Forget ‘Plan B’ – How Liverpool’s ‘Plan A’ has failed them in 2017

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Following Liverpool’s 0-0 draw at home to Southampton, Sky Sports’ Gary Neville made some interesting points about the Reds’ failing ‘Plan A’.

Fraser Forster’s penalty save to deny James Milner was the decisive moment, but Jurgen Klopp‘s side were far from threatening throughout at Anfield.

Struggling to break down a deep-sitting Saints defence was a familiar problem for the Reds, who have continually faltered against more conservative sides this season.

And Neville, speaking as part of Sky SportsMonday Night Football, believes this is due to the breaking down of Liverpool’s approach.

“Over the last two or three months—maybe longer than that—teams that sit back against Liverpool make it very difficult for them,” Neville explained.

“Their Achilles’ heel is they can’t beat the lesser teams at home.

“Teams that come out against them and are expansive, they’re OK because they can play the combinations and they’re quick on the break.

“We’ve talked about whether they need a {lan B. But maybe actually they need to improve on Plan A because they’ve stopped doing something. They’re isolating their full-backs on the ball.

“The wide right of midfield and wide right centre-forward have to make runs into the corner to clear the centre-back and the full-back, to shift them.

“Myself and Jamie [Carragher] could have played a lot of that game as centre-backs for Southampton because they weren’t shifted.

“As soon as you start moving centre-backs, moving defenders they have a big problem. When Liverpool are at their best they do that.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 1, 2017: Liverpool's Sadio Mane injured during the FA Premier League match, against Everton the 228th Merseyside Derby, at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Largely this can be attributed to the loss of Sadio Mane to injury, with the 25-year-old also absent during the Reds’ slump at the beginning of the year.

Mane’s pace, movement and willingness to run at defenders gave the likes of Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne space, which Neville believes has stopped without him.

“Clear the space, open up the channels—they’ve stopped doing it. They’re being far too safe,” he continued.

“[When they do it] all of a sudden it opens everything up. All of a sudden Milner is playing, they’re involved in the game.

“The combinations can begin, they’ve shifted the whole defence across and they’re looking for an overload in the centre.

“Liverpool, by the nature of the club, the nature of the team, they’ll always come up against inferior teams who will come and defend deep. They’ve got to do Plan A better.

“They’ve got to start making those runs again because when they don’t they become static, they become safe, they become predictable and to me that’s the problem at the moment.

“They’re isolating the full-backs far too often in the game and taking the safe option.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 5, 2017: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva and Emre Can look dejected as AFC Bournemouth score the second equalising goal during the FA Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

This highlights a key flaw in Klopp’s setup, and a major failure in the January transfer window in not signing a replacement for Mane.

On a basic level, Liverpool are lacking adventure, and as Neville points out, this is putting too much pressure on Clyne and James Milner, with neither a natural rampaging full-back.

There are already options to change, most notably the dynamic Daniel Sturridge, but it remains a key issue for Klopp to confront over the summer.

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