Brentford’s issues put Liverpool at risk of a vicious cycle
Liverpool would find it simple to pinpoint a single problem, come up with a fix, and fix it if football were truly the straightforward game of clichés. After all, this is the squad that has continuously ranked second in England over the past five years. But following a disastrous loss at Brentford, they are now 15 points behind the lead held by Arsenal and, more importantly, four points off fourth-place Manchester United despite having played one more game. The feeling that dishes on the stage are slowing to spin while Jürgen Klopp races rapidly between them must be the most unsettling.
In response to rumors that the club was interested in Enzo Fernández and Moisés Caicedo, Klopp cautioned that the team couldn’t play Monopoly. It has been particularly impressive how Liverpool has maintained that level of consistency without engaging in extravagant spending over the past few years. And there’s another reason why winning the Champions League is so important; if revenue declines, so does their spending power, and with the club going through a lot of change, that may have big repercussions. Virtuous circles can quickly turn cruel. It doesn’t take much.
However, fractures occur in battalions when they do. With the exception of Allison, there are uncertainties and worries about every player on this Liverpool team. In one way, it has not been difficult to identify their issues this season. It is not simple to fix the fact that the press has not been operating. But to that was added a new weakness—an almost ridiculous inability to defend corners as if Liverpool were still playing a festive game of charades, eagerly imitating an away match against Stoke during the Wenger period.
Right up to halftime, Bryan Mbuemo made a series of deliveries that generated havoc. Two others resulted in goals being disallowed, while one trickled in off Ibrahima Konaté. Some offsides were unavoidable; they were the consequence of meticulous planning and effective execution.
However, it wasn’t only scripted plays. It was evident during the buildup to the first Brentford goal how Mbuemo sped by Virgil van Dijk, whose turning circle was so large that they also had to relocate the stands to make room for him. This move resulted in the pivotal corner. It occurred to me, not for the first time this season, that Van Dijk may not be as physically strong as he once was. Then Liverpool’s defending crumbled once more for the second turnover, which occurred right after the second shot that was disallowed for offside. While Mbuemo swept Konaté aside for the third, Konaté was egregiously weak.
The press, which ought to be the first line of defense against counters, is not wholly unrelated to this. The back four are often more exposed when things go wrong. The pandemonium is, if unexpected, not unexplainable; just add flimsy confidence and perhaps a little World Cup rust.
A modern press is a weapon with practically endless complexity that depends on communication and engagement. A good one, when it works, can smother an opponent, but because of its complexity, which also makes it tough to combat, it is prone to malfunction.
Harder to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with the press. Perhaps the adjustments to the forward line haven’t been helpful. While some of those absences were pre-planned, others were brought on by injuries, including Roberto Firmino’s calf issue and the long-term absences of Luis Dáz and Diogo Jota. In that situation, it probably makes sense to recruit Cody Gakpo for what currently feels like a cheap initial sum of £37 million, if only to give insurance. He is an intriguing player whose skill set doesn’t quite fit his body type, but he wasn’t available because he is still waiting for a work permit after leaving PSV Eindhoven.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was once more placed on the left of the front three as a result. His one flick to set up a first-half opportunity for Kostas Tsimikas showed off his awareness, creativity, and technical skill, but he hasn’t played a full 90 minutes in the Premier League since April 2018. He is still a likable and engaging player. His goal was his first since January of last year, and because his contract with Liverpool expires in June, he is undoubtedly only playing for Liverpool out of necessity and for himself to convince another Premier League club that despite his injury issues, he still has something to offer at this level.
However, a midfield that is plagued by injuries also presents problems. Absences can be found anywhere. Liverpool’s decline during the 2002 season was mostly caused by injuries, and some may wonder why this team is so prone to them. It might be terrible luck, the unrelenting effort that Klopp wants, or just a sign that the team is becoming older and has to be revitalized.