Injury problems, questions over his midfield and defensive lapses have left Liverpool on the back foot ALREADY… when even a draw can be fatal in a race with Man City, what can Jurgen Klopp do to fire up his Reds after flopping at Fulham?
- Liverpool drew 2-2 at Fulham on the opening day of the Premier League season
- When the margins with Man City are so fine, they cannot afford more mistakes
- Injuries are mounting for Jurgen Klopp, with Thiago the latest to be sidelined
- Worryingly, defensive errors and slow starts are also occurring far too often
- Klopp has a number of issues to address before the Reds host Crystal Palace
What a difference a week can make.
From the high of beating Manchester City in the Community Shield with a dazzling display to the frustration of being held to a 2-2 draw by Fulham on the opening day of the Premier League season.
Seven days is certainly a long time in football but for Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool team, there is already a sense that their backs are against the wall.
A frustrated Jurgen Klopp watched on as his Liverpool side were held to a 2-2 draw at Fulham
In a title battle with Pep Guardiola’s side where any slip up feels like the end of the world, Klopp will be worried that a sluggish start could end any hope of competing before we even get out of August.
It may seem very reactionary to say that, but those are the standards the teams have set in the last four seasons and the disappointment of leaving two points at Fulham was there for all to see.
Mo Salah and Virgil van Dijk looked furious as they walked back to the dressing room at the full-time whistle while Klopp – who looked annoyed all afternoon – had shared some stern words with Alisson and was angry when Andy Robertson chose the wrong option.
As well as the abject performance, Klopp is having to deal with a growing list of injuries to key players, question marks over his midfield options and that his defence is far too prone to lapses.
Worryingly for fans, however, the German manager had concerns about his players’ attitude at Craven Cottage – an accusation that has rarely been levelled at his ‘mentality monsters’.
The Reds already cannot afford to drop many more points in the title race with Man City
Speaking after the game – in which Salah bailed the Reds out with a late equaliser – Klopp said: ‘The best thing about today was the result.
‘The fact we got a point after a really bad game from my side. Now it’s a question of “how can that happen?”
‘The attitude was not right in the beginning, then we wanted to fight back, but you don’t find it easy anymore.
‘The pitch was dry, we played into their cards… The result is fine, I don’t think we deserve more than that. But the performance is massively improvable.’
Was it a case of taking Fulham too lightly after they brushed aside City at the King Power Stadium a week earlier?
The performance was lacklustre throughout. Liverpool were never in control of the game and could barely string a succession of passes together in the first half as the newly-promoted side smothered and suffocated them.
With Liverpool trailing 1-0 just after half time, the injury crisis got worse when Thiago Alcantara pulled up with a suspected hamstring problem.
Klopp is already without Naby Keita, Ibrahima Konate, Curtis Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kostas Tsimikas and Diogo Jota. Everybody is needed to contribute at Liverpool so that many injuries is a huge problem.
Thiago limped off with a hamstring problem – another injury to add to Liverpool’s lengthy list
Midfield depth at Anfield had already been the subject of fierce debate during the off-season. Were there enough options and talent to get Liverpool across the line in the Premier League and Champions League?
When everybody is fit and available, Liverpool have plenty. Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Thiago, Keita, Jones, Elliott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner and Fabio Carvalho can all play there.
But it is the availability and reliability of some members of that group that is the problem and the source of concern among fans who feel another option should have been bought.
Thiago, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain have proven they cannot be relied upon to perform for an entire campaign. As Klopp said after Saturday’s game, it is a tough balancing act to get right.
‘I know what will now come up, it’s clear,’ he told Liverpool’s website. ‘We said we don’t need a midfielder because we have enough – and we actually have enough, but the problem now is we get punished for something that is not our responsibility really because things like this can happen.
‘Nobody could image that Curtis (Jones) gets the thing he gets; it is nothing serious but he is a young boy and it is a kind of stress reaction. Bodies are like this. Naby is only ill and he will now be back definitely next week again. Oxlade happened early and now with Thiago that is, of course, not good and we will see.
‘Look, a transfer must make sense now and in the long-term; we have midfielders, we have still enough midfielders. It is not that we lack midfielders, but it’s just some of them are injured.
The Reds have now gone 1-0 down in seven of their last nine matches across all competitions
‘This is not a good situation, I don’t like it at all, but we have to see how we react on that – but for sure not panicking.’
The midfield has been left until next summer to address and with Henderson, Fabinho, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thiago all 28 or older, big changes are coming.
The injury to Thiago may prompt Klopp into a change of system that was speculated about this summer when the Reds opted to sign Darwin Nunez.
The arrival of a more traditional striker prompted theories that Klopp could deviate away from his preferred 4-3-3 system that has worked so well and instead go for a 4-2-3-1 in some matches.
Keita should be back to face Crystal Palace at Anfield on August 15 but Roberto Firmino, Elliott and Carvalho can all operate in the No 10 role behind Nunez. Klopp certainly has flexibility.
While injuries only get better with time, a worrying trend that Klopp will want to eradicate quickly is his team’s recent tendency to start matches slow.
Darwin Nunez once again looked really sharp when he came off the bench at Craven Cottage
The Reds have now gone 1-0 down in seven of their last nine matches across all competitions, including each of their last five Premier League games.
Of those seven times, four were inside the first 15 minutes. Starting each match a goal down is not helpful with teams then willing to drop deeper and deeper to hang on to what they have.
With Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea all to come before the end of September, Klopp will be desperate to tighten things up.
It is not all doom and gloom for the Reds, though. Darwin Nunez once again looked incredibly sharp when he came off the bench at Craven Cottage, scoring one and helping Salah with his equaliser.
Firmino’s place in the attacking pecking order looks like it’s diminishing and it will surely not be long until Nunez is unleashed on the Premier League from the very start.
Salah and Luis Diaz also look particularly sharp on the flanks and they are will be a menacing threat this season.
If a team has proven they have what it takes to recover from a setback time and time again, it is Klopp’s Liverpool. But when the margins to Man City are so fine, they already cannot afford too many costly mistakes.