Liverpool need to stop beating themselves

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool looks on prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool and Burnley at Anfield on September 16, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 16: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool looks on prior to the Premier League match between Liverpool and Burnley at Anfield on September 16, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images) /

Liverpool struggled last season with clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League, and their problems have followed them into this year.

It always seems like Liverpool FC is one transfer away from winning their first title in the Premier League era. They always have one of the most optimistic fanbases in the preseason, but each year, something happens that sets them back. By season’s end, that optimism is usually gone completely.

Last year, the setback was their results against smaller sides. They finished the season with six losses, and while that isn’t a terrible record, all but one of the losses came from clubs who finished in the lower half of the league. The best team to beat Liverpool was Bournemouth, who finished ninth and won a 4-3 thriller last December.

Even though they finished ninth, however, Bournemouth had only been in the Premier League for one season in their entire history at that point. Losing to Bournemouth isn’t a good-looking loss for a club that’s supposed to contend for titles.

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It wasn’t just teams like Bournemouth that were able to take points from Liverpool. They drew with Sunderland, who finished in last place, and also lost to Crystal Palace and Swansea. One of the other clubs that beat them was Hull City, who was also relegated after finishing 18th.

Of course, even the best clubs don’t win every match. But during that year, Chelsea won the league after only dropping points eight times. Liverpool, on the other hand, dropped points 16 times. In a very deep competition like the Premier League, dropping points against the other top teams is unavoidable. The difference between finishing in fourth and finishing in first is beating clubs like Sunderland and Hull.

Liverpool fans may have believed their struggles against smaller clubs would end this season, after the team added attackers Mohammed Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as well as left back Andre Robertson, but the early season doesn’t give an optimistic outlook.

After losing 5-0 to Manchester City in the Premier League, they could have bounced back in the Champions League. They were favorites to beat Sevilla, but ended up drawing 2-2 at home. That’s not exactly an awful result. Sevilla is known for playing up to bigger competition, and defeated Liverpool in a Europa League final in 2016.

However, they couldn’t get back to good form when they returned to the Premier League. They faced Burnley, who finished 16th last year, and only managed to come away with a 1-1 draw at home. It’s a draw that reminded their fans of last year’s struggles.

Their struggles may come from their style of play. Jurgen Klopp is known for counter-pressing, a tactic that he became known for during his time at Borussia Dortmund, but counter-pressing only has success if the opponent gives something to counter. A player like Mohammed Salah, for example, can only tear a defense apart if they come forward and give him space to work in.

Counter-pressing teams are good at attacking based on their opponents making mistakes, but they aren’t so great at creating their own momentum and scoring through buildup play. Even when Salah scored against Burnley, it wasn’t from any real buildup play.

The goal came because one of Burnley’s two central defenders was out of position and couldn’t get back soon enough, allowing Salah to win a mostly one versus one battle. Klopp’s tactics excel in situations like that, but they can fall flat when the other team ‘parks the bus’ and eliminates defensive mistakes at the expense of attacking.

After all, the original ‘gegenpressing‘ tactic is more of a system for winning the ball and keeping it. Not one that focuses on breaking down the opponent’s defense with it once it’s won. It’s where the tactics differ from Barcelona’s old pressing systems, which attempt to break down the opponent through passing rather than exploiting mistakes and space.

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Until Klopp considers some changes when Liverpool is facing smaller sides, who will most likely sit back and play defensively, it’s hard to see the results changing much. It’s also hard to see the results changing until Liverpool fixes their own defensive errors, which are a major problem for them against both large and small clubs.

Everyone loses at times, but the difference between regular top five teams and champions is that the champions don’t beat themselves. Until Jurgen Klopp and the rest of the Liverpool management realize this and turn their attention towards their own errors in planning for their bogey teams, their fans’ frustration may just continue for another year.

Some sections of the fanbase are already frustrated with Klopp’s management, and it showed in the reaction to the Burnley match. All it takes is one look at Twitter, Facebook, or any Liverpool themed message board to see that discontent is spreading with each bad result.

Of course, there’s always pessimistic fans, and you can’t judge a manager with only the fan reaction from a bad draw. But at the same time, fan outrage can show a manager when it’s time to make some changes before the fanbase is lost completely. Losing the dressing room and losing the fanbase are two of the quickest ways for a manager to lose his job, especially at a club with a huge national and international fanbase.

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There’s no signs that the players have lost faith in Klopp, but it does look like he’s losing the fans, and if he really is one of the top managers in the league, he’ll take it as a sign to make some changes. The Liverpool fans don’t have unreasonable expectations, after all. They just want to watch a team that doesn’t beat itself in most of its draws and losses.