Well folks, it finally happened. Jurgen’s Mighty Reds finally lost a game. It was inevitable, and I’d suspect most will take solace in the fact that it happened in the Carabao Cup and not the league or Champions League. Before we get into that, however, let’s talk briefly about the match against Southampton. Going into it, LFC were undefeated and any jaded Liverpool fan would tell you that it was wholly possible that the team would “Liverpool it”. Over the past few years, even under Jurgen’s tenure, Liverpool have found a knack for dropping points in the least suspecting of fixtures. Even as recent as West Brom last season, defensive slip-ups and either poor finishing or rotten luck underlined some less-than motivating results. Saying that I was a bit nervous for the match against the Saints would be an understatement. Fortunately, those fears were allayed by a dominant, albeit weird, display by Jurgen’s modified 4-5-1 lineup. Perhaps saving a couple of players or just trying something different, Klopp had to revert to his more familiar 4-3-3 at half time in order to get more control of the match (according to his own words). The Reds ended up running out a 3-0 result and shifted their focus to the midweek Carabao Cup match against Chelsea.
Which brings us to the major talking point of the week thus far. Liverpool, suffering their first loss of the season, bowed out of the Carabao Cup for a second consecutive season in September. Last year’s loss to Leicester City proved a blow to the youth and reserve players as chances to play for the senior side were now even fewer (just ask Danny Ward). Saving some analysis for talking points later in this post, I’ll start by saying that Liverpool could easily have won this game, despite starting and playing through the majority of the match with second string players and a jaded Liverpool fan’s worst nightmare of a backline. In total, Klopp made wholesale changes with only Joel Matip, Xherdan Shaqiri and Sadio Mane reprising their roles from the weekend. The backline, including the goalkeeper, were swapped to the second string players in those positions. In the midfield, Fabinho finally got his first start of the season playing behind Naby Keita and James Milner as the defensive holding midfielder. At the front, Sturridge and Shaqiri started alongside Mane. While there was bundles of technique and trickery in that trio, what was lacking was a distinct cutting edge to finish off the multiple chances handed to the Reds. Ultimately, Liverpool reverted to the team of yesteryear and “Liverpooled” it – giving up a couple of decisive chances to Chelsea who capitalized through Emerson and an admittedly spectacular goal from Eden Hazard.
And with that, here are a few things I noticed from the last week:
1. Klopp has the depth players to consider other formations now. He deployed a 4-5-1 formation against Southampton and while promising going forward (Salah played centrally with Firmino shifted out wide), the team was never able to fully get a hold of things and initiate their pressing traps when off the ball. Shaqiri’s central presence threw off the balance on the pressing side of things by shifting vertically across the pitch trying to cover the jobs of the two central midfielders in Klopp’s more familiar 4-3-3 formation where the two more advanced midfielders usually press on their respective sides. Balls from Southampton players were easily getting through the midfield and allowed Redmond, Long and Lemina to run at the backline. As mentioned multiple times already, Klopp sought to correct this by subbing off Shaqiri at the half for Milner and reverting to the 4-3-3.
2. Joe Gomez is quickly becoming one of the best defenders in his own right. With Virgil Van Dijk coming off in the second half against Southampton, Gomez came on and was brilliant in defence. He shored up a backline that featured some characteristically brave/erratic defending from Matip. Impressively, Gomez’s pockets got larger over the past week as he was able to keep Nathan Redmond in there for the remainder of the match.
3. Despite being subbed off at half, Shaqiri’s display against Southampton was fairly encouraging. The first goal came from his penetrating run and heel chop in the box to open up space for a shot that ricocheted off the Southampton players and into the goal. The movement from Shaqiri (and brilliant pass from Mane) were deserving of a goal in any case. Later in the half, Shaqiri’s wonder free kick had the match official glancing at his watch for a goal line decision, but it didn’t matter as Salah was first to the rebound and slotted it home anyway. It’s certainly nice to have someone opposite Trent Alexander-Arnold who can be a threat from free kicks.
4. Shaqiri’s display against Chelsea was also encouraging. This time, he played on the wing in the 4-3-3. Not only for him, but the team as a whole took a while to really get going. He was still lively and notably set up Mane with a nice lofted ball but the Senegalese failed to capitalize. Shaqiri was a creative spark and oft used outlet for the Reds and was generally impressive. Despite that, a couple of things that worried me were his lack of discipline to keep the play ticking over when in the final third. Rather than switching the ball or looking for the key pass, there were a couple of instances where he couldn’t resist and went for the 30 yard wondergoal. At only 1-0 up, these were ill-advised shots but who knows? Now that I’ve said it, he’ll probably put his next attempt into the top corner from 35 yards.
5. Fabinho doesn’t look all too ready yet. The fact he hasn’t made a meaningful appearance yet tells me he’s not ready and today confirmed that for me. If anything, I feel like Klopp put him in there today as a bit of a hail mary. Perhaps Klopp was hoping that what he’d seen in training could be wrong and that Fabinho was indeed ready? Going by the performance today, Fabinho still looks off the pace. A bit too slow in possession, he was caught holding onto the ball too long in a few instances and even when he did release the ball, his distribution didn’t lend itself to be that of the attack-starting type. Passing out the back and launching forays into the opposition half, particularly when switching play, are much more effective when the ball is passed with pace so as to bypass the first line of the opposition but Fabinho’s passing today was a bit slow and the fullbacks (will get on to them later) couldn’t really go full sprint into the attack. Defensively, however, Fabinho did what we needed him to do and was as advertised. He won his share of tackles and put a strong foot in when needed. It’s only a matter of time, and like Chamberlain, Klopp will work his magic but patience will be required.
6. The drop off in quality between TAA/Robertson and Clyne/Moreno is massive and could be a problem for Liverpool this season. Don’t get me wrong, I love the solid defensive work/graft of Clyne and the personality and intangibles of Moreno but quite frankly it’s saying something when those are the most redeeming qualities of the two players. Clyne didn’t offer enough going forward as has been the case for most of his Liverpool career and to be fair, as a defender your first job is to be good at defending. That said, in the big games you need to be a two way player in order to really help your team and that is something Clyne needs to work heavily on going forward if he wants to stake a claim to regain his position. For Moreno, not much has to be said right? Everyone knows what’s up with him so I’ll just leave it there.
7. As I heard someone else say, I don’t mind getting knocked out of the Carabao Cup, but I do mind losing to Chelsea. In particular because they are neck and neck with Liverpool in the league and are an unknown quantity after changing managers this past summer. Luckily the Reds will have a second, possibly more meaningful, chance at them on their home ground this coming Saturday. I don’t think Klopp will need to remind his players to play with anger this time. They’re probably already fired up after the loss today.
8. The only other negative to being eliminated from the Carabao Cup is the fact that our youth players will find it difficult to get game time. This competition had Curtis Jones’ and Rhian Brewster’s names written all over it. With the large squad we’ve got, it would have been a good place to keep players match fit and playing in meaningful games. On the other hand, the Christmas period has gotten a bit less stressful for Klopp’s team now so he may be able to keep players fresher in the busy periods. Here’s hoping to some early Champions League qualification and letting our youngsters get some European game time in December.
9. As much hate as Mignolet gets, he actually had a decent game again today. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for him because I feel like we’ve never really put him behind a good defence. He didn’t really play that much behind the VVD-led back line last season and he didn’t today either. Despite that, he made some good saves today and I have a feeling Klopp might give him some early round FA cup matches now in lieu of the league cup – doing so if only to keep him match fit and in the shop window come January or July.
10. F%#$. I hate you Eden Hazard.