By Shaun Wylde – @ShaunWylde
Liverpool’s previously much-lauded attack has been quite disappointing this season.
That’s not to say that Salah, Mane or Firmino have been much different compared to this point last season but they have definitely not hit the same heights, as is the same for most of the squad in an attacking sense.
The football in general has been a far cry from what we witnessed last year. The free flowing aggressive flair has been replaced by a rigid conservative style and its been hard to pin point whether the change has been on purpose or if everything has just naturally gone this way because of the options Klopp now has in defence.
Virgil van Dijk and Alisson have made Liverpool a more stable defensive unit and I think because of this we have seen our pressing style lack some of its intensity as we now feel we have the ability to soak up pressure a little more and then hit teams on the counter.
The Tottenham game at Wembley is a perfect example of this; we only started pressing intensely as the ball entered the middle third whereas last season we would have likely pressed from the front a lot more.
Additionally, against Manchester City we seemed like we were back to our old tactics for the first 20 minutes but when we didn’t score early on we sat back a lot more and almost engaged in a low block style.
This is all very unusual for one of Klopp’s teams which are known for being risk taking sides, Liverpool have been a far cry from this description all season. We have been a side more based on control rather than chaos, which goes against our blueprint quite a bit. I don’t, however, think this is all intentional.
I think its been clear for a lot of fans that we have been lacking an edge in attack all season and its become obvious to a some of us why this is.
Our best performances this season have tended to be the one where Shaqiri was on the pitch and we have him playing in a No. 10 role behind the attack or have pushed him to the right wing and had Firmino drop back into the attacking midfield role with Salah pushed upfront. Without Shaqiri (as we saw against Arsenal and Red Star in the past week) we have lacked that link from midfield to attack and we have begun to pay for it.
The truth is that our midfield is just not creative enough when in a 4-3-3. Milner, Wijnaldum, Henderson all do a job but the creativity is just not there for our front three to feed off when we don’t have someone there with the eye for a killer pass so mane or Salah can make certain runs which they don’t seem willing to do when we have the workhorse midfield out.
Everyone knows Ox is a big miss this season and I think Salah’s performances are a perfect example of what we’ve lost. Salah has played better when Shaqiri has been on the pitch because he’s had someone in there feeding balls behind for him, not down the channel but into dangerous areas in the box like Coutinho and Ox did last season.
The fact that in January we will have gone a full year without replacing Coutinho is nothing short of disgraceful and is a massive factor in why we haven’t replicated the same attacking performances of last season.
Another big factor could be the loss of Buvac, Klopp’s right hand man for 17 years abruptly left the club towards the end of last season and it seems like we won’t know the truth about his exit for a long time but you can’t help but wonder if his exit has effected the team on the pitch more than they let on.
Assistant managers tend to actually run the training sessions and Klopp even earmarked Buvac as “the brain” saying that he usually noticed what was going wrong in a game before Klopp himself did. It’s not unfair to speculate that Klopp has lost a significant weapon in his armoury in Buvac and there’s still a lot of adjustment needed from Klopp to learn how to work without his long time colleague.
What can be done to get Liverpool back on track? Well first of all, Liverpool are still in a fantastic position. We have disappointed in the Champions league a little but its still in our hands where we finish in the group and we’re only two points off the top of the league.
The defence and Goalkeeper have been extremely solid and this is a team that has spent a lot of time together and knows each other well. In my opinion, the only change that needs to be made is to abandon the 4-3-3 and go to the 4-2-3-1 that has worked well for us this season.
Play Naby Keita and Fabinho is a double pivot and play Shaqiri with the front three. Bed in our expensive signings and play our strongest eleven on paper. No more excuses. Naby and Fabinho have played in double pivots the majority of their career and this frees up Shaqiri to link the midfield and attack, which is what we need to see to get the best out of the front trio.
This will help us get on the attack and bring the best out of the full backs as they push forward as well. Lets see where we can get to with our strongest possible 11 and re-evaluate in January.
There’s a lot to play for this season and there’s a lot of time left yet but the standard is higher now that it’s ever been and any mistake can be costly… allowing our attack to continue to not ‘click’ would be a very costly mistake.
Lets hope Klopp and his backroom team get ahead of it.