Another frustrating performance, another draw, another two points dropped, and another round of eminently winnable matches instead seeing the Reds’ rivals narrow the gap to the league leaders. Below, we dive into the good and the bad of the current state of the Reds.
Thiago: The Spanish international made his long-awaited return to the pitch tonight, after Richarlison’s horror tackle in the Merseyside derby sidelined him for over two months, and he immediately improved things. Always in space and showing an impetus to move the ball with much greater speed than his team-mates had done in the preceding 70 minutes, the former Bayern man provided a creative threat from the middle of the park that had been sorely missing.
When he was signed, Thiago was described by this writer as one of very few players who could immediately improve Liverpool’s starting XI. Hopefully, he can get healthy and fulfill that prediction sooner rather than later.
Chances: Unlike against the Baggies at the weekend, and despite the players collectively looking out of sync and individually making a shocking number of mistakes, at least the Reds created some quality chances tonight, and on most matchdays, would have walked off the pitch winners by a goal or two.
It is entirely reasonable to be frustrated by tonight’s game, but the sleepwalking second-half capitulation against West Bromwich was far more worrying. Hopefully, we’ll see neither in the future, but if we must, this writer prefers the former.
CuJo: Listen, Curtis Jones has been remarkably good this year. He has produced much more than could reasonably have been expected of a 19-year old who, at the start of the season, had played 122 minutes of Premier League football.
That said, he has been real bad two games in a row now, and probably needs to be sat for a minute. Ponderous in possession, the academy product has shown a proclivity for getting caught on the ball — leading to the goal conceded at Anfield at the weekend — without offering much in the way of creativity at the other end to offset the risk.
With Thiago and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back in contention, Jones could be due a rest, and both he and the club will likely be better for it in the long run.
Trent: That one bonkers crossfield slicer in the first half notwithstanding, the Reds right-back had another off night. With only 2 accurate crosses and a single key pass from 102 touches, the 22-year old offered shockingly little on the offensive side of the ball, with both open play and set piece delivery uncharacteristically poor.
Mo: Rounding out the right-side rejects on the night was the Egyptian King. Despite topping the league’s goalscoring charts, Salah has struggled to get into position for high quality shots this season, racking up only six clear cut chances in 15 appearances. Two of them fell to him tonight, and the two-time Golden Boot winner missed them both.
The penalties and some exceptional finishing has masked the issue, but the former Roma man has seen both his shot volume and quality drop to unprecedented lows this season, and if he can’t pick things back up, his starting position could be under serious threat from Diogo Jota when the Portuguese returns from injury next month.
Centre-Backs: The Reds need one. Stat. Nat Phillips is a big unit and probably a nice guy, but he’s not a Premier League defender, and certainly not up to the tasks required of him at Liverpool, specifically. Fabinho is decent enough short-term cover — even though his lack of pace and tendency to sit down on his tackles causes some issues — but he is one of the world’s premier defensive midfielders, and Liverpool would be much better served using him there.
Somebody else can check the records, but it is unlikely that any team has ever won the Premier League without any healthy senior centre-backs. If Liverpool wish to repeat on last season’s success, they desperately need to fill the void in the centre of their defense by the time January ends.
What Happens Next
The calendar is a bit of a mess in the coming month, as the Reds now have five days off before traveling to Southampton on Monday, then take on Aston Villa in a meaningless FA Cup match the subsequent Friday, before there’s a nine day gap until the top-of-the-table clash with Manchester United. In theory, this should mean nearly a full two weeks for the first team squad to train, recover, and perhaps even get healthy.
Whether that is how it ends up playing out — spoilers: we doubt it — remains to be seen, but on paper, at least, there is some surprising respite to be had in the near future.