Liverpool have made a miserable start to the new season, and Jurgen Klopp needs to find the solutions to his problems quickly.
Liverpool have been riding on a massive high over the last few years, but the reality is that this season could soon be a write-off if they do not buckle up and get their act together.
The Reds have played a total of eight competitive matches across all competitions this season and have picked up just three wins in that time. For a club of Liverpool’s stature, it is a full-blown crisis now, and it remains to be seen whether their charismatic German manager Jurgen Klopp can turn things around for them.
After a dream start to the new season against Manchester City, which saw Liverpool win the Community Shield, few would have expected them to be in this position.
Liverpool were handed a massive reality check by Napoli last week, and the Italian giants emerged 4-1 winners in the UEFA Champions League group opener. As horrible as it may sound (May Her Majesty rest in peace!), the unexpected break could not have come at a better time for Liverpool, who needed some time to regroup and hit the reset button.
This is almost the same team that came agonisingly close to winning the quadruple last season. So why do they find themselves in this position in such a short span of time and what can Jurgen Klopp do to get his mentality monsters back in the groove? Here at The Hard Tackle, we look at five things that need to change in order for Liverpool to get back to their best.
Get Salah in the goalscoring zones
Mohamed Salah has scored 156 goals in his last five seasons with Liverpool. But the Egyptian wizard has managed to find the net just three times in his eight competitive appearances for the Reds thus far this term. The 30-year-old has been Liverpool’s prime attacking weapon in recent campaigns, and it is high time Klopp decides to unleash him again.
After signing a long-term contract with Liverpool and a much-needed summer break, Salah was expected to come into the new season firing on all cylinders. However, it has been the opposite so far.
As opposed to a player who has been a nightmare for Premier League defences since joining the club in 2017, Liverpool are witnessing a version of Salah who has been largely anonymous in the final third. Now it would be easy to blame the player completely for his dip in form, but the reality is that the 30-year-old needs some help from Klopp in the form of tactical tweaks.
To the naked eye, it seems that the Egyptian is still very much operating in his natural role, but the heat maps and the underlying numbers tell a different tale. This season, Liverpool have witnessed a version of Salah who seems to have curbed his goalscoring instincts and is focusing more on the creative side of his game.
The Egyptian attacker has been hugging the touchline more often instead of moving into central positions to fashion out goalscoring chances for himself. Last season, he averaged about four 4 shots per game with 1.7 shots on target. In comparison, the Egyptian is taking 2.8 shots per game this season with 0.8 efforts on target.
Furthermore, the heat map below clearly shows that Salah’s general positioning on the pitch has changed this season compared to the last. Whether this is due to a tactical tweak from the manager is anybody’s guess. But Klopp needs to get his best goalscoring weapon back doing what he does best in order for Liverpool to get back on their feet.
Select teams based on merit
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been fiercely loyal to his players throughout the course of his managerial career. While that is an outstanding quality to have, it can often backfire, and such has been the case at Anfield this season.
Klopp has persisted with team selections that are simply not yielding the goods for Liverpool. The German tactician will need to do away with this loyalty and nostalgia and select teams based on merit going forward.
Scottish international Andrew Robertson has done reasonably well defensively, but he has been quite poor going forward. Regarded as one of the best attacking left-backs in the Premier League alongside Trent Alexander-Arnold, Robertson has struggled to contribute to the offensive side of the game for over a year now. It is high time Klopp decides to start Kostas Tsimikas instead.
The Greek defender has shown his effectiveness in the final third, and his set piece delivery is a cut above Robertson as well. Tsimikas has proven his quality over the course of several cameos, and he has certainly earned an extended run in Liverpool’s starting lineups on the back of a series of mediocre displays from the first choice left-back, Robertson.
Another player who is enjoying an extended run in the side despite failing to perform at a high level is James Milner.
The veteran Liverpool midfielder has had an exceptional career, and his quality is beyond doubt. However, he is no spring chicken anymore, and it seems that Liverpool’s Duracell bunny has finally run out of energy. Milner has been chasing shadows in the midfield all season, and the Reds cannot rely on him as a starter anymore.
Granted, injuries have forced Klopp’s hand and the Reds have had to rely on Milner more than they would have liked. However, there are still youngsters like Stefan Bajcetic, who can do a better job than the 36-year-old.
Finally, Klopp needs to reinstate Joel Matip as Virgil van Dijk’s partner at the heart of Liverpool’s defence. Joe Gomez has been the first-choice centre-back alongside the Dutchman this season, and the 25-year-old has been abysmal in recent weeks apart from the Merseyside derby. He seems to have lost a yard of pace after his recurring injury problems and his positioning has been suspect as well.
Get back to the basics
Liverpool used to be a team widely feared for their relentless counter-pressing and breakneck intensity. However, they look like a shadow of their former domineering selves this season. The Reds are being outrun by their opponents almost every game, and their pressing has been below par.
It seems that Liverpool are a side struggling with an identity crisis. Klopp’s heavy metal football has been reduced to a pedestrian pace this season. The deteriorating physical condition of the squad will be a major concern for Liverpool given Klopp’s demanding style of play, but the Reds will need to get back to the basics and focus on doing things that have produced so much success in recent years.
Over the six Premier League games so far this season, Liverpool managed to run 20 km less than their opposition. In comparison, they managed to outrun the opposition by 11 km in the corresponding fixtures last season.
Swallow the bitter pill and get that midfielder in January
“You tell me, what kind of player are we missing? One who is offensive, 1.95m and arrives into the box to head balls in? What do you want? This ‘golden cow’ that is producing absolutely everything, milk as well.”
This is what Jurgen Klopp had to say when he was asked about Liverpool needing a new midfielder back in July. Fast forward to the end of August and Klopp said: “I know we have had this discussion since it all started and I am the one who said we don’t need a midfielder and I was wrong. That’s the situation.”
Fair play to Klopp for owning up to the mistake, but now he needs to act and rectify the error. Liverpool are in desperate need of midfield reinforcements, and they should look to break the bank during the January transfer window, DESPITE signing Arthur Melo from Juventus on deadline day this past summer.
With the 2022 FIFA World Cup scheduled to start in November, Liverpool will have a majority of their fixtures during the second half of the season, and Klopp might just be able to salvage something with the right additions in January.
That said, it is still quite baffling that a club with Liverpool’s track record in the transfer market has been so poor with their succession planning. The Reds have not managed to replace a key player in Georginio Wijnaldum yet, and their response to missing out on Aurelien Tchouameni has been nothing short of wild.
The Reds reportedly pursued the Frenchman religiously during the summer transfer window, and were prepared to break the bank for him. However, the youngster ended up joining Real Madrid, and Liverpool simply refused to look at alternative midfield options and spunked the cash on Darwin Nunez.
It is no secret that the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson are injury-prone midfielders, and Klopp and the Reds should have been more responsible with their planning during the summer transfer window.
Get Darwin Nunez firing
? NEW: Benfica president Rui Costa has explained the club’s reasons for allowing Darwin Nunez to join Liverpool.
— Anfield Watch (@AnfieldWatch) September 11, 2022
Liverpool shelled out a club-record fee to bring Darwin Nunez to Anfield. The 23-year-old was exceptional against Jurgen Klopp’s side in the Champions League last season, and he was the shiny new toy in the transfer market this summer.
Liverpool’s decision to invest in a quality number nine signalled a potential tactical change after the departure of Sadio Mane. But the Reds have not been able to integrate the Uruguayan international into their setup completely.
The former Benfica striker had a dream debut in the Community Shield against Manchester City, but he is still adapting to life in English football. Klopp sanctioned Liverpool to spend £85 million on the young forward, and now he needs to put together a system that plays to the Uruguayan striker’s strengths and gets the best out of him.
Furthermore, Nunez has played 235 minutes of the 450 minutes of football available to him so far, and he needs more game time. His cameos against Manchester City and Fulham have shown that he can be an asset for Liverpool going forward and it remains to be seen whether the Premier League giants can get him firing on all cylinders now.
Stats & Heatmaps via Sofascore