Exclusive: Ex-Liverpool star points to worrying trend that could cost Reds more points in future 🎯
Stan Collymore suggests Liverpool may need to change their approach to future games
The return of a number of Liverpool’s world-class array of talents - who had spent some amount of time either on the sidelines last term or out of position to accommodate injuries in the squad - held the promise of improving the club’s fortunes this season.
That promise has partly been kept, with the Reds finding themselves in the top four in November and only four points off the league summit.
Yet, as things stand, there’s an edge of disappointment lining the Merseysiders’ domestic campaign, given that Jurgen Klopp’s men have already dropped 11 points from a possible 33.
To put things into perspective, at the same stage of the season Liverpool had only dropped two points in 2019/20 and a total of nine points last year.
The fact that the Anfield-based outfit have dropped two more points thus far compared to the prior term, despite having the likes of Virgil van Dijk back in the heart of the backline and Fabinho mopping up any danger in midfield, makes little sense on paper.
As far as Stan Collymore is concerned, however, the matter doesn’t revolve entirely around individual concerns but rather how the team addresses a couple of serious pain points.
“In terms of negatives, the obvious one is a vulnerability to crosses coming into the box and set-pieces,” the former Liverpool striker told EOTK Insider.
“If you remember late on in the Brentford game, that certainly was a problem - couldn’t close the game out. Went chasing the game at the other end.
“West Ham and Brentford. Two Premier League teams. Give them all the respect they deserve.
“But I think there is now a genuine question that I would love Liverpool supporters to answer: is there an argument that - yes the team has been gung-ho, yes the team has beaten all-comers. But perhaps a little bit more attention to detail that when you go away and you’re playing against teams where the crowd gets behind them very quickly and there’s momentum (that’s West Ham, that’s Brentford) - is whether Liverpool can say, ‘come to us’.
“Come into our half, we’ll defend our half very well and then bang - Robbo, or Tsimikas, Trent, Mo, Bobby Firmino (when he’s back), Sadio Mane. It’s to be a ruthless counter attacking team.
“At the moment there’s this kind of overwhelming feeling that Liverpool can go anywhere and beat the home team and win games.
“That’s Brentford points dropped and that’s West Ham points dropped.
“So maybe just a little tweak in mentality away from home just might give that little bit of stability that the team needs on away days.”
All unbeaten streaks must come to an end, as Jurgen Klopp noted in his post-match presser following another disappointing batch of points dropped on the road.
In-game refereeing calls dominated discussions in the wake of Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat to West Ham in the English capital, with the former Borussia Dortmund boss bemoaning the poor quality of the officiating that took place on the day.
Regardless, however, we simply weren’t good enough in key areas of the pitch to place all the blame on Craig Pawson and his team of officials.
When travelling for games then, it may very well pay off to adopt a more cautious approach in a bid to protect the backline.
How that can be enacted without sacrificing Klopp’s favoured high line, however, represents something of a serious conundrum.
Inviting pressure with the aim of exposing our opponents on the counter would likewise invite its own risks.
After all, do Liverpool really wish to be penned inside their own half with, as Collymore notes, a raucous away crowd roaring their side on against a cornered, albeit dangerous, beast?
The solution isn’t quite as crude as simply lumping more players in midfield to better control the middle of the park either.
Addressing this concern in such a way would be beneath Klopp (not to mention ridiculous), as Michael Owen rightly noted in his dissection of Manchester United’s derby defeat to Manchester City at the weekend.
Nuance, as ever, will remain the name of the game for the former Mainz man and his coaching staff as we look to address a worrying set of vulnerabilities that could do further harm to Liverpool beyond the international break.
Defending set-pieces will, of course, need to be addressed on the training ground. However, we were carved open in the middle of the park far too often at the London Stadium for us to purely focus on the two goals created from the corner flag.
A dive into the statistics would appear to suggest that our main concern is tied to the spate of injuries suffered in the middle of the park of late, with James Milner, Curtis Jones and Naby Keita remaining incapacitated.
Though many will be inclined to roll their eyes at the next comment, the reality of the situation facing Klopp’s men is that this directly ties into our inability to replace Georginio Wijnaldum in the window.
The point has since been made that we’re stacked for options generally (ignoring injuries for a moment) and bolstering the squad to the point of overflow would hardly be conducive to fostering the kind of team spirit the manager prides himself on.
That may be so but it’s important that the club has the right options to call upon to perform the task at hand.
Focusing purely on interceptions and recoveries, as provided by the Premier League’s official statistics, paints an interesting picture of how well-equipped our remaining midfield options are to handling the considerable demands and challenges posed in a Klopp midfield.
The German earned considerable criticism during Wijnaldum’s tenure at Anfield due to his preference for a somewhat industrial midfield three containing the former No.5, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho.
With the trio averaging 0.58, 1.08, 1.25 interceptions per game and 5.17, 6.13 and 5.63 recoveries per game across the last four seasons (only including Wijnaldum’s prior three seasons with the club) respectively, however, one can understand the manager’s decision-making.
Looking beyond the three midfielders in question, the average scores tend to take something of a dip - particularly as far as recoveries are concerned.
With our gameplan relying in large part on the bombing runs of Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, it’s absolutely critical that the engine of Liverpool’s war machine - the midfield - is running on overdrive throughout.
That means the usual things we’ve come to expect: covering the flank the fullback in question has vacated and giving the backline licence to play a high line.
It’s a far from easy role, which raises the question as to how suitable the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones, James Milner and Naby Keita are to fill the gap left by Wijnaldum’s summer departure.
Though a far different player to the Dutch international, the stats certainly suggest that Naby Keita is well-equipped to fulfill the demands of a midfield role, with James Milner and Curtis Jones next in line.
It seems harsh to pan the remaining option in Oxlade-Chamberlain, particularly given that the former Arsenal ace has enjoyed a relatively applaudable run of games in the first-XI.
The fact of the matter remains, however, that the 28-year-old appears to be playing in Klopp’s first-team on borrowed time, with the likes of Jones, Milner and Keita likely to be back in action not too long after the return of domestic football.
With our next three games being back at Anfield, of course, a feisty home crowd may be all we need to take us through the post-international break period until more suitable options return to full availability.
On stats alone, there are indications that Curtis Jones could very well evolve into the kind of high-octane midfielder Klopp requires to enable his style of football.
With James Milner turning 36 next year, however, not to mention Naby Keita being somewhat injury prone, a new addition to the midfield would be more than ideal in the next summer window.
It doesn’t necessarily need to be a Wijnaldum-esque replacement but at least one that can match Henderson and Fabinho’s energy levels in the middle of the park and afford better protection to a backline that has been left exposed at times this season.
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