Where has it all gone wrong for Liverpool?* And why Bill Shankly’s words are relevant now more than ever (*yes, we realise that being 22 points clear is hardly a crisis!)
- Liverpool fell to their third defeat in four games in the FA Cup away to Chelsea
- Jurgen Klopp’s side have been the best side in England for the 2019-20 season
- Going 180 minutes without a goal is therefore alarming for a side so dominant
- Sportsmail analyses the shape Liverpool are in to take on upcoming challenges
Sometimes it pays to delve into Anfield history. There are always words to provide perspective, and one famous phrase fits Liverpool’s situation.
Inevitably, it is attributed to Bill Shankly. He was asked, during a spell when things were not going Liverpool’s way, how a sequence of disappointing results was affecting him and his players.
‘Aye,’ came the gruff, withering reply. ‘Here we are having problems at the top of the league.’
Liverpool have suffered three defeats in four games in a surprising blip for Jurgen Klopp’s side
The words of legendary Liverpool boss Bill Shankly seem more relevant now than ever before
The boom and bust nature of modern football means Liverpool — after back-to-back defeats and 180 minutes without a goal — are in the spotlight. The achievements from August to February no longer seem relevant. The here and now is all that matters.
It is indisputable that Liverpool are not playing with the verve that set their mid- winter performances apart, but is it really that bad?
Sportsmail analyses what has gone wrong and what shape they are in to confront the looming challenges.
From December 7 to February 15, Liverpool’s first-team squad played 17 games in 70 days. The only teams to score against them were Monterrey in the Club World Cup, Wolves in the Premier League and Shrewsbury in the FA Cup.
They were so mean domestically that Raul Jimenez was the only Premier League striker to breach their back four in 990 minutes.
To ship eight goals in the last four matches, then, is regarded as unacceptable by Virgil van Dijk and his colleagues.
Virgil van Dijk and the rest of the defence have offered up more chances in their recent games
‘Look,’ said Jurgen Klopp after Chelsea bounced Liverpool out of the FA Cup on Tuesday night.
‘Usually you don’t get a lot of chances against us, but we have to admit in the last three games, maybe four, we have conceded too many goals.’
That criticism was also levelled at Liverpool earlier in the campaign. It was fixed then and it can be fixed again. Some players are not in their best form, including key defensive midfielder Fabinho, who recently returned from injury, but Klopp will not be fretting.
MISSING THE CAPTAIN
Those who work with Jordan Henderson every day will tell you he has been in the zone all season and his determination to lead Liverpool to win the Premier League has been relentless.
He sets standards on and off the field and his outstanding form could mean he wins PFA Player of the Year.
Henderson is making good progress recovering from the hamstring injury he sustained in the 1-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid on February 18.
Since getting injured away to Atletico Madrid, club captain Jordan Henderson has been missed
He has done all the medical department has asked but there is no indication when he will next play, although he hopes to be ready for the return leg with Atletico next Wednesday.
Henderson’s absence in the last three games has been increasingly noticeable and the onus is on those who have replaced him.
‘We can’t deny he’s been outstanding this year,’ Van Dijk said. ‘He is our captain. We appreciate everything he does for us. But we have quality players all over the pitch — the reality is everyone else has to step up.’
Klopp has campaigned for his players to be given time off but history shows that his Liverpool side do not hit the ground running after a holiday. Take last season: they went to Dubai in January during an 11-day hiatus but on returning they drew five of their next seven games.
In February 2017, they had 16 days off in February and were lacerated 3-1 by Leicester when they resumed. It takes them time to get up a head of steam but, when they do, the good results come in a steady stream.
They are also never better than when they have a target to pursue. If they struggle to rouse themselves for Atletico’s visit, facing a 1-0 aggregate deficit, that would indicate their problems are deep.
Klopp’s side have typically found getting back up to speed tough following an extended break
SHUTTING OUT THE NOISE
Henderson has banned all talk of Liverpool becoming champions, so there is little chance he will allow any doubts to creep in because they have taken a couple of false steps. He calls regular meetings with the squad and will remind them of what is coming.
Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how a narrative is suddenly being cultivated that a team with a 22-point advantage at the top of the table — one that took 109 points from 111 available — could have an anti-climactic campaign if they ‘only’ become champions.
‘So we ‘just’ end up with the Premier League? Yeah? Just?’ Van Dijk said with incredulity. ‘We also won the Super Cup and the Club World Cup. There are always people that are not satisfied. Let’s focus on ‘just’ the Premier League, because it’s very small, huh?’
Shankly, you suspect, would nod his head at that appraisal.
Recent losses are frustrating but this side can get back on track by focusing on the league title
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