In a match day that saw fellow title contenders Arsenal and Tottenham each smash five past hapless opponents while table toppers Chelsea professionally dispatched Manchester City, Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool felt what some would describe as pressure to keep pace as the hectic December calendar opened with a flourish.
The last-gasp loss was disappointing, and as always, we break down some of the major storylines to come out of the latest round of play. Most are not new to frequent viewers of Liverpool, but at the moment, they are certainly the most pressing:
Loris Karius: Patience or Is It Time for Mignolet?
Needless to say, the Liverpool No. 1’s exceptionally poor performance was the major plotline on the day. After a nervy start to life on Merseyside in which he really didn't always have all that much to do, the former Mainz standout was finally appearing to settle into the side. A few decent showings encouraged, most notably as he whipped out some fine stops in the 6-1 win against Watford; however the significant upgrade in the command of the area and distribution department on an otherwise decent Simon Mignolet that we were promised hadn’t yet made an appearance.
Against Bournemouth, some of these niggling concerns were on full display. A distinct indecisiveness in dealing with balls into the box, numerous awkward flaps at easy saves and of course the crucial bobble of the bouncing, but fairly routine, shot that resulted in the match winner, meant that the German could arguably be held culpable for two of the Cherries’ four goals on the day.
The comparison to David De Gea’s rough maiden season has been trotted out on several occasions, but surely you would imagine that certain skill sets such as the ones mentioned above wouldn’t require that much of a bedding in period, should they?
And while Klopp has come out in the young German’s defense, one might also note that he also vociferously supported Alberto Moreno before banishing him to the purgatory between the first team and the reserves.
Former first choice ‘keeper, Simon Mignolet has taken the demotion well and the smart money would be on the gaffer trusting his assessment of his compatriot’s skill set, but more howlers like these will only increase the pressure on Karius in an all-important campaign.
A January Move for Center Half Cover Is Essential
The boo boys will be back in force peddling the tired “Liverpool can’t defend” trope. And true, with emerging star Joël Matip missing on the day to injury, the Red’s eight shots allowed on target were tied for the most Klopp’s side had allowed in the league so far this term (the other occasion being the 6-1 demolition of the Hornets).
The purchase of Joël Matip as the starter (it bears reminding, for the bargain price of £Free.99, a fact we will never tire of bringing up) was clearly intended to bolster the ranks in the heart of defense, such that one of either Dejan Lovren or Mamadou Sakho could step in on the occasion a slight knock kept a starter out in any given game.
Of course, now that the hapless Sakho has laid waste to that plan, young Joe Gomez still on the long road to full recovery, and with Klopp clearly not trusting Ragnar Klavan to handle the speed and ferocity of the Premier League, the burden of anchoring the defense when injury strikes has fallen upon the unlucky shoulders of Lucas Leiva. And let’s be clear: as great of a servant of the club the longstay Brazilian might be, he does not possess the same world class ability of a Javier Mascherano or a Xabi Alonso to easily slot back into a defensive role for club and country from a favored midfield position.
It’s easy to gloss over this sort of thing when the team is winning, but back lines that have included either Lucas or Klavan have looked unassured and error-prone (the two together were at 6’s and 7’s in the victory over Leeds United in midweek, with the shutout more due to poor finishing by the visitors than any particular defensive prowess). A Matip-less defense also appears to bring the worst out in Lovren, with the big Croatian looking largely unsettled without his regular partner.
Needless to say, recruits are needed along the back line (please, please, please, please) to ensure that the knocks that are sure to come over next six months don’t lead to more goal fests like these.
Football is a Game of Fine Margins
The headlines would have read, “Liverpool struggle against relegation minnows” if Mike van der Hoorn had taken the easier option of slotting home from five yards rather than hoofing it over in the final kick of the scrappy 2-1 win at Swansea City.
“Klopp engineers escape from the Mourinho bus” would’ve adorned the back pages if a 31-year old Antonio Valencia hadn’t decided to take a quick sip from the fountain of youth, outrun the 25-year old Roberto Firmino and deny the Reds a deserved winner back in October.
This time, it initially appeared that Divock Origi (he of the three goals in three games in the absence of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, who is not only seizing his unlikely opportunity but placing it in a full Nelson) was to be the one to steal the headlines as his swiveling volley in added time at first looked as if it had both the placement and the touch to softly nestle in the top corner. But alas, we are instead standing around the internet water cooler discussing Karius’ case of butter fingers.
Them’s just the breaks sometimes. The Premier League season is a slog and a test of endurance over a back-breakingly arduous 38 game campaign. Even Arsène Wenger’s Unbeatables of 2004 dropped points.
For example, while Antonio Conte’s success in reacquainting the English game with the three-at-the-back formation has yet to lose its novelty resulting in league-leading form, his Chelsea are also notable in that they have yet to lose anyone of significance to injury or suspension for an extended period of time so far this season. Not to wish ill on an opponent, but their own time will inevitably come, and it is then that Klopp and this resurgent Liverpool must be ready.