The bad news is that the Reds threw away another lead to draw 2-2 to West Ham at the weekend, falling six points off the league summit entering the hectic festive period. However the good news is: Coutinho! While it would be way more fun to bask in the latter, we gather again around the digital water cooler to discuss the former:
Lady Luck still away on holiday
To be fair, the bad news isn’t even all that bad. The means were certainly different, but the end product was by and large the same. The XI on the pitch on Sunday, even missing Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can, still put in a performance fairly reminiscent of the side that has eviscerated the league to the tune of 30 goals in 13 games prior to this point: scintillating touch passing, all out assaults on the opponent’s goal, hard pressing...and of course the occasional lapse in concentration on the defensive end.
Sadio Mane dovetailed nicely with Divock Origi as a sort of second striker at times, with the Senegalese wide man regaining his relentless early season form after a few recent subdued performances to terrorize the Hammer defense. Adam Lallana once again pulled the strings from midfield, further demonstrating his increasing value to the side with a tricky but well-taken goal. Per usual, the Reds pinned the visitors in their own box for large swathes of the match, zipping the ball around and letting loose 18 shots on goal.
On most days, those five goals in two games would’ve been enough to put away any of the league’s basement dwellers, while six notches in the goals against column over the same period usually isn’t. On this occasion, only two Liverpool shots found the back of net while the two defensive errors came at the expense of points. Lady Luck simply didn’t make an appearance on the day.
There isn’t really much to “fix” about the team’s performance here. The only fixing that needs to happen is on the physio’s table, getting the ailing troops back and firing to help Jürgen Klopp navigate the upcoming winter gauntlet.
Firmino misses his samba partner
The Liverpool performance was that much more impressive considering that they were not only missing their talisman in Coutinho, but also it seemed, his compatriot, Roberto Firmino, largely invisible for long periods of the match.
From a new starting position on the left, the Brazilian struck an isolated figure, not appearing to be on the same wavelength as Mané, Origi and Lallana, echoing a similarly fruitless performance against Bournemouth. His frustration was palpable, with the normally-pleasant striker at one point viciously lashing a dead ball into the Anfield ad board after accidentally shinning the ball out of bounds for a goal kick.
Since unexpectedly usurping the center forward role from Daniel Sturridge in the 4-1 evisceration of Manchester City just over a year ago, Firmino has become a Klopp favorite, essentially gegenpressing made flesh, while also developing a near telepathic understanding with Coutinho along the front line. The sudden drop in form is understandably tied to the new position change and the loss of his partner in crime.
However, with Coutinho shooting for a New Year’s Eve return and Mané shipping out to the African Cup of Nations not too long after, the expectation presumably is that the former Hoffenheim man will be asked to take up similar positions on the wings for the foreseeable future to accommodate the less flexible duo of Sturridge and Origi. The challenge for Klopp will be to find a way to get such a mercurial talent back to his best while still ensuring that the best possible XI is out on the pitch.
But Karius dominates the headlines once again
The bad stretch of luck for young Karius continued against West Ham, with the media quick to lay the blame for both concessions squarely on the keeper’s shoulders. Unconvincing for the Dmitri Payet free kick for the first goal and unluckily on the end of an comedy of defensive errors for the second, it’s fair to say that Loris didn’t quite have the bounce back performance he would have surely wanted after coming in for criticism in last week’s loss to Bournemouth.
While most of the criticism on this occasion was a bit harsh, his preparation to combat arguably the league’s best free kick taker for Payet’s goal was certainly questionable. The 23-year old’s construction of the wall as well as his own positioning seemed intended to invite the sharpshooting Frenchman to aim at the exact spot where virtually all of the forward’s dead ball goals taken from that position to date have been scored. Seriously. All of them:
“Betcha you won’t shoot to your favorite side. I double-dog dare you”
More than anything, the the 23-year old simply appears nervous on the pitch, which has obviously negatively impacting his mechanics and overall decision making, and belying the confidently defiant stance he often strikes in interviews. True to form, Klopp and other cooler heads have stood by the first choice keeper, trusting the promise that saw the youngster rated behind only the inimitable Manuel Neuer in the Bundesliga last year.
Karius will need to translate that job security into redoubled effort on the training ground, building confidence through repetition. Furthermore, as someone surely must have warned the young German upon arriving in the land of the brutal British press, it would be best to simply avoid aggravating the talking heads (a posse to whom Jamie Carragher unfortunately now undoubtedly belongs) as they will only seek out conflict for ratings.