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Growing list of concerns & time to make a move? – Last word on Man United 2-1 Liverpool

For the first time in 2022, Liverpool were on the losing end of a Premier League match, and it is the manner of the performance at Man United that is ringing the alarm bells.

The last time the Reds lost in the Premier League prior to Monday night was at Leicester on December 28, a 237-day gap between one league defeat and the next.

That in itself is an impressive run but Liverpool have nothing to show for it, and now all eyes will be on how they respond after three games without a victory.

Mohamed Salah‘s goal offered late hope but the Reds paid the price at Old Trafford for yet another slow start and a lack of intensity.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) and Matt Ladson (@mattladson) are joined by fellow writer Joel Rabinowitz (@joel_archie) to discuss the concerns from the defeat and Liverpool’s need to act.

 

Another slow start, lack of fight, poor body language, the list could go on… What’s the biggest concern?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 22, 2022: Liverpool's Roberto Firmino looks dejected during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOEL: Where do you start?! It’s seven league games in a row now in which Liverpool have gone 1-0 down, and on four of those occasions they’ve conceded first within the opening 20 minutes.

The last time they took a lead into half-time was against Newcastle back in April. It simply isn’t good enough – you cannot keep starting so slowly and giving opponents a platform to build on. It was crucial against a fragile United side to start quickly and assert their authority, but Liverpool yet again looked like they were sleepwalking from kick-off.

What do you put that down to? A poor collective attitude? Insufficient preparation? The whole thing is so strange, and completely at odds with what we’ve come to expect from these players. The body language has been bizarre to watch as well – there’s no sense of fight or anger. They just look deflated and defeated as soon as they concede.

JOANNA: You’re right there, Joel. The body language on show was infuriating.

James Milner showed some fire with Van Dijk, but everyone’s shoulders dropped all too quickly in the face of adversity, there was no physicality and you just wanted to grab them and shake them up.

Things are not going our way but floating through the match without a meaningful response to react to what is happening is not going to fix anything, a bit of complacency you feel. Something feels amiss.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 22, 2022: Liverpool's goalkeeper Alisson Becker looks dejected as Manchester United score the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOEL: Besides starting slowly and the questions around mentality, there’s also a pretty obvious problem in midfield. It hardly took a genius to see this coming – it’s not like Thiago, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain haven’t missed huge chunks of games through injury in the past. For me, freshening up the midfield should’ve been the absolute number one priority this summer.

The fact they’ve decided not to do so, and we’re in a situation where a 36-year-old James Milner is starting back-to-back must-win games, is bemusing. There’s still time to address it, but I can’t see them buying anyone at this point in the window. Even if they do, one signing won’t fix everything – the problems run a lot deeper than that.

MATT: And therein is the biggest problem; that there isn’t one big problem but literally every single thing is a problem.

The full backs have been poor, both offensively and defensively, the centre-backs, we’ve had three different pairings in three games and Van Dijk’s had his worse spell in a Liverpool shirt. Midfield, we all know the issues there, Firmino is like a lost child running around.

Elliott’s the one player with any positive stock from these games, but he seems to be played too wide when we’re not dominating a team. The whole right-side triangle with Salah and Trent works great when we’re on form, but in a game like Monday night it only added to the issues with the gaps in midfield.

 

Time to make a change to 4-2-3-1 in light of the personnel and the injuries?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 22, 2022: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOEL: I’m not convinced a change in system makes a huge amount of difference, to be honest. So many players just aren’t playing well at the moment – Virgil, Trent, Robertson and Fabinho, just to name a few.

These players are integral to how Liverpool play, so when they’re as off it as they are, it really shows. I don’t quite see how changing formation helps in that regard.

That said, there’s definitely a sense that the style of play has become stale and predictable – not just this season, but arguably towards the back end of last season as well. Carlo Ancelotti alluded to it after the Champions League final. None of Fulham, Crystal Palace and Man United are going to be challenging for the title this season, but they’ve all found a way to make life extremely difficult for Liverpool.

It all just feels rather aimless and lacking in conviction at the moment. Whether that’s the system itself or individuals simply not doing their jobs very well, it’s really difficult to say.

The one positive I would take from that horror show last night was Fabio Carvalho’s cameo off the bench. He offered something different with his penetrative forward runs and guile on the ball, so I’d definitely like to see him given more of a chance over the next few games.

MATT: Carvalho should certainly be looking at more playing time now, yes.

BANGKOK, THAILAND - Tuesday, July 12, 2022: Liverpool's Fabio Carvalho (R) and Manchester United's Raphaël Varane during the Bangkok Century Cup pre-season friendly match between Liverpool FC and Manchester United FC at the Rajamangala National Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

On 4-2-3-1, it’s very strange we didn’t even try it for one minute of pre-season. I’m not sure it’s the answer to our issues at the moment though, like Joel says, almost every single player appears to have a problem whether that’s fitness or form.

And like Jurgen has said, we can’t change to 4-2-3-1 because we don’t have four forwards available. Unless you went with Firmino behind Salah centrally, Carvalho and Diaz wide. Which is a bit disjointed.

JOANNA: Klopp has hinted at a formation change a number of times but, as Matt said, it was bizarre we didn’t see the 4-2-3-1 at any stage throughout the summer, if felt like a natural step.

I do think we will see it at some point but Klopp likes to stick to his guns and for now, we just need players who are going to show the fight necessary to get us climbing up the table!

 

We had 36-year-old Milner start in midfield. With all due respect to him, it’s not just a case of wanting reinforcements, it’s a need, isn’t it?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 22, 2022: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson (L) amd James Milner (R) look dejected as Manchester United score the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOEL: Absolutely. As much as I respect what Milner has achieved in the game, and what he has done for Liverpool over the years, the fact he’s still starting must-win Premier League games in 2022 is a damning indictment of the club’s failure to strengthen and refresh the midfield department.

It’s all well and good saying Liverpool have eight midfielders when everyone is fit and available, but the simple fact is that most of them are either past their peak, injury prone, young and unproven – or a mixture of all of those things.

I look at teams like Newcastle, who have the likes of Bruno Guimaraes, and Wolves, with Ruben Neves and Matheus Nunes, and there really isn’t much of a gulf in quality with what Liverpool have available at the moment. I’d also add that Fabinho, previously one of Liverpool’s most consistent performers, has been miles off his best for quite some time now.

There’s not one midfielder in the squad right now in the 23-27 age bracket, and for me, that’s a massive problem. I get the idea that they may well have their sights set on Jude Bellingham next summer, but Liverpool cannot afford to write off an entire season by not addressing the weakest part of their squad. With Milner and Oxlade-Chamberlain almost certain to leave as free agents, and potentially Keita as well, Liverpool will need at least two new midfielders next summer.

Choosing to stick with what they have for this season feels like a huge wasted opportunity, and I just don’t buy the idea that there isn’t a single midfielder out there who can make a positive impact on this Liverpool squad. The inability to control games is proving costly time and time again.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 22, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah looks dejected after the FA Premier League match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. Manchester United won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

MATT: Joel’s said it best regards Milner there. He was one of the few who looked to at least be putting the effort in and certainly showed he cared – although, that was wasteful at times, running into areas he shouldn’t be which created gaps or he couldn’t recover from, thus leaving gaps.

With regards to the Bellingham situation, even if we did sign him next summer, we still should be looking to have signed another midfielder as well.

There is not a single reason to extend Keita or Oxlade’s contracts, so that’s down to six midfielders. Milner will be gone/retired. Five. Henderson will be 33 – and I don’t expect him to have a Modric-style twilight of his career, as much as Klopp may speak about it.

Loyalty to these players is becoming our undoing and a more ruthless approach was needed already and it certainly is now.

You need to bring in two midfielders, ideally one now and Bellingham next summer. Giving you those two, plus Fabinho and Elliott to build your midfield around, with Thiago and/or Henderson as the experienced squad players.

JOANNA: You guys have summed it up brilliantly in regards to Milner and a blinding loyalty to players at a time when we ought to be building from a position of strength.

The great teams do just that.

You can’t look at the likes of Thiago, Ox and Keita and think they are three midfield options, they only really count as one such is their injury history.

We all know that change is afoot next summer, but any thought of short-term pain for long-term gain ought to be thrown off the table.

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