Since hitting seven against Crystal Palace in a supremely clinical performance, Klopp’s side have gone goal-shy, to say the least. Sadio Mane is the only player to have scored in a run of four games without a win, with the opponents having been West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United, Southampton and Manchester United.
With league games against Burnley, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United still to come this month, the champions need to get back scoring if they are to retain their crown. Speaking after the 0-0 against United, that saw the Reds close in on 350 minutes without a league goal, Jurgen Klopp insisted the goals will come again.
“The only possibility to score is to create situations and to be ready to fail and do it again, and there’s a massive difference when you are flying [and don’t take the chance],” he said. “We didn’t score but we will create chances and we will score.”
The problem is two-fold, Liverpool are missing the chances they are getting but also aren’t actually creating the chances they were earlier in the season - or over the past three years when they have been so impressive. In the last four games, Klopp’s side have managed just 10 shots on target, and have an average expected goals of 1.3 per game. The 1.1 expected goals in consecutive games against Newcastle and Southampton was worse than every game expect one for Liverpool this season.
It could quite well be hypothesised that Klopp, in seeking to address the defensive conundrum without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, has solved one issue but created another. Playing Liverpool’s two best pressing-midfielders, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, at centre-back completely changes the dynamic of the team.
In the last 13 league games, though nobody has scored more than one goal against Liverpool, and only seven goals have been conceded. So on paper, the defence isn’t the issue. However, that ignores from the removald of Fabinho and Henderson from midfield, the lack of Van Dijk’s aerial threat on set-pieces, and, perhaps most crucially, the ability to play a higher line and press opponents higher up the pitch.
With Van Dijk and Gomez not returning any time soon, how do Liverpool solve this? Here are some potential ideas.
1. A change in formation
4-3-3 has been the de facto formation for Klopp but he did turn to a 4-2-3-1 shape briefly a couple of seasons ago - which was also his formation of choice at Dortmund. That brief spell saw Mohamed Salah as the No.9 centrally and it could well be worth a look at again.
This could mean Xherdan Shaqiri playing on the right, where he has played predominantly during his career, and the Swiss’ creativity is certainly something that would be beneficial to keep in the team. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would also be an option here and both those players offer a threat from outside of the box, something Liverpool have certainly lacked of late and therefore low-block teams have been able to stifle them successfully.
2. Play Takumi Minamino
When Liverpool hit seven past Palace - their biggest ever Premier League win - it saw Takumi Minamino score his first league goal for the club, with the Japanese starting in place of Salah and having comfortable his best performance since arriving a year ago.
Since then, Minamino hasn’t played a minute of Premier League football, despite the lack of goals. It’s a very strange situation. With Roberto Firmino looking like a player who has played far too much football in the last three seasons and is now suffering for it, surely Minamino is worth more of a chance?
3. Rotate the full-backs more
In pre-season, Klopp acknowledged that it would not be possible - especially in a condensed pandemic season - to play Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson as regularly as they have been.
“Robbo and Trent, let’s say, they cannot play every season 50-something games... it would limit their careers,” he said. But despite that, each has played in every Premier League and Champions League game in which they have been available.
New signing Kostas Tsimikas and youngster Neco Williams clearly aren’t trusted by Klopp and it’s placing a massive over-reliance on Liverpool’s full-backs, who look like players playing in the most physically demanding role in the team, during a condensed season and having barely missed a game of football for the two seasons preceding it.
4. Await Diogo Jota's return
Liverpool’s best and most consistent attacker this season has been Diogo Jota, with the Portuguese player certainly impressing since his summer switch from Wolves. Nine goals, five of them in the league, saw him fit in at Anfield quickly, but a knee injury in mid-December has him sidelined and subsequently Liverpool’s regular front three facing very little competition for places.
Jota was initially ruled out for eight weeks, meaning a return in mid-February, but some reports had suggested a potential return earlier than that. Having him back available for the home game against Manchester City on February 6 would certainly be a massive boost.
Jota being back would allow Klopp to rotate his attack, especially with Jota so versatile to be able to play any of the attacking roles.
5. Pray that Joel Matip stays fit
“From tomorrow on he will train normally, so then hopefully everything will be fine,” said Klopp about Joel Matip on Sunday. But the likelihood of Matip staying fit and therefore everything being ‘fine’ seems extremely remote.
Matip has started consecutive league games just once this season, limping out of the second on the one occasion that happened. He’s had five different injuries this season alone. Even Minamino has played more minutes than Matip this season and youngster Rhys Williams has only played 11 fewer minutes.
Matip’s injury record means it really would take divine intervention for him to remain fit, and therefore Henderson to return to midfield, but it would certainly improve the attack by having the centre-back available.
When he is playing, Matip seems to dovetail quite well with Fabinho and the duo could become a very effective partnership. Matip is able to step out of defence with the ball, and is impressively adept at playing line-breaking passes from the middle. These are key to Liverpool’s attack.
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