Midfield missing and form becoming a concern – 5 talking points from Red Star 2-0 Liverpool

Liverpool’s Champions League hopes are hanging in the balance suddenly after a 2-0 defeat against Red Star in Serbia on Tuesday.


Red Star Belgrade 2-0 Liverpool

Champions League Group Stage (4), Rajko Mitic Stadium
November 6, 2018

Goals: Pavkov 22′, 29′


Miserable midfield

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 3, 2018: Liverpool's James Milner after the FA Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC at Emirates Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After three straight starts, Fabinho was left on the bench by Jurgen Klopp in Belgrade.

Instead, Gini Wijnaldum played the deepest role, with Adam Lallana and James Milner as the No, 8s.

Individually and as a trio, the first 45 minutes was shocking. No tackles won, very few inventive, progressive attempts to pass, too many sloppy touches and a goal conceded after Wijnaldum lost possession centrally.

It simply wasn’t good enough, not against any kind of opponent, let alone in a Champions League match away from home.

Klopp changed shape after the break, 4-2-3-1 with Lallana as the 10, but it had little impact on the Reds’ goal threat.

 

Quick changes

BELGRADE, SERBIA - Tuesday, November 6, 2018: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp walks to the tunnel at half-time with his side losing 2-0 during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) and Liverpool FC at Stadion Rajko Miti?. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Clearly not happy, Klopp stalked off at half time having spent most of the first 45 minutes gesticulating and fuming with his players.

Several of the underperformers in that first half were those who he had placed trust in and opted to rotate in, however, with Lallana and Joel Matip included.

Klopp reacted with a double change at the break; Joe Gomez replacing Trent Alexander-Arnold and Roberto Firmino on for Daniel Sturridge.

The Reds certainly had more of the ball thereafter, but that was as much due to Red Star being willing to defend their lead as anything else.

While the amount of possession increased, the ingenuity and quality on display did not.

The manager got his team wrong from the start and couldn’t rectify it with changes—even with a first appearance for Divock Origi this season.

 

Form becoming a concern

BELGRADE, SERBIA - Tuesday, November 6, 2018: FK Crvena zvezda Milan Pavkov celebrates scoring the second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) and Liverpool FC at Stadion Rajko Miti?. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Grinding out results is a good trait to have; teams can’t be at their best every single game and a win is a win, regardless of excitement levels or style.

But of late, Liverpool haven’t really shown many top-level performances at all, and wins haven’t been as regularly forthcoming.

It’s now three wins in nine across all competitions: Huddersfield, Red Star and Cardiff those victories. None against stellar opposition and only one away from.

There were tough teams throughout that run of course and, in isolation, not beating each of them in turn isn’t anything to complain about, but when they are compounded by results such as this one it can quickly turn the mood.

It’s also three without a clean sheet now, after the Reds’ excellent defensive work earlier this season.

 

Clinical edge

BELGRADE, SERBIA - Tuesday, November 6, 2018: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah sees his shot hit the post during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) and Liverpool FC at Stadion Rajko Miti?. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Where has the ruthlessness gone? It’s not just about beating teams by four and five any more, sometimes Liverpool are only getting one or two big chances in games.

They aren’t being taken.

Sturridge was guilty of a big miss in the first half, Sadio Mane missed another soon after the restart. Quite aside from the fact we’d expect Liverpool to create more chances across 90 minutes, it’s also incumbent on the front men to start putting away the opportunities which are created with more regularity.

Salah went close a time or two without ever really having a totally clear sight of goal, Matip could have scored a header and a few goalmouth scrambles didn’t go the Reds’ way.

As for going long, direct and aiming for Van Dijk in the last 10 minutes, the impact was minimal.

 

Big ask for the last 16

BELGRADE, SERBIA - Tuesday, November 6, 2018: Liverpool players line-up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Champions League Group C match between FK Crvena zvezda (Red Star Belgrade) and Liverpool FC at Stadion Rajko Miti?. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Three wins from four games would have had Liverpool sitting nicely top of the group. Six points with just two games to go, against the hardest sides in the group, is largely the opposite.

Much hinges on the other group game later this evening, but either way, the Reds are going to have to beat at least one of Napoli or PSG and quite possibly both.

At the very least, they won’t be able to afford another defeat, assuming both those two dispatch with Red Star themselves.

It’s an uphill task now, no mistake, and Liverpool will almost certainly have to bring out their best performances of the season to make it through to the last 16.

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