Jurgen Klopp recently described goals from set pieces as his “favourite goals,” but the worry is that his team have become more and more reliant on such goals as creativity dwindles.
Klopp was perhaps only half serious after both goals scored at home to Rangers were via set-pieces and his reasoning that “you don’t have to wait for VAR, you just can celebrate them,” is a fair point.
However, less than three weeks later he was left to bemoan missed chances from set-pieces as his Liverpool side lost to bottom-of-the-table Nottingham Forest to continue their turgid away form this season.
“I never saw a game where one team has four, five no-brainers from a set-piece, we have to finish them off” said Klopp after a third defeat in five away games.
That two of those have been at newly promoted sides is alarming, but the manager denied the question when asked about the away form of two points from 15 available so far this season. “You cannot compare these games,” he insisted.
It was identical to his denial that conceding first was an issue when asked early in the season. “You cannot compare” he said again, saying that those were games at the end of what was a 63-game season.
His side then went on to concede first in six of the next nine games, with high-profile early goals at Man United, Napoli and Arsenal, and players including Andy Robertson, Ibrahima Konate and Virgil van Dijk admitting the issue.
An already fatigued Liverpool have been left to constantly chase games and exert more energy, no wonder they all look so tired and leggy.
The question over what is Liverpool’s biggest problem this season could be answered by simply saying that there are so many problems.
There’s the mental and physical fatigue that’s clearly on show, there’s almost every outfield player being well below their best (and in some cases below what they’ve ever shown in a Liverpool shirt), there’s the incredible injury issues that must be seeing internal reviews take place over why… The list goes on.
Then there’s the whole investment in the side and failure to sign a midfielder (again).
It is abundantly clear that Liverpool a) needed a midfielder in the summer, and b) wanted to sign a midfielder in the summer. We cannot include deadline loan signing Arthur as that.
Liverpool had a massive 75% possession at the City Ground, but had a lower xG (expected goals) than their opponents (1.66 vs. 1.85). Klopp insists that his side should have won the game through the chances they (mostly Virgil van Dijk) had off set-pieces, but the Reds’ best player was still the goalkeeper.
Forest had five ‘big chances’ vs. Liverpool’s four (of which three were from set pieces).
Quite simply, Liverpool’s creativity from open play was extremely poor and that’s a trend that has increased this season, especially when Thiago is not in the team.
With Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho as the ‘wide’ players in the ‘new’ 4-4-2 system, Liverpool were extremely narrow against Forest, with both cutting inside and playing straight into Forest’s hands.
“We were lacking runs in behind, vision in the centre and we didn’t create that much,” admitted Klopp in another post-match interview, so at least he is aware of the issue(s).
Which opens up the midfield signing can of worms.
“I do not understand”
Klopp’s words early in the summer on the midfield seemed odd at the time and even more ironic now. “I do not understand,” he said of the need for a midfield signing.
“We can go through it. Where do you want to start?
You could answer a lot to that question; goals, creativity, legs, dynamism, all of the qualities of a modern midfielder. Availability too.
Truth be told, Liverpool do not currently possess a player with the qualities of a modern midfielder. Elliott is the closest to it, Carvalho certainly shows potential, but they’re 19 and 20 and far from their prime or finished products.
Not to mention that with the injury records of Keita, Thiago and Oxlade, Liverpool never had eight midfielders.
“If the situation stays like it is, then tell me why [Liverpool would look to sign a midfield player]?” Klopp said in July.
“I don’t understand. I do not understand. People told me about this discussion, but the last thing that would have crossed my mind is that we have to do this.”
Of course, at least in part his words were said to provide a positive outlook ahead of the season and he was hardly going to criticise his players, especially after last season. But internally he did understand the midfield question, proven by the attempts to sign Aurelien Tchouameni.
Liverpool’s midfield has always been the debate under Klopp. Take these words from a year before, in August 2021 shortly after Gini Wijnaldum departed:
“So you tell me if you would sign a midfielder and tell me the name and I’ll think about it.
“Should he score more goals than Gini, should he defend better than Fab, should he be more creative than Naby, Curtis, Ox, Harvey? What do you want?”
Put to him that goals from midfield was an issue, Klopp responded:
“So he should score more goals, makes sense. I don’t know which midfielder it is then that scores more goals from that position, we never said we don’t have to improve.
“But to score more from midfield positions you have to create the situations for that. A midfielder has to play for us in a way that we play, and it’s not that easy that he’s in goalscoring situations.
“They have to do different jobs, we have a specific setup for our team. You see where our full-backs are in certain situations, we could have scored more goals, yes.
“It’s not about having a different player for that, it’s about different positioning in that situation and our boys can do that as well.”
Of course, supporters will enviosuly look at Kevin de Bruyne and say that’s what Liverpool need, especially after watching Steven Gerrard do exactly that for so many years.
Supporters probably won’t be the only ones yearning for a De Bruyne or Gerrard either, with such a midfielder perhaps being key to unlocking Darwin Nunez‘s potential. The Uruguayan needs a midfielder who can play the passes quickly in behind for him, creating a partnership like that of Gerrard and Fernando Torres.
Until Klopp solves the midfield problem, he won’t be able to reinvent this team.
Stats provided by FotMob.