the team’s best performers.
However, the Brazilian having to move back has been a severe loss to the midfield.
Assistant manager Pep Lijnders has referred to Fabinho as “Liverpool’s lighthouse” in the past, heralding his ability to control the midfield. But with the Brazilian removed from the middle of the park, the team have lost their outlet for recycling and retaining possession.
The midfield has been non-existent against Southampton, Newcastle and Manchester United.
Such is the lack of cohesion from the midfield, teams have been able to resist the press from the attackers far too easily and can make their way upfield with relative ease.
Jordan Henderson has been required to fill in at the back in recent weeks too and, although his pace does give Liverpool the recovery speed that they miss without Van Dijk and Gomez, it means the midfield is lacking in bite and urgency.
The captain’s ability to cover ground on the right-hand side of the midfield has been a huge factor in Trent Alexander Arnold’s performances over the past few seasons but the right-back has struggled to reproduce that form this season.
The 22-year-old attempted ten crosses against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side but failed to find an attacker with any of them.
Alexander-Arnold has not been receiving the ball as far forward as he usually does in the last couple of games and the player may well not feel secure enough to drive forward without his Henderson-shaped safety net, not to mention possible concerns about two midfielders playing at centre-back behind him.
Liverpool’s defence may not have felt the detriment from the losses of Van Dijk and Gomez but their absences have thrown the whole team out of sync.
Van Dijk’s ability to produce a long, diagonal ball to either of the wing-backs has been lost. Liverpool are struggling to pin sides back and wide without it.
Fabinho and Joël Matip are hardly slack on the ball but they don’t have the ability to pull off that same pass and without that the Reds can look blunt when starting attacking moves from the back.
Klopp admitted in his press conference before the Southampton defeat that Liverpool were “unlikely” to be in a position to do any business this January, much to the dismay of the supporters who demand a centre-back signing every time there’s a new tweet from club’s official account.
The arrival of a new defender would be a welcome boost but mostly because it would allow Liverpool’s round pegs to become acquainted with their round holes again.
It doesn’t look like there will be a new centre-back for fans to feast their eyes on in January, so Klopp has to find an internal solution.
The manager and players have enough credit in the bank to be afforded patience while they try to solve this problem but there is a need for urgency. As things stand, Manchester City look capable of running away with the title.
Pep Guardiola’s side play Aston Villa, West Brom, Sheffield United and Burnley before they come to Anfield on 6 February.
The picture could look a lot different by the time it comes to that meeting. It’s time for Klopp to get to work on the training ground. But not on the defence.