A disappointing 2-2 draw at home to West Ham leaves Liverpool six points off the top. Here are some of the major talking points which influenced the game.
Liverpool 2-2 West Ham United
Premier League, Anfield
December 11, 2016
Goals: Lallana 5′, Origi 48′; Payet 27′, Antonio 39′
Origi and Mane in Tandem
Senegalese speedster Mane played from a position on the right, but would regularly drift into the middle, allowing Adam Lallana to advance from midfield.
This tactic worked for the first goal but the work of Origi, who dragged the West Ham defenders around Anfield, was also key.
The Belgian forward won the initial header in true target man style, finding Firmino on the left who then fed Mane; Origi continued his run which gave Lallana space to compose himself for the finish once he received the ball.
Origi and Mane dovetailed throughout, and both showed strengths which you might expect of the other.
But in the end it was the speed and quickness of the winger, and the all-round play of the striker, which bore fruit as they formed the traditional big-man, little-man duo up front.
The partnership came to a head when Mane’s trickery out on the left wing led to a cross which was tucked past a flailing Darren Randolph by Origi.
The Karius Narrative
All eyes were on Liverpool’s goalkeeper following his error against Bournemouth in the previous game, and with just under half an hour gone, talking point two duly arrived.
Lallana conceded a free-kick on the edge of the box and took his place in the wall, but not before he had a word with Dejan Lovren about the defender’s poor clearing header.
The wall Lallana joined was about to be beaten by one of the best free-kick takers in the business—Dimitri Payet—but much of the blame will be placed on Karius rather than the wall he constructed.
The free-kick was well hit and well designed, with Payet sending it over the head of his team-mate Andre Ayew, but it wasn’t in the corner of the goal and it looked like the German should have got a better hand to it.
Good free-kick or poor goalkeeping? Opinion may be divided, but the majority will come down on the side of goalkeeper error.
It would get worse for Karius too. He’ll also be deemed culpable for West Ham‘s second, unable to react and position himself following an unfortunate deflection off Jordan Henderson as Michail Antonio’s effort dribbled slowly past him.
Riding a Lack of Luck
Luck is occasionally required if a team are to mount a title challenge, especially one which wasn’t predicted at the start of the season as is the case with Liverpool.
Lallana had a shout for a penalty turned down at the end of the first half which easily fit into the “seen them given” category, and could even be filed as “should’ve been given.”
Matip hit the bar with a header from the resulting corner, which was one of a couple of attempts he had of this type, while Henderson saw a 30-yard strike saved by Randolph as it was heading to the top corner.
Teams shouldn’t need luck, and it could be said that they should make their own.
But as Georginio Wijnaldum struggled to get the ball out of his feet in the area for the umpteenth time, the run of the ball can sometimes be the difference between one point and three.
Firmino off the Boil
A Brazilian forward schooled in the Bundesliga: it’s easy to see why Firmino has been one of Liverpool’s most impressive players since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp.
Recently, however, he’s gone off the boil.
Maybe he’s missing his buddy Coutinho, or maybe playing as the central forward for so long has made him forget a few of the things which made him so good from the left-sided position in the past.
Or maybe he’s just tired. The forward is Klopp’s archetypal defender from the front and, as well as this pressing, he can regularly be seen covering back into midfield and even into defence to help out his team.
This incessant pressurising of the opposition might mean he’s beginning to run out of gas, but given the current injury problems in attacking areas, it’s likely that he’ll be asked to run on empty for a while.
New Year’s Revolutions
This game was the first of three in nine days, with Middlesbrough to come on Wednesday, followed by the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park on December 19.
The run of fixtures precedes the busy Christmas and New Year period which begins with two games at Anfield at the end of December, first against Stoke, and then followed by a mouthwatering tie against Manchester City.
League Cup matches aside, a lot of Klopp’s rotation so far has happened naturally due to injuries.
But now he’ll have to plan the next 11 games with care, calling upon all available resources and maybe even adding one or two more when the January transfer window opens.