It has been difficult to pinpoint, outside of the obvious injury issues, what exactly has gone wrong on the pitch with Liverpool early in the season.
The 9-0 win over Bournemouth aside, the Reds have looked blunt going forward, toothless in middle of the park and fragile at the back.
Wednesday’s crushing 4-1 defeat to Napoli in the opening Champions League group game was the culmination of a poor run of form stretching back to the end of the last season, suggesting the root causes run deeper than it appears on the surface.
Is it fatigue from a last year’s wearying quadruple-chasing campaign? Have too many key players lost that critical step? Is it age? Manager, Jurgen Klopp, for one is adamant that the issue is much simpler and fixable:
“We were never compact,” the Reds boss said Thursday regarding the Napoli loss. “I cannot remember a situation where we were compact. We had not one counter-pressing situation in 60 minutes, in a game where we lost a lot of balls.”
“Just because we were too far away from everything. That means too wide in possession, we don’t push up with the last line, the midfield is not connected.
“The questions now, because I know the boys want—they want to win football games—and the questions why they don’t do, that’s obviously my job to figure that out.”
The famous Liverpool defensive high line was seemingly exposed every time Napoli attacked, and it was arguably only the departures of Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia due to injury that saved the Reds’ defenders from even further embarrassment on the night. However, Klopp explained that the problems at the back also stemmed from issues further up the field:
“The high line is only a risk if we don’t have pressure on the ball,” the German continued. “If we have a high line and we don’t have any pressure, yes, then it is a risk—but it’s usually not the case.
“The problem is not the high line. We need the high line to be compact. The problem was we never get close enough to put the opponent under pressure.
“Until Thiago entered the pitch I can’t remember one counter-pressing situation. The answer for this is we were just too wide.
“If you are not playing exceptionally well you can still defend on a really high level, you should be able to do that.”