There was nothing to enjoy about Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat to Burnley, with another bad performance dissected, as well as working out how the Reds can overcome this slump.
This was supposed to be the night that the Premier League champions got back on track – instead, it was the most damaging outing of the season so far.
Liverpool were hopeless all evening at Anfield, playing aimless crosses into the box and failing to break down a stubborn Burnley side.
A draw would have been bad enough for Jurgen Klopp‘s men, but Ashley Barnes’ late penalty rubbed salt in the wounds, ending the Reds’ long unbeaten home run in the process.
Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by an equally miserable Marco Lopes (@FootyML) and Taintless Red (@TaintlessRed) to discuss a sobering night for anyone of a Liverpool persuasion.
MARCO: The match, unfortunately, was quite predictable in respect of how meek Liverpool’s attack performed. It was another negative night, despite the positive news of seeing Matip back in the lineup.
Take your pick of the worst of the bad.
Abject quality of chances created; crosses numerous enough to accompany church bells (playing straight into Burnley’s strengths); Origi’s awful finish after Burnley’s only real unforced error; trying the same things that aren’t working and trying different things that don’t work (Ox in the front-three).
Losing the unbeaten record. Losing the game. Losing ground on defending the title. Maybe even losing the title as well. The list goes on…
You can maybe have complaints over the penalty given to Barnes, or the penalty shout ignored on Mane, but that’s just being generous to Liverpool, who didn’t deserve much from this match.
RED: At some point Liverpool’s incredible unbeaten home league record would fall, and it eventually did after 68 games and 1369 days.
Burnley played like we knew Burnley would, yet Liverpool seemed unready to deal with the deep block defence they knew they would face.
Our football up until the final third was not the problem, but in it, our ability to play good football dissipated. Constantly playing the ball wide to cross, often aimlessly, was a regular theme, as Marco states.
Not varying our mode of attack by using dribbles, one-twos, combination football on the edge of the box or runs into the area from midfield made us predictable.
Rarely has Trent used the ball so poorly from good positions or Mane fail to fashion good opportunities when inside the box. Decision-making and execution was a problem for most of the team and has been for a while.
Perhaps most worrying was how mentally tired the players looked. The composure in and around Burnley’s 18 yard box was lacking, which made it a bigger shame that Thiago, perhaps our best and most composed passer, was wasted so deep for most of the game battling in duels with Barnes and chasing Wood.
HENRY: What a hideous night. It was one of those games that you knew wasn’t going to end well from about the third minute – I looked at the scoreboard on 77 minutes and thought, “our unbeaten record could go here”.
For once, I got something right.
Barring Matip and Fabinho, who were quite good, there was nothing to admire about the performance, with this Liverpool side looking completely devoid of energy, creativity and confidence.
I agree with the lads about the endless hopeful crosses, which were causing me physical pain by the end, and Ox being used in attack was again a baffling decision.
In terms of individuals, Trent was the worst, as Reds highlighted. He is Liverpool’s Kevin De Bruyne in many ways – their creator supreme – but his end product was non-existent and his pass into touch in stoppage time summed it up.
The worst part of it all? That’s the end of Liverpool’s title hopes, in my opinion.
MARCO: Watching this and reflecting back, I felt like I was experiencing a series of flashbacks – goal droughts in the 2000s, the series of draws in 2008/09 and the malaise in attack in 2014/15.
In one respect, this isn’t a worse low. Liverpool fans with long enough memories have seen worse. In other respects, it’s quite unusual, simply because for two years, this club, this team and these fans are not used to this. They’re used to seeing the team bounce back.
And yet, even with Klopp’s commendable honesty after the match to take the blame, one can’t help but wonder if this has been an issue since the team returned from lockdown. Since then, there have been too many matches where cheap goals are conceded, even with Van Dijk and Gomez in the side before their injuries.
There has been an odd atmosphere of immodesty that seemed to peak in the side’s psychology, with recent examples in the draws against the likes of Fulham, West Brom and Newcastle.
The question is whether or not this is the team having regressed to the mean after two years of superb levels of performance, or if it’s a genuine dry patch to work through, eventually progressing back to their top level again.
RED: Let’s not pretend that the lack of goals vs. Burnley was just down to the rotations in the starting XI.
The players who didn’t play have been poor in numerous recent games as well. It’s a wider problem.
Strangely, Liverpool are still the league’s top scorers, and in Salah they have the league’s top scoring player, but we can’t buy a goal at the moment.
Firmino’s finishing has been a problem for a long time, but that it’s come at the same time as Salah and Mane both dipping in form has made it stick out like a sore thumb.
Jota’s goals are an obvious miss, but as big of an issue are the goals are not spread amongst the team – we have been overly reliant on the front-three for a long time.
None of the midfield score with any regularity and the unavailability of van Dijk and Matip significantly reduces our set piece threat – not only through the goals they score, but the space they create for others by drawing defenders.
HENRY: I can’t really add too much here, the lads have nailed it.
This drought just feels like a combination of many things coming together at the same time – injuries finally taking their toll, tiredness setting in, individuals playing badly in unison and this weird version of football not helping matters, with lifeless atmospheres to play in.
I’m not worried that this is the start of a decline, as Marco alludes to – I simply think it’s a horrible period and one that they will eventually come through.
At some point, Liverpool will click again, and once the injuries ease and football returns to normal, they will be as good as ever.
Perhaps I’m being too positive, but let’s not forget it’s only just over a month since the Reds won 7-0 and we all thought they were going to cruise to another league title.
And how do Liverpool get back on track?
MARCO: Changes are clearly necessary.
I’d make the case that the game plan is broken and they need to fix (change) it, especially given that the cost of not doing so could be too high to accept. The team appears to want to get plan A to work better, but surely by this point it’s clear a new approach is needed.
Assuming signings aren’t made, the only options Liverpool have are to adjust their tactical options to address the situation. This could mean one, or all of, many things. Formation. Build-up tempo. Attitude and sense of urgency. Game plan.
Could a shift to a 4-2-3-1 formation make better use of the attacking talents at hand, or do a better job of maneuvering defences into more vulnerable positions?
Klopp may lament the decision-making in the final third, but it’s much harder to make the right decision when the whole team’s build-up play could be much faster.
They need to mix up the game plan, too. If creating through the full-backs isn’t working, try something else. And don’t pump crosses into the box when the opposition defenders outnumber you five to one.
The team have been humbled a little – perhaps that was necessary – and to persist with the same plan doesn’t appear likely to change the results. Other teams have grown and moved, Liverpool need to do the same.
RED: Liverpool have accumulated 7.76xG (from one model) since they last scored, which shows they’ve maybe been a bit unlucky, but when that’s spread over 87 shots it perhaps indicates there’s been a lot of low quality chances/shots.
When we are near the 18-yard box we have to show improved guile and creativity. This is partly why Klopp has tried Shaqiri as a No.8. Getting Keita fit would be a boost, but he’s rarely available.
A new centre-back is pivotal, but it looks like Liverpool will wait until the right player is available in the summer.
It’s time to get our best passer, Thiago, closer to the opposition box. Even if Fabinho is needed in defence, I would rather play Wijnaldum or Henderson as the No.6, allowing Thiago to be more advanced.
But systems and tactics will only work if the players can regain their confidence and refresh their minds. That will come down to our coaching team, training and how Klopp chooses to rotate them.
Some of the players who do look jaded, like Trent or Firmino, might need more than just the odd game out of the team whether to recharge their batteries or shake them into fighting for their place.
The situation may feel bleak now, but we still have an exceptional group of players with the best manager in the world and I’d back them to turn it around.
HENRY: A nice positive sentence to finish from Red there – works for me!
Again, both guys have nailed it, with lots of work to do on the training ground, Thiago needing to be used differently and a possible shift to a 4-2-3-1 required.
It’s a terrible run, but Liverpool will come out the other side of it, whether that be next week, in April or in August.
Refresh the minds, eventually get fans back (and the best centre-back of the last 20 years) and the Reds will be the best in the business again.