What Liverpool can do to turn their season around
Jürgen Klopp’s formidable Reds were just two wins away from a quadruple last season. Despite their Champions League final heartbreak at the hands of Real Madrid – for the second time – the Liverpool boss remained in a defiant mood and advised fans to “book the hotel” for the final in Istanbul in June 2023.
Today, the team is a pale visage of their former resurgent glory. They are not fancied to get past Real in the Round of 16, and the Merseyside outfit, who are 10 points off the top four with a game in hand in the EPL, might not qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Here’s what the side could do to ensure that their new spell of history lasts longer.
Liverpool’s midfield, which was once the bedrock of their success, has been their Achilles heel this season.
Jordan Henderson doesn’t have legs anymore, Thiago remains tidy in possession, but covering ground has never been one of his best traits and Fabinho has looked lost and left exposed much of the campaign.
It’s been far too easy to overrun their midfield and it’s an understatement to say they are in desperate need of a new man in the middle of the park.
A midfielder who is capable of offering both technical ability and athleticism is not so easy to find, especially in January, but the Reds should explore the possibility of signing Moisés Caicedo. The Ecuadorian’s ball-winning ability and positional awareness would come in handy in transition.
Back to basics
Liverpool’s defeat at Brentford earlier this month was their first loss to the Bees since 1938 and following the game, club legend Jamie Carragher was quick to point out that he’s “not watching a Klopp team.”
The heavy metal football appears to be a thing of the past at Anfield, having been replaced by a possession-based control approach. However, Klopp and Pep Lijnders’ decision to make a tactical tweak without having players suited to it has further exposed the mess at Merseyside.
Until last season, the midfielders were given more responsibilities without the ball, tasked with supporting the press and catching the opposition on the break. Liverpool created chances through their counter-pressing.
But in their attempts to dominate with the ball, the Reds fell in the middle and became a team that neither have enough technical players to support Thiago during build-up through the middle nor the legs to cover the backline.
Klopp needs to revert to gegenpressing until more technically sound players are signed. Now that’s not to say the aging Liverpool squad is going to start resembling their past form but they might find some momentum and confidence to give a proper fight for a top-four spot if not challenge for major trophies.
Klopp has insisted he’s not too concerned about Liverpool’s defense, but they last kept a clean sheet in November and that should ring bells.
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s positioning continues to haunt the Reds. Yoane Wissa moved past the Englishman with ease to double Brentford’s lead at the Community Stadium. Ibrahima Konate’s naivety was also on show during the damning loss.
Meanwhile, they’ve looked vulnerable during set pieces all season and were a controversial corner goal — which was then disallowed by the VAR — away from getting knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves.
Not everything can be solved by dipping into the transfer market and more work is needed on the training ground to slow down the leaking of goals. If Brentford’s coaching staff can use set-piece “chaos” as a viable attacking outlet, Klopp’s staff can certainly work on dealing with these threats better.
Build Nuñez’s confidence
Cody Gakpo’s signing has led to some suggestions that the Dutchman could replace Darwin Nuñez, whose erratic display in front of goal has seen him face a lot of criticism.
Statistically, Nuñez has had a much better start than social media reactions will have you believe. The Uruguay international has managed to score more goals than Luis Suarez in his first 23 appearances in a Reds shirt.
For now, all he needs is continued backing from his manager and his confidence will keep growing with regular minutes and goals. Tactically, Klopp could get more out of him by instructing one of his number 8s to make more runs to ensure Nuñez isn’t outnumbered in the final third.
Gakpo and defending from the front
Liverpool’s decision to commit up to £40m for the PSV talisman hasn’t been received well by the majority of the fanbase in light of their midfield crisis.
However, Gakpo, who was directly involved in 21 goals in the Eredivisie this season, has the ability to not only share the goal-scoring burden with Mo Salah and Nuñez but also possesses tactical versatility to improve Liverpool’s off-ball structure.
In profile and potential, he is very similar to Sadio Mane. In possession, he’s very direct and likes to move inside, opening space on the flank for Robertson to attack. Further, his tendency to stay between the full-back and center-back will help Liverpool retain possession around the penalty area.
Klopp refused to put all the blame on his midfield after the Brentford defeat and insisted “defending starts up front”. Gakpo can be the pressing machine Liverpool’s frontline have missed this season, provided he’s backed by the midfield so that there isn’t a huge gap between the lines.