Liverpool’s ruthless consistency – what happened? – Liverpool FC

Liverpool’s ruthless consistency – what happened? – Liverpool FC

Liverpool’s reputation as “Mentality Monsters” has evaporated during an increasingly frustrating season, with old habits coming back to bite them hard.

The Reds are the Premier League‘s great entertainers again – what a shame.

The weekend thriller at Chelsea can be added to similarly frenetic outings against Brentford, West Ham and Tottenham this season, as their title hopes lie somewhere between hanging by a thread and moribund.

While the watching neutrals are certainly getting their money’s worth, these are concerning times from a Liverpool perspective.

 

Return of 2017/18 Liverpool

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 19, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp reacts during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp’s first few years as Reds manager saw huge progress made, but there were shortcomings throughout the team.

For every 4-3 and 5-1 win – Man City and Brighton were dispatched of by those scorelines – there were sloppy 3-3 draws against Watford and Sevilla, not to mention an abject 4-1 loss at Spurs.

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino wreaked havoc in attack, but a limp midfield and a shaky back-line collapsed too often.

Unfortunately, this is a theme that has returned at times this season and it looks to have cost Liverpool a genuine title challenge by early January.

The draw at Chelsea was the Reds’ sixth in the league already in 2021/22 – 12 goals have been conceded in them – and on five of those occasions, they have blown leads to eventually drop points.

Klopp’s team have won 12 out of 17 matches after going in front, while Man City have prevailed on all 17 occasions, which speaks volumes.

Liverpool’s points dropped from winning positions:

2017/18 – 14
2018/19 – 6
2019/20 – 5
2020/21 – 12
2021/22 – 10 (so far)

At 2-0 up at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool never looked remotely secure and exactly the same applied when they got themselves into winning positions against Brentford, Brighton and Spurs.

It is a far cry from the peak level of this great side, when only five points were dropped after leading in the entire 2019/20 campaign – both when the title had already been won.

 

Title-winning perfection

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s captain Jordan Henderson performs his traditional shuffle before lifting the Premier League trophy during the trophy presentation as the Reds are crowned Champions after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool were always going to have to perform to a near-perfect standard in order to get the better of City and they produced remarkable form over the course of 2018/19 and 2019/20.

During that period, the Reds amassed a freakish tally of 196 points – City got 179 in that time.

The only defeat in 2018/19 came at City, when Pep Guardiola’s side won the title by a point, but Liverpool’s efforts would have brought them glory in all but one of the other seasons in Premier League history.

The following year, the Merseysiders went up a further notch, dropping just two points in their opening 27 league matches and winning the league by 18 points.

Despite Liverpool’s all-conquering brilliance, they didn’t cruise through every game, though, as their elite mentality came to the fore.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 2, 2019: Liverpool's Sadio Mané scores the winning second goal in injury time during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Thirteen of the Reds’ 38 league games were won by a one-goal margin, with victories away to the likes of Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace all hard-earned.

In comparison, Liverpool have only won by one goal twice in the league this season – back-to-back triumphs against Wolves and Villa last month.

In moments of adversity, whether that be through needing a last-gasp winner or defending a lead late on, the Reds’ class of 2019/20 stood tall, battling their way through fixture after fixture.

Now, they shrink in stature and resemble the pre-Virgil van Dijk era at Anfield.

The truly great sides win matches in undeserved fashion – look at City away to Arsenal last weekend – and Liverpool’s title-winners were the poster boys for that.

 

What’s the problem?

The one word that stands out when discussing Liverpool’s worrying dropoff is control.

During that unrivalled two-year spell of Klopp’s reign, the Reds were often in complete command of matches, dominating possession and squeezing the life out of teams.

In Alisson, Van Dijk and Fabinho, Liverpool signed three players who forged the best spine in world football, making them an unbreachable prospect.

There were rarely moments of sheer panic during games and Klopp’s notorious high line was played to perfection, as the entire unit system worked in unison.

What we have seen this season pales in comparison, with Liverpool going from being a perfectly well-oiled machine to one capable of flying off the tracks at any moment.

The midfield has a lot to answer for unless Fabinho and Thiago both start, far too often losing control of occasions and not pressing the ball, allowing the high line to become a weakness.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 4, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jordan Henderson has dropped off alarmingly in a defensive sense this season, looking every bit his 31 years.

The captain is averaging just one tackle per game in the league, whereas he enjoyed a tally of 2.1 in 2019/20, perhaps highlighting a dip in intensity.

As pointed out by the Telegraph, Henderson ranks highest in terms of pressures in 2021/22, but even he is 30th in the overall Premier League standings.

While far more blameless than some of those around them, Alisson, Van Dijk and Fabinho haven’t been at their world-beating 2019/20 levels enough either.

Alisson has made errors or failed to keep out saveable shots against West Ham, Spurs and Leicester, Van Dijk has looked something close to a mere mortal after serious injury, and Fabinho often looks leggy after injury or illness.

If that trio slip slightly below their prime level, the difference is going to show.

 

Changes required

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp waves to the travelling supporters after the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. Leicester City won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The truth may simply be that this Liverpool team has passed its absolute peak, with too many players either in their 30s or hurtling towards that milestone.

The midfield is in desperate need of freshening up this summer, with Henderson and James Milner ageing and Thiago, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain far too injury-prone.

Some will point to the emergence of Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones, but neither have turned 21 yet and have to be managed intelligently.

Gini Wijnaldum may have had his detractors, strangely, but his availability was priceless, not to mention his physicality and pressing ability. He has been a great loss.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - Tuesday, December 28, 2021: Liverpool's Sadio Mané during the FA Premier League match between Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC at the King Power Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A younger attacking option also has to come in, with Mane and Firmino not the players they were, as Klopp looks to create another great side and gradually move on some of the older guard.

Whether or not the manager has that in him remains to be seen, but the flaws in his current outfit have been laid bare too often to suggest it is just a blip.

Liverpool are still a top-class side and they should believe they can win the Champions League, so it is important that they aren’t suddenly treated as mediocre.

They just aren’t an all-time-great English side anymore and those wonderful memories of non-stop wins, clean sheets and peerless showings are a thing of the past.

It is all far more 2017/18 than 2019/20 these days, which makes for great entertainment but far too few ruthlessly efficient wins.

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