There were plenty of familiar issues on display as Liverpool succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at West Ham in the opening game of 2016.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool started 2016 in miserable fashion, turning in a dreadful performance and result in east London.
Michail Antonio’s header after 10 minutes put the Hammers ahead, just 21 seconds after Alberto Moreno saw a free-kick not given after the Spaniard was fouled by the goal-scorer.
Emre Can hit the bar with Liverpool’s best effort late on in the first period, but Andy Carroll wrapped up three points for the home side, heading home the second at the back-post against his former club.
It was an ugly repeat of previous afternoons for the Reds and here are the discussion points from Saturday’s dreadful loss.
Reds fail in physical battle again
Continuing a similarly depressing theme, Liverpool failed to stand up and collapsed again under a physical approach from the home side.
All afternoon all over the park, the Reds were bullied, losing countless 50-50 challenges, and lacked the desire yet again to battle in a game they were dragged into by their own softness and inability to impose their desired football.
Just realised it's raining at Upton Park. Can't expect a team of schoolboys to fancy it in these conditions…
— Jack Lusby (@jacklusby_) January 2, 2016
In both boxes Klopp’s side got close to nothing, in open play they were swarmed and brushed off the ball all too easily, and they were weak in their efforts and desire to win the ball back, failing to match the intensity of West Ham who knew they could trample all over the Reds with next to no comeback.
The lack of heart and desire to compete is quite frankly embarrassing, and it’s something Klopp must address by bringing some physically dominating players to the group.
Reds crumble from crosses
Once again Klopp’s side predictably came unstuck with balls delivered into the box, conceding with two headers as they were dominated aerially.
The first problem was the lack of work to stop crosses coming in – Lucas the culprit for the first goal as he stood and watched Enner Valencia pick out Antonio – before the second goal came after another ball was allowed to find Carroll at the back-stick with no initial pressure applied again.
The organisation after delivery was equally as bad, with Clyne left two-on-one at the back-post, Brad Smith also suffering the same fate with the ex-Red picking cleverly who to play on, while Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren both failed in their duties to assisting the overloaded full-backs.
Down the other end, the Reds were dreadful in their production from wide, with their crosses cleared with ease as Christian Benteke offered none of the desire, power and brute force Carroll showed, winning only two aerial duels off 32 deliveries.
James Collins and Angelo Ogbonna (red) won 10 aerial duels today. Christian Benteke (blue) won two. #WHU #LFC pic.twitter.com/zXrynoGd9O
— Jack Lusby (@jacklusby_) January 2, 2016
Only an excellent save from Mignolet prevented a third header finding the net and Liverpool must improve quickly in all aspects of their dealing with crosses before it costs further points.
Emre Can a positive in poor team display
The German has really developed into a key player in his central midfield role under Klopp and he was the Reds’ most impressive performer from there again at Upton Park.
Can’s work in and out of possession was impressive, as he battled almost single-handedly to break up play up against the physical Hammers and used the ball intelligently to try to instigate some forward play.
He was also unlucky not to draw Liverpool level seeing his curling effort from Roberto Firmino’s lay-off bounce back off the bar at the end of the first 45.
Most impressive about the 21-year-old is his dominating presence that drives Liverpool forward for someone so young, and his desire to do the dirty work alongside starting the ball moving and to take responsibility where others hid deserves huge credit.
It’s a shame his work counted for nothing, but Emre can certainly keep his head held high.
Coutinho’s form an increasing concern
After scoring three goals and grabbing one assist almost instantly after Klopp’s arrival, the Brazilian’s magic has been almost non-existent.
Perhaps the ill-timed hamstring injury during the 4-1 Etihad demolition of Man City has played a big part in disrupting developing rhythm, but since that day, Coutinho has failed to produce a single direct contribution.
— Matt Ladson (@mattladson) January 2, 2016
He’s not helped by playing from the clearly restrictive left side role, and to his credit he always shows for the ball and looks to make things happen, but his decision making and in particular his shooting – of which he had six but hit the target with none – has been nothing but wasteful and disruptive.
Key players step forward and make the difference to drag their side through when things aren’t going well, but sadly Coutinho has been nowhere to be seen.
Klopp desperate for bodies and must use January window
In the most challenging part of the season, the Liverpool boss has been far from helped by the injury crisis that has unfolded.
Missing key men Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge, as well as Martin Skrtel, James Milner and Divock Origi in recent weeks on top of the long-term absentees, has left Klopp stripped of vital influences and left relying on the XI picked to do the job with little precious little to pick from the bench.
With little in the way of returns on the horizon – bar Sturridge who Klopp is rightly carefully managing – the German must use the now open window to bolster his squad, especially with the tough and hectic run of fixtures looming against Stoke, Exeter, Arsenal, Man United and Norwich that could see the Reds in for a torrid ride.
The German manager has commendably spoken of his desire to give the group at his disposal the chance, but all they have done is prove their inability to be the squad that takes Liverpool forward.
Klopp must go against his first thoughts and make full use of the winter transfer window with his side risking falling away alarmingly early in the season if he doesn’t.
WEST HAM 2–0 LIVERPOOL
MATCH REPORT: Spineless Reds easily beaten
PLAYER RATINGS: Can leads the way on gloomy afternoon
TACTICAL OVERVIEW: West Ham profit as Benteke ignores the channels