A new record set, but an unwanted one at that.
After the momentary game of happiness, with the win against Sheffield United, the return to Anfield also signalled the return of the Reds’ poor form, as a woeful display on Merseyside saw Liverpool lose five consecutive home games for the first time in their history, and the prospect of any European football next season fade considerably.
Credit to Chelsea. That was one of the best performances I have seen from the Blues in some time. They looked hungry, powerful and the bravery they showed to play out from the back was extremely impressive. The game plan had been heavily drilled into them by Tuchel and the players responded perfectly.
On the other hand, Klopp’s side have lost five home games in a row and look completely clueless on how to respond. The substitution of arguably their best player in Salah after 63 minutes bemused many, but perfectly summed up the state that the team currently find themselves in.
It can only be described as a blip in the managers thinking, considering how bad Salah’s fellow forward colleagues were playing – and continued to play – long after the Egyptian left the stage. It was a mess all over the pitch and the result doesn’t really tell the whole story.
The day started with the news that Nathaniel Phillips had picked up an injury during the week. Another defensive injury that probably shocked no one considering how the season has gone. However, there was good news as the return of Alisson, Fabinho and Diogo Jota to the squad – many thought – would boost the side going into the evenings game.
With Phillips’ injury, Fabinho was thrown in from the start at the heart of the defence, partnering Turkish international Ozan Kabak once again, who was looking to build upon the clean sheet in his last outing. Alisson also returned to regain his position between the posts after Adrián stepped in at Bramall Lane. Jota however, was left on the bench with the idea of easing the Portuguese star back into proceedings.
Despite all the returning players, nothing seemed to change and – like I pointed out in the winners and loser’s column after the Everton game – it was once again one step forward, three steps back.
I would normally go onto explain about the game, what went ahead and the chances that Liverpool created during the 90 minutes, however they only managed one shot on target, which came in the 85th minute via a Wijnaldum header. There was nothing to sing and shout about. It was a lifeless display – if you weren’t worried before, you should be now.
Chelsea dominated the opening moments and took control of the game soon after, as the high line from Liverpool was once again exploited by the opposition. A ball over the top was latched upon by Werner and rolled into the empty net, after bypassing the desperate Alisson challenge. Fortunately for Klopp’s side, it was ruled out by VAR in what was an extremely tight offside decision. Where the video assistant referee would come to the Reds’ saviour on this occasion, nothing could help them 20 minutes later.
After another ball over the top, Mason Mount found time and space down the left side before cutting inside, powering past Fabinho in the process, before lashing a ball home beyond the dive of Alisson. The questioning started amongst the Liverpool team and from that point they never recovered.
The second half brought greater possession and a little more control, but they failed to establish complete dominance and thus struggled to convert anything into meaningful chances. Instead, Chelsea continued to threaten on the odd occasion and looked more likely to score, as the tactical switch to a counter attacking game plan worked a treat.
The introduction of Diogo Jota would increase the intensity, but he never managed to create anything concrete in front of goal. His positive return was the only good thing about this display and – with the top four hopes now hanging by the thinnest thread – winning the Champions League now looks the only avenue into next seasons competition.
Klopp must be wondering what has happened to these players. These are the same individuals which have been so impressive for three consecutive seasons, hardly putting a foot wrong. During this campaign, it seems that they can do little right as set back after set back continues to hinder any progress to the higher positions within the league.
The injuries to van Dijk, Gomez, Matip and whoever you want to name has taken a lot out of the team, I am not arguing against that. Any team who has suffered the losses that the Reds have this season would have struggled just as much as Klopp’s side, if not suffered worse results. However, the players who have taken the field should still have been good enough to execute the game plan and get results that should have seen Liverpool sitting in the top four. Instead, they have disappointed for weeks and left the side distant from the European places.
Liverpool made two changes from the side that defeated Sheffield United on Sunday evening. Alisson returned in goal, whilst Fabinho once again slotted in at centre half. Adrián dropped to the bench and Nathaniel Phillips was not in the squad after picking up an injury in training.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
I wanted to have some positivity in this column and the return of the former Wolves forward was just what fans needed to see. The normally ever reliable trio of Salah, Mané and Firmino have carried Liverpool over several seasons with their sumptuous play and goals. Each have been main pillars in the success that this club has achieved in this timeframe, however over the last three months their magical powers have faded, each becoming quite unreliable.
The injury that Jota suffered before Christmas in the meaningless fixture against FC Midtjylland, has affected the team more than many would have thought. His fresh approach and ideas have been sorely missed and his return has come at a critical moment for the side.
Despite him not registering a strike on goal, the teams play against Chelsea looked more threatening when he made his entrance. When the ball got to his feet, he looked positive and picked out a man with an accurate pass, only for his team mate to either pass back or lose possession.
With Mané and Firmino so out of form, it is a toss-up who now sits out for Jota. He is firmly part of Liverpool’s strongest side and others will have to make way for him. It will be interesting to see how Klopp approaches his return on Sunday. With the top four arguably gone, the German could opt to rest the 24-year-old for the must win clash against RB Leipzig in midweek instead, therefore prioritising the Champions League.
Despite this being very tempting, giving Jota an hour on Sunday against Fulham needs to be strongly considered. He will need game time and won’t be able to start and play the full 90 in midweek without a previous start under his belt. This comes with its risks but I think it is one that Klopp will almost have to take.
I am the biggest Roberto Firmino fan. He has been outstanding for Liverpool for some time. Throughout his poor form this season I have continued to back him, as he has usually contributed to the performances in a positive way that some critics fail to see. However – after his display against Chelsea – it has become extremely difficult to defend him.
There is no sugar coating it, he was absolutely woeful against the Blues. Losing possession consistently, a distinct inability to control the ball and a frustrating number of tackles lost, he has failed to just do the basics in recent weeks. It is hard to watch a player of such quality go through a period like this.
He wasn’t the only player who was poor against Tuchel’s side, as at least eight others could be questioned regarding there displays, but his play has deteriorated rapidly since his brace against Crystal Palace in the 7-0 prior to Christmas. The standards he has set have been so high since his transfer from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in 2015, but this season is one to forget thus far for the 29-year-old.
With Jota now fit again, it is now up to Klopp at who he should drop, Firmino or Mané. If I was pushed to say who should be pulled, I would likely choose the Brazilian. He really has struggled without the crowd – one of a number of players in the league who live off the atmosphere – and this is clear from his play.
With a clear out likely in the summer to introduce some new faces into the squad, the likes of Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and Harry Wilson will likely be sold to fund these new signings. However, there is now a growing feeling as the season comes to it’s final third, that Firmino could join this list to leave Merseyside. If he wants to stay in this team, these final few games of the season will be big to maintain his position.
Like Firmino, the Senegal international has had a substantial fall off in his performances and has arguably hindered the squad in recent games with his contributions. When the 28-year-old plays badly, it is very noticeable.
What he has produced since entering the Premier League is a portfolio of highlights that not many players can match. You could count these players on one hand, the group is that little. Unfortunately, during the 2020/21 season, he will have very little to show for his game time.
His 90 minutes against Chelsea perfectly encapsulated everything that has gone wrong for him during the campaign. He struggled against the outstanding Andreas Christensen, who had his number all evening. The Danish centre-half won everything, even the one-on-one sprint during the second half, as he burnt past Mané with relative ease before clearing to safety, which surely surprised many.
The winger looked like he lacked any interest coming out for the second half, as Klopp grabbed him and tried to engage him with a rousing talk. Clearly, this conversation did nothing for him and – for me – he should have been substituted when Salah was taken off.
Despite his struggles, Liverpool fans need to remember what he has done and what type of player he is. Like Salah, he has the tendency to be completely out of a game, yet he pops up with a vital goal or assist that – in the past – has pushed the Reds to victory. This is a key attribute that not many players in world football have. Only the best. Mané is one of them, yet at this moment in time, he isn’t producing anything close to this quality level.
Mané and Firmino are two players who desperately need a goal. If anything, the Senegal winger needs one more. His source of goals, alongside Salah, have carried this club to the great heights of seasons gone by. Now with the club at a serious low point and his own confidence in tatters, one goal could kick start his hunger again and tenacity to pull this team through to some vital points during the remainder of the season.
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