No matter where Liverpool finish this season, the narrative will circulate around an in an injury crisis. First came long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, then came Thiago Alcantara’s injury before Diogo Jota put the cherry on top of the Liverpool injury woes.
And it was the injury issues in defence which became the talking point before the game against Manchester United as Joel Matip battled to return. In the end, it was two midfielders in Jordan Henderson and Fabinho– arguably Liverpool’s player of the season so far- who stepped up to fill in.
Yet, despite the lack of defenders being the initial worry, the Reds left Anfield having kept a clean sheet in a game where they were relatively unfazed. Instead, their problems- in what is becoming a theme to kick-start 2021- came in the attacking third- where only one injury lies.
Liverpool Desperately Need Jota Return
Creativity Not the Problem
This time, the blame cannot lie with those providing the service, either; on this occasion, the opportunities were provided, but not taken by the Liverpool front three.
The lack of goals will become an increasing concern for Jurgen Klopp with Liverpool now goalless in three Premier League games for the first time since 2005.
If it was a creativity problem, then you have a far easier fix with perhaps a system change necessary. But, when the chances provided are simply failing to be taken, the concern and problem grow bigger and tougher to solve.
The usually so potent front three have been uncharacteristically lethargic in the last three games. Strangely enough, the last time Liverpool did score was when the front three didn’t start together as the Reds smashed Crystal Palace 7-0. So, perhaps a brief split is needed again; a refresh in the attacking third.
For now, Klopp’s options are limited. He ensured the signing of an adequate backup forward in case of a goal drought from the front three by bringing Jota in. So what do you do when said backup is injured for two months in the face of a goal drought?
Perhaps come the Burnley game, we’ll see changes made; chances for fringe players to start like Takumi Minamino, who started in Liverpool’s smashing of Palace, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and ultimately, a rest for the front-three who have failed to perform in recent times.
Even then, the question of the quality of those options presents itself. The fact is, Liverpool unless the front three can find their spark, may be forced to wait until Diogo Jota returns to see the ball find the back of the net once more.
Jota Influence the Key for Liverpool
Similarly, when Jota arrived, the assumption was that he’d be a backup to the front three. 17 appearances and nine goals before an untimely injury later, and he is one of the main men at Anfield. His return, scheduled for the end of the month, could be the difference-maker for Liverpool’s season.
The fact is, despite providing the press and shape within the Liverpool team, Roberto Firmino lacks the clinical nature in front of goal in comparison to Jota. Jota is a more natural goalscorer.
Once the former Wolverhampton Wanderers man returns, Klopp may opt for a front four in a 4-2-3-1 system. This will likely see Jota, Mane and Firmino play behind Salah with Thiago and Wijnaldum sitting behind.
If Klopp and Liverpool decide to adapt to that system with Jota and the goals still fail to come, then they may never come again. At that point, there wouldn’t be much more the German can do to provide the goals.
Liverpool Missing Fabinho and Henderson in Midfield
Defensively, as previously mentioned, Liverpool haven’t had too many issues, but, as the midfielders fill in, the Reds lack their influence in sustaining attacks in the middle of the park.
Fabinho is one of the best in Europe at breaking down counter-attacks before recycling the ball into the attacking third; Henderson has this ability in abundance, too.
And, whilst the two are forced into the defensive role, Jurgen Klopp’s side cannot put out the fires before they even begin to show signs of a flame. So, naturally, they’ll play with less risk- therefore perhaps cutting the supply line from the fullbacks- who will naturally be seen less in the final third in a needed safer system- to the front three.
Now that Thiago is back, as proven against Manchester United, he can offer the same plus much more than Fabinho and Henderson going forward whilst lacking the physical presence the two offer.
But, again, ultimately, against United, the chances were created. They were simply not taken by the front three. Klopp solves his creativity problem. Now, he must ensure the opportunities subsequently created are taken, before the season takes the most drastic of downfalls.
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