Liverpool’s post-winter break blues: Issues at both ends of the pitch

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Liverpool were well below-par at both ends of the pitch against Watford on Saturday, with the Reds’ attacking play in particular being a concerning trend recently.

The Reds lost 3-0 after being ruthlessly punished for their mistakes and barely creating any chances of note themselves.

While Watford certainly deserved the points, Jurgen Klopp suggested the scoreline was mildly disproportionate to the 90 minutes of play – presumably on account of the Reds dominating possession.

Unfortunately, very little was done with the ball in dangerous areas – with just one shot on target being the end result of the Reds’ efforts in the final third.

It should be noted that the chance which looked closest to going in was Adam Lallana‘s long-range strike; that effort hit the post though, so doesn’t count as a strike on target itself.

Moreover, this isn’t a 90-minute problem in isolation, but an issue which has been prevalent since the winter break.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk looks dejected as Watford score the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

  • Liverpool had 16 shots, nine on target, in a 4-0 win over Southampton before the break
  • Since then it’s six on target against Norwich, seven against West Ham and just one against Watford – all teams in the bottom five
  • The Reds also failed to register a shot on target in 90 minutes at Atletico Madrid

In many games over the past couple of seasons it has been suggested that the front three of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have been able to create their own chances to win games when the Reds have been below-par.

It wasn’t the case at Vicarage Road and hasn’t been over the last month; across the four fixtures played since the break, that trio has managed just six shots on target between them, an average of 0.5 per game each.

Whether it’s a case of chances not being created for them or the players not being in place to finish, the trend has to be noted and worked on.

At the other end of the pitch it has been the opposite: more good chances than usual given up, certainly in relation to the amount of possession teams have against Liverpool, and a clinical edge.

The Canaries didn’t score but Atleti scored one from two efforts on target, the Hammers netted two from four and Watford managed three from five.

Alisson has been left woefully exposed at times by slack defending, a lack of concentration and the unity we’ve come to expect from the team being entirely absent, not just in defence but higher upfield, too.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker looks dejected as Watford score the opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Individual mistakes used to be commonplace in Liverpool defences, but the present side is unaccustomed to them.

Dejan Lovren bore the brunt of blame in the aftermath of the Watford fiasco, and he was poor for sure, but Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson all had a hand of ineptitude in at least one of the goals – some of them more than one.

The mistakes need to be cut out, the minds refocused.

A couple of crucial knock-out games, where winning is everything, should be enough to ensure the players get the jolt they need.

This is, after all, the most relentless Liverpool squad we have ever witnessed.

As for creating more chances, and better chances, it’s always about movement and speed of play. At our best, the Reds are fluid, evasive, brilliantly linking. Even at our worst, the way we box teams in high upfield and just get the ball back quickly, again and again, can wear teams down mentally and physically.

WATFORD, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 29, 2020: Liverpool's Andy Robertson during the FA Premier League match between Watford FC and Liverpool FC at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Against Watford and West Ham, relentlessly crossing with little movement to aim for, no accuracy on the delivery and no alternative approach, was an exercise in futility.

Liverpool possess tremendous deliverers, but even Trent and Robbo can’t be right on the money, every time, every game.

Out of 28 attempted crosses against the Hornets, a paltry one found a Red shirt: from Divock Origi, late in the game. It’s not good enough, not inventive enough, not anywhere near clever enough to beat Premier League defences, let alone Champions League ones.

Two particularly big cup games lie ahead, with another home league game in between which could take us one step closer to the long-awaited title.

They are all key fixtures, all opponents who Liverpool should have every reason to believe they can beat. If both minds and attacking patterns of play are sharpened between now and Wednesday 11, this blip against Watford could be seen as a turning point equal to those against Bayern, Everton or Chelsea last year, albeit for very different reasons.

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