Liverpool take to the KC Stadium on Saturday needing a victory over Hull City, as they look to turn around a dismal record against lesser sides.
But against so-called lesser outfits this campaign, Jurgen Klopp‘s side have struggled to find consistency, culminating in a disastrous January run that has derailed their hopes for the season.
Saturday’s trip to Hull provides the Reds with the opportunity to confront this, with victory over Marco Silva’s Tigers crucial as they push to rewrite their poor form in 2017.
If they do so, and continue this for the rest of the season, Liverpool could still match their ambitions.
Inconsistency Against Weaker Sides
So far this season, Liverpool have only lost three times in the league, but each has come against a side who were either promoted last season, or finished in the bottom half of the top-flight table.
Losses at Turf Moor and Dean Court both came after promising spells, with the Clarets bringing Klopp’s side crashing back down to earth after their 4-3 win away to Arsenal on the opening day, and the Cherries heralding Liverpool’s first loss in 16 games after that.
Defeat to Paul Clement’s Swans on January 21 arguably came as the most bitter blow, however, given the dismal run the Reds were already enduring in all competitions.
They had already been held by Sunderland, Plymouth Argyle and United in 2017, and only managed a 1-0 victory away to Argyle in their FA Cup third-round replay, and Swansea’s triumph proved hugely deflating.
Overall, Liverpool have already dropped 15 points against sides outside the top six this season.
Juxtaposed with their excellent record against their top-six rivals, too, it suggests a complacency within the German’s ranks that could prove costly if it is continued.
Speaking ahead of the trip to the KC, Georginio Wijnaldum referred to Hull as “small team,” and while this was likely inadvertent, it does go against his manager’s mantra that every challenge is as big as the last.
And if the home side are underestimated on Saturday, Silva could inspire the Tigers to spring a surprise.
New-Look Hull City
Hull arguably undertook the worst preparation possible for their return to the English top flight, with both managerial unrest and a lack of transfer activity undermining their approach.
Steve Bruce left the club on July 22, with the Tigers leaving it late to make three major additions to their personnel.
Will Keane, David Marshall and Ryan Mason all joined on August 30, with interim coach Mike Phelan still seeking clarity over his position.
And while Phelan presented an admirable front in his first job as a first-team manager, he was eventually sacked at the beginning of January, with Hull having won just 25 percent of their games.
Tasked with restoring Hull’s hopes of staving off relegation, Silva has already prompted a relative improvement, with his current win ratio standing at 43 percent, while he most recently oversaw a hard-fought 0-0 draw away to United.
Most importantly, Silva has made several changes to the Tigers’ squad, bringing in Markus Henriksen, Evandro Goebel and Kamil Grosicki on permanent deals, as well as Oumar Niasse, Omar Elabdellaoui, Lazar Markovic, Andrea Ranocchia and Alfred N’Diaye on loan.
Speaking ahead of the trip across the M62, Klopp admitted that he and his backroom staff were unable to study Hull’s approach under Silva until two days before the game, providing little time to prepare.
There is a real element of surprise about Silva’s side as they look to respond to that loss at Anfield back in September, and it is difficult to predict which system the Portuguese will opt for.
Fortunately for Klopp, this clash marks the beginning of a quiet period for Liverpool, with preparation time no longer at a premium after a run of 10 games in just 32 days.
Liverpool’s Quieter Run
Liverpool’s failure to cut down lesser sides this season has been as much due to a mental block as it has been a physical one, with their complacent attack meeting a sea of bodies in defence.
But, while Antonio Conte’s side were far from conservative, the signs were there in Tuesday’s draw against Chelsea that the Reds can break down a deep defensive sign and enjoy dominating possession.
If they are able to translate this into a similar performance at the KC, Liverpool can hope to seal another convincing win, and a vital three points as they look to turn things around.
Liverpool’s Fixtures, February & March
- Spurs (H) – Premier League – February 11
Over the next two months, the Reds will play just six games, at an average of a game every 7.2 days.
This could hamper any positive momentum but, more hopefully, it could simply allow ample preparation for each outing, with Klopp finding his squad returning to full fitness.
And with the devastating attacking quartet of Lallana, Mane, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino primed to start together for the first time since November 6, there is hope of a revival.
But if that is to happen, victory over the lowly Hull is essential, or it could be the start of another lull.