Liverpool were dumped out of the FA Cup in the most disappointing fashion and didn’t look convincing in any aspect of their game, losing 2-0 away to Chelsea.
Chelsea 2-0 Liverpool
FA Cup Fifth Round, Stamford Bridge
March 3, 2020
Goals: Willian 13′, Barkley 64′
Liverpool’s midfield was non-existent
A flimsy Liverpool centre was easily outmuscled and out-footballed by the opposition for the majority of this game.
This was even more disappointing considering that the opposition midfield contained the slight figure of 18-year-old Billy Gilmour, and Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic, who aren’t exactly known for their physical prowess.
Adam Lallana looked to be running a lot but not doing much else, while the obviously talented Curtis Jones needs stronger characters alongside him in the team and more guidance from them at this moment in his career, rather than being the player who thinks he has to do it all.
Even discounting Fabinho’s error for the goal—which wasn’t just his fault as Joe Gomez and especially Adrian played their part in the Chelsea opener—he still doesn’t feel like the player who was so commanding in midfield for Liverpool throughout 2019.
This was highlighted during Chelsea’s second goal when he struggled to keep up with Barkley as he broke through.
Teenager Gilmour was one of the best players on the pitch and was named Man of the Match, but Liverpool didn’t make it anywhere near difficult enough for him.
It all started so well, with a brilliant save from a close-range effort from Willian.
The shot rebounded off the underside of his arm and bounced kindly, but it was a warning sign for what was to come shortly after.
Fabinho gave the ball back to Willian just seconds later after he was sold short by a Gomez pass.
The Brazilian attempted a speculative effort from outside the area, which was fired straight at Adrian, but rather than making the catch the ball merely hit the Spaniard and deflected into the corner of the goal.
Maybe he was losing the flight of the ball, but judging by the replays there was no real unpredictable movement in the shot.
This might well be his last game of the season, too.
Attack misfires again
Apart from a flurry of shots on Kepa’s goal in the space of a few seconds in the first half, Liverpool looked worryingly short of ideas up front for the second game in a row.
Even the introduction of Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah from the bench didn’t bring the usual optimism, given their displays against Watford in the previous game.
With the deep block of Atletico Madrid just around the corner, and no doubt plenty of teams taking a look at what they, Chelsea and Watford have done against Liverpool in recent games, the Reds need to find something special to get back on track.
The defence has been poor, and at Stamford Bridge the midfield was even worse, but Liverpool have now failed to score in three of the last four games. Unrecognisable from their previous selves.
Room for improvement despite recent success
Liverpool have been linked with a number of players in 2020, and this regularly leads to questions as to where these talented targets would fit in a side whose first XI seems so settled.
This game went some way to answering those questions.
Although Jurgen Klopp likes to keep a rhythm with his starting XI, and prefers a small, tight-knit squad, there is no harm in having a small, tight-knit squad full of really good players.
If this was the case the manager might also be more inclined to rotate.
This game further revealed what we already know about the likes of Lallana and Divock Origi, while the Watford game was more evidence of the type of display Dejan Lovren will put in once every few games.
These are a few places in the squad which stand out as areas which could be improved.
Though there were poor performances across the pitch there is at least evidence that for other players these types of displays are the exception rather than the rule. For some, they are almost expected.
It’s here that links to players such as Timo Werner, who would replace Origi, and someone in the mould of Todd Cantwell, who would replace Lallana, begin to make sense.
All of this is unfamiliar territory for Klopp and the players.
They have not looked themselves since the winter break, and on top of tonight’s disappointment also have losses in the Premier League and the Champions League to contend with.
They are not used to losing once, never mind three times in four games, with the other game being a far from convincing win over West Ham.
This disappointing exit in the FA Cup means the focus can now go squarely on securing the league title, but possibly even more so on turning around the Champions League last-16 tie against Atletico.
The feeling is now that Anfield will need to step up when the side from the Spanish capital visit Liverpool this month, harking back to those moments when the Reds may not have been the favourites, but have been driven on by their home fans.
Having spent so long on a winning run they now need to dig deep, but the focus should be easier.