As the first half of the season came to a close and the new year rolled in, Liverpool looked poised to push on in the second half of the season; seemed perfectly set up to secure a top four finish and make a strong case for silverware in the FA Cup and, just maybe, in the Champions League.
A month later and they’re limping towards the end of the transfer window on the verge of a crisis, having sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, lost to the two worst teams in the Premier League, and with the defence looking a shambles. Though on that last point, the real problem may lie elsewhere.
“I think defensively Liverpool’s display against West Bromy was the worst we’ve seen since Tottenham,” noted former Red John Aldridge. “We were a laughing stock. You can blame the defence but I think the midfield has to take some blame, they didn’t protect them in any shape or fashion.”
Having sold Coutinho, Liverpool now lack quality attacking options behind Jürgen Klopp’s starting trio up top. And the £75M signing of Virgil van Dijk hasn’t solved Liverpool’s defensive woes. Midfield, though, and in particular the base of it, could be where the real problems lie for this side.
One only has to look at the way they improved after Jordan Henderson came on in the second half—despite that he was returning from a long layoff and hasn’t looked at his best this season when fit. Despite that, the improvement was clear—Liverpool, for the first time, looked something like competent.
“Defensively it was shocking,” Aldridge added. “We’ve been beaten by the bottom team and the second bottom team now. I didn’t think we were great going forward but we did enough. It may be West Brom caught Liverpool by surprise in midfield by being more open than in the first game at Anfield.”
Surprise or not, though, it shouldn’t have happened. Not against a side as poor as West Brom, and not when Liverpool’s players knew they needed to show they could bounce back following the Swansea loss. That it did speaks to this current squad’s deficiencies, particularly in the middle.
And with all signs pointing to the club ending the transfer window without making any new signings, it looks like the hope will have to be that Henderson can stay fit—and in at least competent form. If he can do that, this is a Liverpool side that might just find its footing and form again.
If Liverpool’s defence and the midfield in front of it doesn’t improve, though—if it remains defensively porous and lacking guile on the ball—this is a side that is going to struggle both to break stubborn sides down and to prevent their opponents the chance to run freely at their back line and goalkeeper.