The same mistakes that plagued Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers were apparent in the defeat to Palace, and Jurgen Klopp knows the task at hand.
Well, that Palace game didn’t go to plan did it? I keep reading that Crystal Palace are our new bogey team and ‘did us’ once again. Sorry, but that’s nonsense – we lost because of inherent problems evident throughout the squad which all (once again) reared their ugly heads in the same game. It was like ‘West Ham At Home – The Sequel.’ Jurgen Klopp will have already realised that the one, major, over-riding issue in his squad can be summed up in two words: player quality. This lack of quality throughout the team has resulted in the following:
– Lack of Goals
Once again, we couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo. Once again, we had about 300 efforts on goal, with only 4 of them on target. Sarcasm aside, shot accuracy was recorded at 30% for this game. And it’s not that we ‘just’ miss either – we are really, really good at really missing.
Benteke’s free header flying over the goalkeeper, the goal, the Kop stand, the Radio City tower and landing in the River Mersey was a shocker, and one of several poor efforts by our 32 million quid man. Nathaniel Clyne’s quite absurd effort from about 150 yards in injury time is typical of too many players in this squad. I was going to say it ended up in row Z, but that would be inaccurate as row Z is only 26 rows back.
Poor shots, or poor decisions about when to shoot, are a feature of virtually every game we play. That’s what you get when you don’t have true, consistent goal scorers in the team. True ‘quality’ in the forward six of any team can be measured quite easily – successful teams have players who score goals, create lots of chances, and have a high goals-to-chances-created ratio.
This, of course, translates to points. I’ve mentioned it before, but the problem won’t go away until at least a couple of transfer windows have come and gone. Goal scorers need to be brought in to replace some of those who offer no goal scoring threat whatsoever.
Scoring 1 goal or less in 16 of the last 18 games is not due to bad luck. It’s not due to ‘not taking our chances’ – that suggests that it’ll soon just magically all click in to place and those chances will be taken… they won’t!
Not with a midfield which includes Milner, Lucas, Henderson, Can, Allen and Ibe. Of course, Philippe Coutinho will score a decent number each season, but the rest won’t. How do I know? Because history has shown that none of these players offer any kind of consistent goal scoring threat.
Our 13 goals in 12 games is testament to this, and a figure equal to two of the bottom four teams. It’s also the worst in the top ten. If you factor in that 6 of these were scored in two games against Villa and Chelsea, it’s 7 goals in the other 10 league games. Klopp will, of course, know and address this, just as he did at Dortmund, but he needs different players – quality, creative, goal scoring, attacking players – to do so.
– Defensive Frailty
Error after error, week after week, set-piece after set-piece. It’s been schoolboy defending for far too long. It’s one of Rodgers’ managerial legacies which he never came close to correcting. Klopp has inherited it and it will take time – and quality defenders – to eradicate. Two of the main culprits in recent times, Moreno and Can, were both at it again against Palace. They both have consistent lapses in concentration and their defensive decision making is too poor, too often. Dejan Lovren doesn’t make the starting eleven due to his error-strewn career to date.
Martin Skrtel, who is first choice just about every week, is nothing more than an average centre back. Then there’s Enrique, Toure. Whichever four you choose from all defensive options available, there is a lack of real quality across the back four.
But even poor quality doesn’t excuse stupidity, and how we conceded that second goal was head-shakingly stupid. I mean, Firmino marking Scott Dann at a corner? Firmino is 5’ 11” and Dann is 6’ 2”. Dann is a centre back who heads balls for a living. Firmino is a ball-playing attacking midfielder. Can anyone, ANYONE, explain why a defence including seasoned professionals such as Lovren and Skrtel, can allow this to happen?
I know, next time we play Stoke, how about we have Joe Allen mark Peter Crouch? Can anyone explain why Southampton could score a goal from a set-piece by winning THREE successive headers in the 18-yard box? (In comparison, when we take a corner, I’ve noticed whoever takes it makes the exact same arm/hand signal just before they strike it… I’ve worked out that it must be code for “I’m hitting the first man.” James Milner has filed for a patent.)
Behind them, Mignolet was once again, Mignolet. Yes, he makes some great saves, but he is just not reliable is he. I don’t need to elaborate on that… we’ve all seen, and we all know in our hearts he isn’t good enough. You know a goalkeeper isn’t all that when the overwhelming positive comment you hear about them is “he’s a good shot stopper” – that’s also code – for “he’s quite crap at everything else.”
I suppose the good news is that there’s nothing above that is any surprise, or any different to that on display for the last 12 months under Brendan Rodgers. It’s what cost him his job. Yes, Klopp has instilled a pressing game, a more intense kind of football and a positive attitude – but these are the same players with the same inherent flaws as before.
I have no doubt that he will have quickly absorbed everything he has seen and it will have merely served to confirm everything he already knew. He’s talking positively about all of the players right now – as well he should – but he will have an idea already who he believes can (or cannot) achieve the lofty standards he sets for himself, his team, and for each individual player.
He’s seen both Jekyll and Hyde in his short time here. He’s seen true determination (Spurs) followed by mental weakness after conceding a goal (Southampton.) He’s seen real promise against Chelsea, and schoolboy errors against Palace. He’s seen genuinely good football undone by defensive frailty and attacking impotence. He’s seen enough of most of the non-injured players to already be drawing up his January plans to address what needs addressing.
Some of these players do have the valid excuse of youth/inexperience on their side, but even though they’re not the finished article yet, Klopp will have figured out if he feels they have a future. After all, not all promising young players blossom in to first team regulars. Lower ranked and lower league teams are full of ex-highly rated Liverpool youngsters.
Some others have experience on their side, but it won’t matter if they don’t have the quality, technical ability and speed of both feet and mind that Klopp demands. Skrtel, Milner, Lucas, Lovren, Allen and Lallana might well fall into this category.
The display of Benteke against Palace will have also been noted for its sloppiness, wastefulness and lethargy. Was he half a yard slow due to lack of games, or is he naturally half a yard slow? Time will tell, but there’s no doubt that his display raised the question.
It will be interesting to see how many of the current squad Klopp keeps around in the next couple of years. Of the current ‘first teamers’ I’m fairly confident about Coutinho, Firmino, Ibe, Sakho, Henderson, Clyne, Sturridge (if he can prove fitness) and probably Benteke. Those eight make up a solid core to build around. Time will tell if Ings, Moreno, Can, Flanagan, Mignolet, Lucas, Gomez, Lallana and Skrtel make the cut. Toure, Enrique, Origi, Lovren and Balotelli likely have no future.
Klopp will know exactly where this team needs tweaking, where it needs maintenance and where it needs surgery. He’ll know that tough calls lie ahead, and he’ll make them. This smiling, charismatic man did not become Bundesliga champion by shirking the need to be ruthless.
It’s never good to lose. It’s painful and miserable. And it most definitely is not a blessing in disguise (well, apart from that one home game against Wolves where we were so bad it ended up in the removal of Roy Hodgson.)
This defeat really did speak volumes. I walked out after the game disappointed, but with a sense of hope and encouragement, because I am convinced we have the right man to address the shortcomings so clearly on display. The reality is that the frustrations of recent times are likely to go on for a little while longer yet. But the good times will follow once the manager has had time to address those shortcomings.
Klopp has made a positive start to his Liverpool career, the Palace result doesn’t change that fact. Once he brings in ‘his players’ capable of playing ‘his’ kind of football, it will have been well worth the wait.