Klopp’s men have been on fire of late, showing some much needed grit and determination to go along with their speed and flair. Red or Dead will analyse each of Liverpool’s last five games.
Liverpool 4 – 1 Leicester
Jordan Henderson – At last, Henderson was able to produce a captain’s performance and grew into his holding midfield role. Hendo was not only barking orders, but more importantly leading by example with some strong challenges and generally controlling the middle of the pitch. He was also heavily involved in the buildup to the second and fourth goals with some perfectly weighted passes. His only major error in the game was a badly missed opportunity in the centre of the box that should’ve seen the captain score his first goal of the season.
Sadio Mane – Another brilliant performance from the wide-man, showcasing his brilliant speed and drilling. He also demonstrated his ability to create space for his teammates, allowing them more time and freedom to attack in numbers. Mane grabbed a goal and an assist for his efforts, with the goal coming from a tap-in and the assist stemming from a good break and some cold-blooded decision making after rounding the ‘keeper. The Senegalese winger also turned in a good shift defensively, and is surely staking his claim as one of the best signings in recent years.
Roberto Firmino (Man of the Match) – When the Brazilian is on form, this is the type of display you expect to see. Lovely touches and movement from the first minute until the last; he regularly drew applause from the crowd and tormented the Leicester defence. He produced an excellent finish early on, masterfully taking the ball around the last defender and slotting the ball into the corner for the opening goal. He also rounded up the rout with a cool finish in the dying minutes; last season’s top goalscorer will look to build on this performance.
Attacking Players Showing Their Potency – Liverpool’s attacking players tore the Leicester midfield and defence to ribbons on multiple occasions throughout the match, and realistically could’ve scored a few more. Lallana, Firmino and Mane were all particularly impressive and their combined fluidity of movement and creative output was showcased perfectly at the New Anfield. An argument could certainly be made that Liverpool have one of the most dangerous attacking units in the league at the moment.
Defence Comes Under Pressure – After the game many fans and pundits were lamenting Liverpool’s supposed defensive frailties and lack of depth. However in my opinion, the Reds’ defenders put in a reasonably solid shift against the Foxes, barring one or two nervy moments. Lucas Leiva for example was chastised and supported in equal measures from different sections due to his horrendous error for Jamie Vardy’s goal. Some fans were suggesting that it was Mignolet’s fault for putting Lucas under pressure, whilst others were suggesting that this error means that Lucas cannot play as a defender. I disagree with both assessments and Lucas himself owned up to his error, but other than this mistake he hardly put a foot wrong all match in his first game of season.
Captain Hendo Steps Up – A lot of people, myself included, have criticised Henderson’s performance as a captain and holding midfielder this season. The game against Leicester was the first step towards proving the doubters wrong, and helping the fans get behind the captain again. It appears that he is now better able to deal with threats by recognising the danger early and taking up correct tactical positioning. His lack of confidence in these areas was effecting his game elsewhere as his passing had previously been uncharacteristically erratic until this game. These problems appear to be behind him now and many fans were looking forward to him leading by example again against Chelsea.
Chelsea 1 – 2 Liverpool
Dejan Lovren – After missing the previous game against Leicester through an eye injury, Lovren’s return to the starting lineup was a comforting sight for Liverpool fans. The commanding Croat produced an incredible performance against some of the toughest and most dangerous attacking players in the league. Comfortable throughout, his partnership with Matip is truly beginning to blossom which bodes well for the Reds going forward. Lovren also managed to get a goal for his efforts with an elegant finish off the volley from a Coutinho cross that most strikers would’ve been proud of, let alone a centre-back.
Georginio Wijnaldum – Like Henderson the week before, this was Wijnaldum’s best game of the season, and arguably the kick-start of what will hopefully be a long career in Red. Whilst some of his teammates stole the headlines with goals and assists, Wijnaldum’s efforts and contribution did not go unnoticed. He was finally able to physically impose himself in the midfield, allowing his teammates more time and space on the ball. His tactical and positional awareness was on point, whilst his passing was far more adventurous than he had previously displayed for Liverpool. He can certainly play better, but this type of performance shows cause for great optimism in regards to Wijnaldum’s future.
Jordan Henderson (Man of the Match) – Another fantastic performance from the captain who is alleviating a lot of the pressure he’s been put under by the fans and media. He again controlled the game with his running and passing, demonstrating an excellent balance between industry and creativity. The away fans erupted when Henderson scored Liverpool’s second, an unbelievable curling strike that nestled in the top corner was enough to secure all three points. Henderson showed again that he is capable of leading by example and being a key player for the Reds.
Solid at the Back – In a game where some excellent goals and build up play were highlighted in regards to Liverpool’s attacking players, it’s easy to forget how well the defenders dealt with a plethora of dangerous Chelsea men. Many defenders dread the thought of having to deal with the likes of Costa, Willian, Hazard and Fabregas all at once, but the Red men rose to the occasion. Lovren and Matip in particular settled excellently into the game despite the pressure and the hostile crowd. The formidable pair managed a whopping 11 clearances between them in a performance which saw them tackle, intercept and generally out-play their attacking counterparts on their way to victory. A slight error in communication and decisiveness was the only blemish of the day which unfortunately lead to a rather lucky goal for Chelsea to deny the Reds their first clean sheet in the league for the season.
Chelsea Struggling Under Conte – After the shambles of last seasons campaign, Chelsea fans could be forgiven for approaching this season with a sense of cautious optimism, especially in regards to their defence. However, despite Conte being a manager who is internationally revered for bringing defensive excellence to whatever team he manages, his current team have been unable to consistently demonstrate this. Some of the chances Liverpool created were only partly due to technical ability, with the majority of blame coming from a lack of organisation from Chelsea’s back four. This was showcased on a number of occasions in this game, but particularly for Lovren’s goal. Other teams will surely take note and attempt to exploit their current fragility; the days of Chelsea being a nightmare fixture for any team seem to be a distant memory.
Reds Rise Against Big Sides – Liverpool have often been guilty of being prone to ‘off-days’ against smaller sides, losing games they shouldn’t. However they also have a knack of winning games they arguably shouldn’t, seemingly saving their best performances for the big teams. This was again the case as Liverpool completely outclassed Chelsea in a manner that surpassed the close scoreline. With the league continuing to get stronger and stronger each year, this is a trait that will serve Liverpool well as each game grows in importance, however they will have to become more consistent against weaker sides if they wish to pull away from the pack at the top of the table.
Derby 0 – 3 Liverpool
Loris Karius – Karius’ performed very well on debut despite a couple of heart in mouth moments. Playing as a sweeper-keeper he was extremely comfortable coming out of the box to clean up at the back and was equally comfortable under the high ball. This ability was integral in saving Henderson from embarrassment after an error, rushing out to deny Darren Bent. Mignolet has been in very good form this season, but more performances like this will make selecting a regular starting keeping a very difficult decision.
Roberto Firmino – This was a typical performance from Firmino, a rare player in that he revels in contributing to attacking and defensive plays equally, often creating chances for himself and others with his impressive pressing and tackling. His Brazilian flair also shone through with some incredible displays of skill, as well as an assist for Coutinho. Perhaps the only thing that was missing from this display was a goal, though he could hardly be blamed for that as he was denied by a good save by Jonathan Mitchell, and an error in judgement by Origi when the young striker could’ve squared the ball to Firmino.
Philippe Coutinho (Man of the Match) – Even though the Championship is a very competitive competition, and Derby County are one of the best teams in that league, it was clear that players like Coutinho are just on a different level. His technique was almost infallible, with a brilliant swinging corner to set up the first and then a dangerous free kick later in the half. He scored a goal after some with some nice interplay with Firmino in the second half before getting another assist for Origi’s goal and almost repayed the favour to Firmino.
Moreno Impresses on Return – After coming under immense criticism during the back-end of last season and the start of this one, Moreno’s performance was always going to be scrutinised. To his credit, the Spaniard was able to produce a much more balanced performance against Derby, effectively picking which times would be appropriate to bomb forward. It must be said that Derby’s attacks rarely troubled the Liverpool defence, even though manager Nigel Pearson admitted they had wanted to target the left hand side. Despite this though Moreno still deserves credit for an improved showing, it will however be a tough journey to displace Milner if he wants to get back into the starting XI on a regular basis.
Shrewd Squad Rotation – After seeing the team selection at Burton, many fans would’ve expected a similar lack of rotation at Derby. This was not the case however, as Klopp opted to rest many of his stars, and give valuable minutes to others. This proved to be highly beneficial for everyone effected and an excellent decision by the manager. Regular starters including Milner, Lallana, Wijnaldum, Mane and Sturridge were all given much needed rests after a tough patch of games in the league, all but guaranteeing their fitness for the match against Hull. Their replacements included, Klavan, Moreno, Lucas, Origi and Ings as well as Grujic and Ejaria for their respective debuts. This group of players would’ve taken a lot from the game in terms of fitness and confidence, ensuring Klopp has some decisions to make going forward in regards to team selection.
Where Does it Leave the Rest? – Despite a heavy emphasis on squad rotation, there were a number of players that were left out entirely, and it begs the question, if they can’t get a game against Derby, will they get any game time at all this season? Thankfully, Klopp thought ahead during the transfer window and sold or loaned out a lot of the squad’s fringe players meaning that almost all of the players that fall into this category are still young enough to make an impression in the u23’s. Aside from the 19 and 20 year olds including Randall, Brannagan and Chirivella, this situation becomes concerning for two players in particular, Illori and Sakho. Illori has been on the fringes of the squad ever since he arrived as a promising young centre-back in 2013 but has failed to make an impression on Merseyside or during any of his various disastrous loan spells. Sakho’s issues have been far more publicised, with the talented French international missing the back-end of last season due to doping allegations. This was followed in pre-season when he was barred from the first-team, being sent home on the second day of the tour of the USA due to attitude problems. This latest snubbing surely signals the end of both players Liverpool careers unless a major injury crisis occurs.
Liverpool 5 – 1 Hull
Adam Lallana – The start to this season has almost certainly been Lallana’s best for Liverpool, combining his ever-present energy and workrate, with goals and assists. With Henderson growing in his ability to effectively act as a holding midfielder, Lallana has been able to venture forward more and combine with the likes of Firmino and Mane. This proved to be beneficial in attack and defence, with Lallana scoring the first of five goals, followed by assists for Coutinho and Mane.
Philippe Coutinho – Interestingly, this game saw Coutinho adopt a deeper midfield role than usual meaning that the it became Coutinho’s duty to start most of Liverpool attacks as a creative influence from the deep, whilst also being involved in more defensive work than usual. He was able to do this very effectively, controlling the tempo at a whim and setting up Lallan’s opener. His incredible goal from well outside the box to kill the game off completely was a fitting reward for a fine performance.
James Milner (Man of the Match) – If Moreno was able to make Klopp reconsider his position as back up in the game against Derby, then Milner completely cemented his place as starting left back with this performance. Completely faultless in attack and defence, he showed exactly the traits that Liverpool fans have been crying out for from their left-back for years. The experienced Enlgand international seemed to be involved in almost everything and his reward was two fine penalties put beyond the reach of Marshall. If he keeps this level of performance up then not only will Moreno be unlikely to get a chance in the league, but calls from some fans to buy a left-back in January will become entirely redundant.
Ruthless Reds – There was a lot of pressure on the Reds in the build up to the game to replicate their fantastic form of late and they duly delivered. From the very first minute Liverpool were full of aggression and intensity, pressing the Hull players deep into their own half and regularly forcing them to commit errors. After Hull were reduced to 10 men, this trend intensified to the point were Hull were barely able to get the ball over the halfway line due to the pressure they were put under by the likes of Firmino, Lallana, Mane and Coutinho. The hard work done in the first half allowed these players to take their foot off the gas in the second half and look ahead to the game against Swansea. It’s hard to envision how any team in the league could contain the Reds when they’re in that kind of mood.
Competition for Places – With such an impressive performance and dominant scoreline, it’s easy to forget that Liverpool had a number of top quality players on the bench or omitted entirely for this game. To score five goals without top strikers Sturridge and Origi is a feat in itself, let alone the likes of Henderson and Milner playing out of position at the expense of former first team regulars such as Can and Moreno. Mignolet was also left on the bench in favour of new singing Karius, and it has to be said that despite his well documented faults, most clubs in the world would salivate at the thought of having the Belgium international as their backup ‘keeper. Liverpool’s squad depth is better than it has been in years, the likes of Mignolet, Can and Grujic being far superior bench options to former players such as Brad Jones, Luis Alberto and Jose Enrique.
The Klopp Effect – Approximately one year on from Klopp’s arrival on Merseyside, it is clear the effect that he is having on the players and club as a whole. Players such as Lovren, Milner and Lallana have completely reinvented themselves under the guidance of the German, whilst other such as Coutinho, Firmino and Clyne have flourished. This doesn’t even take into consideration the success of new arrivals such as Mane, Matip and Wijnaldum, let alone the improvement in outcasts such as Moreno, Mignolet and Henderson. This monumental shift for the club in a relatively short period of time makes the fans wonder, where will the club be in another year, or two years or even five years time? This amount of optimism and hope surrounding Liverpool has been missing for too long now and is a welcome return.
Swansea 1 – 2 Liverpool
Philippe Coutinho – Like most of his teammates, Coutinho was disappointing in the first half. Turning the ball over far too easily and generally failing to make a meaningful impact on the game. However, after the break a much more familiar Coutinho came out of the tunnel, he was able to use his trademark dribbling and passing to put Swansea on the back foot and give his teammates a chance to take the game by the scruff of the neck. This culminated in his perfectly weighted ball for Firmino’s goal, getting the Reds back into the game after being 1-0 down for so long.
Roberto Firmino – Once again Firmino played a major role in a Liverpool win, with his pressing being one of the most important aspects of the turnaround. Despite a poor first-half, he scored the important equaliser with a well placed header, and won the penalty that allowed Milner to win the game. The argument that he is one of, if not the most important player on the team continues to build in validity with match-winning performances such as the Swansea game.
Sadio Mane (Man of the Match) – Mane was perhaps the only Liverpool player on the day that played well in both halves, not just in the final 45 minutes. He consistently threatened the Swansea defence with his pace and movement that proved difficult to read and react to. Coupled with some tireless work ethic, it made for an excellent performance, even if he didn’t get the goal or assist that he perhaps deserved. It will be a great loss for Liverpool when Mane goes away with Senegal for the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
Winning Ugly – It is often said, but it doesn’t diminish the truth in the saying, the best teams find a way to win on their worst day, and that’s exactly what Liverpool were able to do against Swansea. Failing to register a single shot on target during the entire first half, it seemed as though Liverpool’s fantastic run of form was running out of steam. But, in the second half the Reds came out with more grit and found a way to force their way back into the match. This is an excellent sign going forward that Liverpool can keep calm under pressure and steal three points away from home under difficult circumstances.
Injury Concerns – Klopp, like most Liverpool fans would have been devastated to see Lallana come off early due to a groin strain considering his prolific run of form. Then after the game had finished news broke that Lovren had also suffered a groin strain, and Clyne was missing international duty due to an ongoing knee injury. Clyne and Lovren are supposedly going to be fit for the game against Manchester United after the international break, but Lallana’s situation is much more unknown. Of course of any of these three players are unavailable there are other solid options such as Moreno, Klavan and Sturridge to fill in, but it is still not an ideal situation given how well they’ve been playing. If Liverpool want to continue on this run of form, then the health and fitness of our best players will be paramount in order to keep continuity and successful combinations.
The Road Ahead – If it weren’t for the aforementioned injuries then it could be said that the international break couldn’t have come at a worse time. Six wins and a draw in the last seven games in all competitions shows how well Liverpool are gelling as a unit and how good their current form is. Having said that, it could also be argued that the Reds looked tired at Swansea and that a break will help some of the players refocus, refresh and continue the charge towards the top of the table. It’s just a shame that many of the club’s most important players can’t take this time off to rest and work together in training to prepare for the massive upcoming game against Manchester United. It is an incredibly important game in the context of both team’s seasons and title ambitions, not to mention the bitter rivalry and pride that is always on the line. If Liverpool can pick up a win in this game, it will put them in an excellent position going forward considering the relatively easier games that lie ahead in the league, with a cup clash against Tottenham being the toughest game until well into December.
Cieren O’Dea for Red Or Dead – Liverpool FC Football Blog – on 8/10/2016.