Football: why Liverpool have lost their edge

 

Football: why Liverpool have lost their edge

Two months ago, Liverpool seemed to be mounting a spirited defence of their Premier League title, On Christmas day, Jürgen Klopp’s side, four points clear at the top of the table, looked oddson to retain it. Then came their disastrous slide. Of their last ten Premier League games, Liverpool have lost five, and won just two. Last month’s defeat to Burnley ended their remarkable 68-game unbeaten home run, and they’ve now lost three matches at Anfield in a row: that last happened in 1963. As a team they look desperately short of confidence – as was clear from their “shocking” disintegration against Leicester on Saturday, when they conceded three goals in a chaotic sevenminute period. Having already conceded that his side can’t win the title, Klopp now faces a struggle even to secure Champions League qualification.

Unquestionably, the biggest factor in Liverpool’s reversal has been the terrible luck they have had with injuries,Virgil van Dijk, their talismanic central defender, ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in October, and since then Liverpool have lost their two other regular central defenders, Joe Gomez and Joël Matip. The crisis has forced Klopp to deploy players out of position – notably midfielder Jordan Henderson at the back – which has disrupted the balance of his team. To make matters worse, several key players – including Roberto Firmino and Trent Alexander-Arnold – have suffered dramatic dips in form. Even Alisson, Liverpool’s usually dependable keeper, has started making uncharacteristic howlers (he committed two in Liverpool’s recent defeat to Manchester City). No wonder results are so poor.

Several commentators also claim fatigue is a factor in Liverpool’s malaise, They argue that a relentless schedule – exacerbated by the Covid crisis – has left Klopp’s men too worn-out to play the fast-paced, “high press” football he favours. But the statistics suggest this diagnosis is only half accurate. Liverpool are pressing just as effectively as in previous seasons, and continue to win the ball back faster than other teams. The big change, rather, has come in possession: in recent games, they have favoured building attacks through midfield, rather than getting the ball to their front three quickly – and this appears to be hindering their ability to score goals. The truth is that Liverpool’s downward trajectory started well before such strategic tinkering, or even van Dijk’s injury, They haven’t been at their best for more than a year now. Could it be that, having enjoyed phenomenal success over the past few seasons, this is simply a team that has “passed its peak”?

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