Inability to see out games is a big problem for Liverpool
Back in 2005, when Liverpool overcame a 3-0 deficit to defeat AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League final, it was considered the mother of all comebacks.
Since then, the fortunes of both clubs who played that epic final has gone sideways to the extent that both are now rare visitors to Europe’s elite competition.
When it comes to Liverpool, comebacks are a kind of forte for the team in Europe. So when Liverpool succumbed to a miraculous comeback by Sevilla (again) on Tuesday, Reds fans are justified in feeling a sense of dejavu.
On Tuesday night, Liverpool got off to a perfect start after Roberto Firminho had put his side ahead in the 2nd minute (90 seconds on the clock to be exact), after some woeful defending from a routine corner from Sevilla.
The same pattern of play was repeated as Sadio Mane doubled the Reds lead and Firminho was present at the right place at the right time as both goalscorers combined to give Liverpool a 3-0 lead.
A neutral viewer of the game may have been tempted to switch their attention to another game given the rampant way Liverpool were playing up till half-time but, as the adage goes, games are not won at half-time.
A rousing half-time speech by Sevilla coach, Eduardo Berizzo emboldened the spirit of theplayers, as they took to the difficult task in the second half.
The revelation that their manager has been diagnosed with prostate cancer seemed to galvanize the players as they mounted a come-back which ultimately resulted in a last-gasp equalizer in stoppage time.
Defensive Lapses a Continuing Theme
Much has been said and written about Liverpool’s defence this season. The hammerings against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, where they lost the games 5-0 and 4-1 respectively have contributed to Liverpool having the worst record for goals conceded of the top six teams this season.
Coming into this game, Liverpool were on a run of 5 clean sheets out of the past 6 games across all competitions, and there was an indication that the defensive side of Liverpool as a team had been shored up.
The positive mood was reflected in the statement of Ragnar Klavan:
“Tottenham wasn’t a good game. But, after that, we made our corrections and the last four games have been good. Everyone realized that we must do everything together. We have a lot of quality in attack and we know for sure that the players in front are going to get chances in every game. It has always been defence first and then attack and the manager has always tried to tell us that. But maybe in recent games, he has put a little bit more emphasis on that.”
Even Jurgen Klopp had addressed the concerns ahead of the game, stating how his team's recent defensive record had been overlooked and talked up the game against their Spanish opponents as “the game”.
Given the emphasis and the confidence, it is alarming how Liverpool collapsed as a unit on Tuesday evening. While Alberto Moreno was singled out for his part in the first two goals, it was the inability of the team as a whole to curtail the Sevilla offensive that led to the collapse.
One may argue, that momentum was with the Spanish side, but that still doesn’t explain the nervousness of a side which possesses experienced internationals.
All is not lost yet as Liverpool’s qualification for the knockout stages is still in their own hands. But for teams across Europe, the soft underbelly of this Liverpool side will have opponents salivating at the prospect of playing against this side.
The absence of a defensive nous means that opponents playing against Liverpool know that they are always in the game.
Opponents taking note
Teams which have had a go at Liverpool this season have taken note of the way the Liverpool team collapses in the face of imminent danger. Jurgen Klopp’s analysis of the game sums up the problems currently facing his side.
The German stated:
“The description of the game is easy, Fantastic first half for us, the second half we made a mistake – we didn’t carry on playing football. We became passive, they scored the first, then it was obvious the atmosphere changed immediately. That gave them a big boost. Until the second goal, we were reactive. After the second goal, it was an open game again, but we couldn’t score off the counterattacks. We opened the door for them, didn’t close it, so they could score at the last minute. That’s the story of the game.”
Since the Rafa Benitez days, Liverpool has suffered innumerable defensive collapses. Since then, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish & Brendan Rogers have failed to address this malaise and it seems Klopp is also unable to fix this seemingly impossible-to-fix issue.
The German defended the team’s mentality like any good manager does but deep down he must have felt a sense of anguish.
The Way Forward
The Premier League champions are next on the opponents' list and Klopp will do well to regroup. This season hasn’t been the most favourable one for Liverpool when it comes to facing the top six with losses against Manchester City and Spurs already.
However, there has been a draw with Manchester United and a 4-0 rout of Arsenal that Klopp can draw on for inspiring his players.
It is a crucial week for Klopp and Liverpool as the team will do well not to dwell on the meltdown that happened on Tuesday night. Liverpool are currently 5th on the table and a win over the champions will help them draw level. But first and foremost, Liverpool will look not to concede.
Alvaro Morata has been sensational in his debut season and Liverpool will do well to shackle him. That said, Klopp will hope that as the season progresses the defensive lapses reduces.
Understandably, he has been working with his squad to improve the defensive side of things.
If Liverpool is to taste any glory, be it in the form of silverware or making the step up, these are issues that cannot be overlooked. Jonathan Wilson did an article back in August on how Premier League defences have deteriorated over the years.
However, Chelsea is one of the few teams that still have a solid defensive unit.
It is going to be a challenging game for the Reds, and if the season is any indication, whenever Liverpool forwards are in full flow they have been mesmerizing to watch.
Chelsea though will know that a patient approach may just yield the result they are looking for.