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Flawed Liverpool Still Dangerous

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While there are areas of the team that can improve, recent profligacy will not continue for too long with Liverpool’s attacking options.

Watford v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images

Of all the things that Liverpool need to improve under Jürgen Klopp, playing with attacking purpose and scoring goals is not one of them. Forget recent form for a moment and cast your eyes at the four players that will almost inevitably start most game when fit: Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, and Roberto Firmino. Daniel Sturridge on song adds extra quality to an already strong group of players that can find a breakthrough in most games. Spartak Moscow managed to restrict the quartet to a single goal, but many teams will not be so fortunate once they get going.

Although this should be quite clear to most observers, there were grumbles in the aftermath of Tuesday’s draw in Moscow to the effect that Liverpool need to buy a striker that will score goals and more goals. Interestingly, there was little in the way of complaint before the international break. It was staggering to see Roberto Firmino, Liverpool’s number nine, described as a player that doesn’t score enough for the club to win trophies. It was astonishing as this seems to overlook his role in the team.

If Liverpool are to retain a system, where much attacking output comes from wide positions, with Roberto Firmino in a front three as the team's multi-functional attacking and counter pressing pivot; Salah would address two needs: goals and pace. Even with a different striker of note, such as the depressingly underappreciated Daniel Sturridge, the result should still be fruitful. Yet "the Egyptian Messi" (sincere apologies) could benefit enormously from playing with Firmino and vice versa; one should think of Luciano Spalletti's innovative use of the legendary Francesco Totti as a false nine during his first managerial spell at Roma.

The same goes for Mané as well as Coutinho. They can benefit from the presence of one of Klopp’s two tactical leaders. Like Adam Lallana, Firmino sets the tone for how Liverpool play as Klopp desires. If one thinks of the most notable performances and victories under Klopp’s aegis, the Brazilian international is often central irrespective of whether he manages to put his name on the scoresheet.

It is understandable to be frustrated after September’s travails, especially after August’s rousing wins over Hoffenheim and Arsenal without the craft of Coutinho. Liverpool headed into the international break and final few days of the transfer window in good spirits. Surely a month cannot herald seemingly unfettered despair. Perhaps it can for some, but nothing has changed. This outfit remains enterprising yet flawed with uncertainy and intermittent incompetence in the defensive spine of the team. Effective leadership, game management, structural resistance to counter attacks, and set pieces are all still quite questionable indeed.

However, the attack should be trusted. The other areas, however, may not reliable sources of confidence. Work must be done throughout the team in training sessions, but individual quality will ultimately dictate what can grow considering most of the first team are mature footballers. Of the players to have made a competitive appearance this season, only Joe Gomez, Dominic Solanke, Ben Woodburn, and Trent Alexander-Arnold are under the age of 23. Klopp can develop young players to fulfil their potential, find new positions for senior players to utilise their talents more effectively, and help underperforming players become more competent; however, he cannot fundamentally alter the nature of certain players.

We should take heart that Liverpool’s attackers cannot be kept down for too long; they are too talented to be subdued for long. Soon enough they will be hailed for their productivity and thanked for covering up defensive frailties. They will deliver.