Liverpool’s winter slump – five defeats in the last eight games and just one win in the last 10 in all competitions – is not just a bad run, but is threatening to completely ruin Jurgen Klopp‘s first full season in charge.
That single win in 2017 was against League 2 Plymouth Argyle – further showing just how bad this run has been. Only six goals have been scored in the last nine games.
That the manager hasn’t been able to find solutions – despite numerous soundbites about how the team has no problem against teams who sit deep – is a major concern.
“I’m responsible for it,” said Klopp after the defeat to Wolves. “You learn a lot about players in situations like this. I am responsible for this performance, 100 percent.”
How then have Liverpool gone from title challengers to fighting for a place in the top four in just a month?
1. Sunderland team selection
Klopp’s decision to make only one change – that enforced – for the match at Sunderland less than 48 hours after the energy-sapping win over Man City at Anfield signalled the beginning of this turgid run of form.
It was a ridiculous decision, and lo and behold Liverpool have looked tired and slow, and been out-muscled and out-paced in every game since.
Fresh legs – and minds – were needed against Sunderland, even just a few changes would have provided more energy for those feeling the affects from the City match.
Does Klopp need to change his approach without a winter break? This is the first full season he’s had without one and his players are showing serious signs of fatigue.
2. Failing to address Mane’s absence
The slump cannot be completely attributed to Mane’s absence, but the failure to address it is a major contributing factor.
The most frustrating thing is that Klopp knew Mane was leaving months ago, it wasn’t an unexpected injury. A contingency plan could and should have been in place.
Initially it seemed that a new signing was the plan, but that never arrived.
But without a ‘direct’ replacement, Klopp failed to settle on a plan. One game Firmino was on the right, the next he was back in the middle, the next he was on the left. Sturridge came in, then out, then back in.
Lallana was moved out of his best position from which he has impressed this season, into the front three and therefore disturbing two key areas of the side. Lallana’s now struggling again back in midfield.
In Mane’s absence, Liverpool have been far too slow and predictable.
3. Playing Emre Can
This is an extremely obvious one and perhaps the most baffling. Certainly the one that most supporters would agree with.
Gini Wijnaldum was a key part of Liverpool’s excellent start to the season, almost an ever-present from August to November.
Yet he finds himself behind a player who Klopp revealed this week has been playing with a calf issue: “He has this calf issue which we are still looking into and trying to find out why. Is it his back? Is it his ankle?”
He started seven games in 26 days. A player carrying an injury and very clearly out of form. No goals, no assists, in a supposedly more attacking role in midfield.
That’s part of the problem, Can’s role being changed is something the player has struggled to adapt to and he sits too deep alongside Henderson, making Liverpool’s build up play slow, predictable and lacking creativity.
4. Too slow with subs
This is a major concern and something that apparently Dortmund fans noticed especially in his latter years there.
Klopp appears to be far too reactive than proactive with his subs. And they are too late to affect the game.
Against Hull, Moreno and Origi were introduced with seven minutes remaining. By which time Marco Silva had already changed to a back five, and Hull went on to make it 2-0 rather than Liverpool 1-1.
Klopp’s in-game management was a massive, massive, problem in the Europa League final against Sevilla, when the whole world could see how the Spanish side were overcoming Liverpool’s midfield of Can and Milner. Joe Allen’s introduction was obvious, but arrived in the 74th minute – by the time it was 3-1.
At Southampton, first in the Premier League, Sturridge was introduced in the 78th minute and Origi in the 91st minute. Then in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final, Origi came on in the 83rd minute.
5. Playing Lucas Leiva
He’s a nice guy, he’s a long-term servant. Bla bla bla. It means nothing on the pitch. Lucas Leiva is not good enough to be playing for Liverpool, certainly not at centre-back.
Hull’s game plan was always going to be to play on the counter attack, using the same blueprint that saw Plymouth, Southampton (twice) and Wolves prosper in January, therefore Liverpool needed pace in defence to defend against the counter attack.
With just one game in the next 21 days Klopp has plenty of time to assess where it’s gone wrong, and perhaps give his players a mini winter break. Last season he took some of the squad to Tenerife in March and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see something similar after the Spurs match, when there’s 16 days before Leicester away.