July 29, 2021

Have Liverpool’s bad decisions contributed to slump?

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In the latest Pitch to Post podcast, the panel analyse Liverpool’s slump and ask: is it down to bad luck, or has decision making been poor?

Liverpool’s 4-1 defeat by Manchester City leaves the champions 10 points off the leaders, who also have a game in hand.

Jurgen Klopp’s side have lost for the third straight game at home, and now have 27 fewer points than they had at this stage last season, the biggest drop by any reigning champion at this stage of a campaign in English top-flight history.

Liverpool have suffered long-term injuries at centre-back this season – to Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – but has some of their decision-making last summer and throughout this season been partly to blame?

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Decision 1: Not replacing Lovren

Dejan Lovren stepped in at centre-back for a large chunk of the 2019/20 season
Image: Dejan Lovren stepped in at centre-back for a large chunk of the 2019/20 season

Centre-back Dejan Lovren left the club in the summer to join Zenit St Petersburg, with Klopp not signing a replacement for the Croat. Should the club have played it safe?

Gerard Brand on the Pitch to Post Review podcast:

“Some things could have been avoided, but this is all with a caveat that Liverpool have experienced misfortune this season. I don’t think anyone is denying that. Nobody could have predicted that their three best centre-backs would miss most of the season. I think Klopp would like an asterisk next to their name for this season because of that.

“But have Klopp and Liverpool made mistakes? I think there are three big mistakes we could highlight. And Michael Edwards, the mysterious sporting director who does these incredible deals, particularly selling on unproven talent for big money, isn’t actually blameless.

“The first I think was selling Dejan Lovren without replacing him. I have never actually been a huge fan of Lovren over the years, but when he stood for a large chunk of last season in November and December, Liverpool won every game and kept their momentum going. He was also a hugely popular member of the dressing room.

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“There’s no problem with Liverpool letting him go, but either Klopp thought they had the cover in their youngers players Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams, or he risked his first-choice centre-backs not getting injured. I am not sure it’s the former; it’s clear he doesn’t trust Phillips or Williams for the rest of the season.”

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on your provider

Decision 2: Playing Jota vs Midtjylland

Liverpool v West Ham United - Premier League - Anfield
Liverpool's Diogo Jota with manager Jurgen Klopp during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. 31 October 2020
Image: Diogo Jota was injured in December during a dead-rubber Champions League group stage clash

Summer signing Diogo Jota, who had scored nine goals for Liverpool, was injured in a dead-rubber Champions League group stage clash with Midtjylland in December.

Ruled out for six to eight weeks at the time, Jota was part of a weaker starting XI in Denmark, and was injured on 87 minutes: should he have been risked at all?

Gerard Brand on the Pitch to Post Review podcast:

“Yes, Mo Salah also played, Trent Alexander-Arnold also played, and Fabinho also played, but Diogo Jota was Liverpool’s most in-form player at the time and didn’t need the minutes. He got injured and has been out since, and a huge part of Liverpool’s intensity in the final third has been missing since.”

Decision 3: Signing CBs late in January

Ozan Kabak was arguably the most high-profile Premier League signing on Deadline Day, moving to Liverpool from Schalke
Image: Ozan Kabak was signed by Liverpool from Schalke on Deadline Day

Liverpool waited until the 11th hour of the January window to sign defenders Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak, with Joel Matip ruled out for the rest of the season just days before the Deadline Day.

Could Liverpool have acted earlier? Since the January window opened, Liverpool have played Jordan Henderson at centre-back six times in the Premier League, and have taken just seven points out of a possible 21.

Gerard Brand on the Pitch to Post Review podcast:

“Liverpool waited until the end of January to sign a centre-back. I can understand the logic, as buying early in the window isn’t the done thing; the deal will always be worse, the selling team want to keep you waiting, and Liverpool maybe wanted to wait it out in and judge their injury scenario as close to February 1 as possible.

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“Well, they did, and did two quick deals, good deals I believe. People may say: ‘What difference does a month make?’ Well, Liverpool have lost the title in this period with three defeats, and even a week after the signings are starting two of their most important midfielders in defence.”

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on your provider

Thiago should come good, but it’s not clicking yet

Thiago and Liverpool team-mates during defeat to Man City
Image: Thiago and Liverpool team-mates during defeat to Man City

Summer signing Thiago’s long-awaited return from injury was welcomed by a Liverpool side who were struggling to break down stubborn sides.

Liverpool have won only three games out of 10 in all competitions since his return – one coming against Aston Villa’s U18 side – so is there a fear the Spain international is not clicking into Liverpool’s style yet?

Gerard Brand on the Pitch to Post Review podcast:

“I’ve previously said I thought Thiago held the key for Liverpool to win the title. Time and time again Liverpool were faced with a low defence and needed someone with that eye-of-a-needle passing to break through. But having watched Thiago closely in the past five weeks, I’m not convinced he’s up to scratch at the moment.

Liverpool

“He’s silky, he looks amazing on the ball at times, in his sort of swagger on the ball, but I’ll be honest, I think I was brainwashed.

“He’s had a couple of games where he’s looked effective, particularly when he’s in an eight and Wijnaldum is a six, but I think to accommodate him, Klopp has to alter the entire ethos of a midfield that has been the catalyst of their success. I think there’s a risk that at the moment he’s a luxury player, and that’s not a thing you’d ever associate with this Liverpool side.

“His fouling is a problem. We saw that after two minutes on Sunday, getting a yellow for a nasty foul, and he’s made more fouls than any player in the Premier League since returning in early January. He also gave the ball away far too often in the first half on Sunday.

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“People say they can watch Thiago play football all day, and I don’t disagree with that. But that means nothing for winning football teams. I’ll name you three footballers: Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Gini Wijnaldum – three players who won the title last season. I’m not sure anyone is saying: ‘I could watch Jordan Henderson play football all day long, or Wijnaldum, or Fabinho, he’s just so enjoyable to watch’ – that is just not the point.

“I’m yet to see that intensity. This Liverpool side are passing far more in the opposition half with Thiago, and that is not necessarily a good thing. It means they are going far less direct, and Liverpool won the title last season being direct, catching defences out, speed down the flanks, early balls from wide.

“The deal was good, and it’s clear he’s got technical ability, but you still have to fit into a system. I’m sure he will eventually, but at the moment, something isn’t clicking.”

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on your provider