City the winners as centre-back crisis filters through Reds – Media on Liverpool 0-0 Man United

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The media assessed Man City as the real winners of Liverpool’s 0-0 draw with Man United and put the centre-back crisis at the root problem of the Reds’ attacking problems.

Sunday’s top-of-the-table showdown didn’t live up to the pre-match hype as it ended all square with a goalless stalemate at Anfield.

Neither team were able to capitalise on their respective dominant periods, and both sides will have come away from the game feeling that they could have nicked all three points.

Here’s the best of the analysis of the draw from the media.

 

Members of the media debated who the result benefitted most, and assessed Man City as the overall winners…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 17, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

ESPN’s Liam Wheeler felt the draw was better for Liverpool, allowing the Reds to keep within touching distance of United:

“Five years to the day that Manchester United last won at Anfield, Liverpool made it five matches unbeaten against the Red Devils to keep their old foes very much within arm’s reach and extend their incredible unbeaten run on home turf to 68 games.”

Dave Tickner, of Football365, thought it was a “far better result for United than Liverpool”:

‘At the risk of being very obvious (look, this the third United 0-0 we’ve had to get 16 Conclusions out of this season; you’re going to have to allow us some obvious) this was a far better result for United than Liverpool.”

But BBC Sport’s Phil McNulty felt it was a missed opportunity for United, with avoiding defeat more useful and morale-boosting for Jurgen Klopp‘s side:

“Manchester United may have a taken a point before this game and there will be justified satisfaction that they subdued Liverpool so completely, created the game’s best chances and remain at the top of the table.

“And yet there must also be disappointment that they could not cash in completely on an off-colour Liverpool, with reality dawning on them very late that they could take all three points.”

Meanwhile, the Independent‘s Melissa Reddy nailed it by pointing out that Man City were the biggest beneficiaries the Anfield stalemate:

“It is Manchester City, however, that will have been most enthused by the result from an underwhelming clash.”

 

Reporters were critical of the front three but explained how their form is the ripple effect of the centre-back crisis…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 17, 2021: Liverpool's Sadio Mané during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

First off, the Telegraph‘s Jason Burt thinks the Reds’ attacking problems are far bigger than the defensive issues currently faced:

Roberto Firmino, in particular, is out-of-sorts and lacking conviction and while fretting about his lack of defenders Jurgen Klopp must address his mis-firing forwards.”

The Guardian‘s Barney Ronay explained how the trio are feeling the ripple effect of the defensive crisis, with Liverpool’s missing defence causing problems further up the pitch:

“It has taken a while for the effects of Liverpool’s defensive crisis to filter through this team. But they were present here in a kind of cascade from back to front. This was cause and effect in a very obvious straight line.

“Take out the defence and replace it with the midfield. Take out the midfield and replace it with another style of play altogether, an entirely different set of rhythms. The indirect victim of all this flux is the front line.”

McNulty attributed a lack of service to the trio as the main problem, and that Liverpool must do better than just resorting to “aimless crosses” – even though the Reds improved in this regard:

“Too often Liverpool’s approach play ended with a careless pass or an aimless cross and the longer this game went on the more United looked the more likely winners.

Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are currently feeding off scraps while Roberto Firmino‘s impact was so minimal that he was withdrawn near the end, even with Liverpool chasing a goal.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 17, 2021: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Mail‘s Ian Ladyman suggested Klopp’s high-intensity game is finally catching up with the three forwards, who have been ever-present in Liverpool’s rise and dominance:

“What is concerning for Liverpool is that the relative struggles of their front three have been going on a while and it is hard not to wonder if the high intensity of the champions’ football is catching up on a few of their players.

[…]

“This year, with players unable to recuperate fully because of the hectic schedule, it’s possible that some of that mental and physical fatigue has arrived a little earlier than expected at Anfield.”

The Telegraph‘s Chris Bascombe stated his belief that Diogo Jota‘s injury absence has proven more costly than that of Virgil van Dijk:

“What he would have found less predictable is the suggestion the ill-timed injury to Diogo Jota, not Virgil van Dijk, might prove the most influential in this year’s race.

[…]

“That ability to pin opponents back, forcing mistakes, is what Liverpool are missing now. The joy of Jota was he looked like he could thrive in any system, with that Luis Suarez-esque habit of scoring goals which barely looked like chances.”

 

Journalists feel the centre-back crisis is at the root of all Liverpool’s issues, and challenged Klopp to find alternative solutions…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 17, 2021: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Independent‘s Miguel Delaney explained how Liverpool are unable to deploy their pressing tactic as effectively without Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in midfield:

“The double problem for Liverpool was that needing to put both Fabinho and Jordan Henderson at centre-half denied the side their dynamism in midfield.

“They just aren’t as frenetic, or pressing to the same level, which means that attack don’t have as much to work off. They don’t have the same number of breaking balls, or free space. It is as if the three forwards have to toil for everything so much more.”

On a similar train of thought, Tickner provided an brave argument that Thiago may well be one of the contributing problems due to his lack of athleticism:

“Sacrilegious as it is to even say it, is there any chance at all that Thiago Alcantara is part of the problem? No, shut up, listen. He’s magnificent. We all know he’s magnificent.

“But he gets on the ball an awful lot – no player on either side had more touches of the ball and it wasn’t even close – and does lots of wonderfully pretty things and then, so far, doesn’t provide much final product. Liverpool won the title last season – and came within a whisker the year before – by basically ignoring their midfield as an attacking tool and focusing everything through the full-backs.”

The Liverpool Echo‘s Ian Doyle thinks the absence of Fabinho and Henderson from midfield is proving too costly and Klopp needs to find another way to navigate the centre-back crisis:

“There are, of course, mitigating circumstances. Playing two midfielders at centre-back has upset the balance of the team. Thiago and Xherdan Shaqiri, both starters here, aren’t fully match fit. The direct running of Diogo Jota has been sorely missed.

[…]

“But how he deals with the ongoing conundrum at the heart of defence will ultimately decide whether Liverpool finish with a flourish during the second half of the campaign.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 17, 2021: Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Pondering how Klopp can spark the attack back to life, the Mirror‘s Freddie Keighley reckons Xherdan Shaqiri could be better utilised as part of the front three to help spark the attack to life:

“He is an expert at creating space and shooting minimal backlift – and his intensity is something Liverpool’s attackers have lacked in recent performances.

[…]

“With Diogo Jota still injured and the front three simply not firing, Klopp must find solutions fast. He may choose to deviate from his tried-and-tested formula by naming Shaqiri in attack as Liverpool face another stubborn opposition in Burnley on Thursday.”

Richard Jolly, writing for The National, felt the absence of the Anfield crowd had an impact, citing last season’s victory in this fixture as the difference the home fans can make:

“They lacked incision and the capacity to overpower teams that Anfield used to give them.

“This was not Jurgen Klopp’s team at their exhilarating best and it was tempting to hark back to last January, when a raucous crowd willed them to victory in the same fixture.”

ESPN’s Mark Ogden wasted no time in proclaiming that Liverpool side is on the wane, stating the Reds have gone as far as they can:

“Klopp also has tweaks and corrections to take care of with his team, but the solutions are less easy to find because of injuries and the reality that, after almost three years of incremental improvements, progress has perhaps hit a ceiling.”

The Liverpool Echo‘s Paul Gorst believes nothing can change in that regard until Liverpool sign a centre-back, and said it will be “negligent” if Liverpool don’t buy this month:

“For probably the first time in years, Klopp’s Liverpool look fallible.

“The title-winning supermen have misplaced their capes. It would be negligent not to help them out with fresh impetus.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 17, 2021: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' prays before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Finally, the Mirror‘s David Maddock believes Liverpool are in danger of dropping out of the top four all together if the club don’t sign a centre-back this January:

“Yet it is so painfully easy to see where the real problem lies. Both Fabinho, who was excellent, and Jordan Henderson performed well enough in defence, but their presence in midfield was so badly missed […] It is a black hole that sucks the confidence out of every part of the pitch.

“And it doesn’t feel an over-reaction to suggest that unless Liverpool’s hierarchy sort out the problem, they not only will they struggle to defend their crown, but they could even finish outside the top four, on this current run of form.”

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