What’s Gone Wrong With Liverpool This Season?
Not only did Burnley break Liverpool’s seemingly unbeaten home record, but that Ashley Barnes penalty broke Liverpool’s heart, with the Red’s title defence now teetering on the edge.
Winless in their last five EPL fixtures and without a single league goal in January, the Reds are now six points adrift of Manchester United at the top of the table, with the Red Devils reminding the champions of their vulnerability by knocking them out of the FA Cup this weekend.
What’s happened to this seemingly unstoppable Merseyside force, and is there any hope at all for salvation?
The Absence Of Superman
The obvious place to start is the glaring omission of the reigning Premier League Player of the Season, Virgil Van Dijk. After a swift kick from Everton's Jordan Pickford in October, the Dutchman’s season is all but over, with Liverpool’s quest for back-to-back titles for the first time in 37 years looking increasingly shaky, with the Stats Insider Futures Model pegging that outcome as just a 13.1% probability.
The impact on Van Dijk’s absence simply can’t be glossed over with a sizeable knock-on effect on both sides of the ball.
While so many marvel at Virgil Van Dijk’s’ superior defensive play, his immense contribution to the Liverpool attack shouldn't be overlooked.
Virgil Van Dijk really was a deep-lying playmaker. pic.twitter.com/qaIRS3fK1o— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) January 22, 2021
Last season, the former Celtic and Southampton standout was integral to the way Liverpool set up offensively, leading the league for passes (3,259), while converting at 89.1% in the process. He ranked 2nd in the league for most progressive distance passes from an outfield player, and 4th for most completed passes into the final third.
He was so crucial into the way they operated both offensively and defensively that it's near impossible to replace him. A further carry-on effect of losing Van Dijk is that it’s forced the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson into positions they’re not as comfortable in, while also robbing the team of the stability in the middle of the park they both provide.
The cohesion and synergy which fuelled Liverpool last season has been eaten into, as to has the maundering play of Trent Alexander-Arnold, who’s been required to play with a little more caution in the absence of the team’s brilliant centre-half. Last season, the England right-back slotted 4 goals and provided 13 assists in their league cakewalk, however he’s yet to score this campaign, while registering just two assists.
‘Three’s a crowd’
The Premier League’s Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino troika suddenly looks fallible, with Liverpool’s outlandish attack now lacking fluidity, with their famous front-3 is now being accused of selfishness and anonymity in some quarters. Last season, the threesome appeared consistently within the major goal and goal creation stats, ultimately contributing over 50% of the club’s goals.
📊 | Big chances created for Liverpool in the Premier league this season:— The Anfield Buzz (@TheAnfieldBuzz) January 21, 2021
🏴Andy Robertson (8)
🇪🇬Mo Salah (6)
🇸🇳Sadio Mane (4)
🇧🇷Roberto Firmino (4)
🇨🇲Joel Matip (3) pic.twitter.com/hsSdAe6aTL
While Salah’s 13 goals are still enough to lead the league, his shots per game (3.3) and key passes per game (1.7) are as low as they’ve been since he joined Liverpool from Roma. Meanwhile Sadio Mane is still getting on the scoreboard, yet he hasn’t been as clean, with the brilliant Senegalese number 10 experiencing a three-season low for both completed passes per game (30.6) and pass accuracy (76.9%). As for Firmino, the Brazilian is presently suffering through a serious slump, and while he was best on filed in Liverpool's FA Cup elimination, he's neither scored, nor registered an assist in any of his past five EPL games.
Once considered the best front-3 in the world, the drastic fall has left many wondering when will the spark be re-ignited. No doubt that they're all masterful footballers in their own right (and as a trio have worked absolutely wonders for Jurgen Klopp) yet Liverpool fans are getting incredibly impatient, nervously waiting for their magic to return.
Can they rebound?
The quality is clearly there, with the club still able to dominate games this season. Yet Liverpool's ability to do so over the course of an entire campaign is being tested right now owing to squad disruption and the loss of their patented cohesion.
While six points off the top of the table doesn’t spell the end of the world, they most definitely need to end their form-slump quickly or else risk losing pace with the two Manchester teams.
I know #LFC fans aren’t in celebratory mood right now but to give you an idea of how good they’ve had it under Klopp, that was a first Anfield defeat in the Premier League for:— David Lynch (@dmlynch) January 21, 2021
While crashing out of both domestic cups has been a massive disappointment, they’re still alive in the Champions League, and again, still theoretically in the thick of things where their Premier League title defence is concerned.
They visit Tottenham this weekend in what shapes as a critical fixture for the Reds to get their title defence back on course.
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