IT wasn’t particularly surprising. Boring is what Liverpool do in European aways. Always have done, and in a two-legged affair it usually works.
It’s also evident what they do these days following massive wins. They bring you to a point where you say: “These could score with bad breath in a nunnery if they wanted to.” Soon followed by: “These couldn’t score in a brothel with a fistful of fifties and a Tom Jones tan.”
You know? Those famous sayings.
Jürgen Klopp is trying to make this team his without much in the way of time on the training field to do so. To borrow an analogy from his predecessor, Klopp is trying to build the plane while flying it.
It is therefore perfectly understandable that while there are glimpses of supreme quality from this Liverpool side, it is cut with an inconsistency that is taking them from one extreme to another, particularly in attack, and summed up perfectly by the two results this week against Aston Villa and Augsburg.
If you’re reading this article then presumably you are a Liverpool fan and so I don’t need to tell you how infuriating the Reds have been in front of goal at times this season. They’re always finding new ways to not score a goal. Some of their stuff last night was truly innovative. Remarkable creativity in the art of not scoring a goal.
The manager has mentioned it on more than one occasion, and as the game went on last night it became inevitable that he would refer to it again. Sure enough, post-game he said: “Doing the right thing at the right moment is important — we had a few good moments and in the second half we had three or four really good moves. My problem is that I think, with our quality, we should do better, but I have to be patient.”
It was the latest in a long-line of comments that Klopp has made since coming in that refer to his team’s decision-making in the final third.
After the Leicester game earlier this month he said: “We had opportunities in the box but we didn’t find the right decision often enough. The longer the game was we didn’t get cooler, the decisions didn’t get better. We had the ball in their box and didn’t shoot.”
It was very much evident last night. You had short corners taken to players who had defenders stood right next to them, players shooting with their sidefoot from 35-yards, attackers hiding behind defenders when there’s a cross about to come in, crossers pinging it to the far post when there isn’t anybody there, and Kolo Toure deciding to not head the ball from a free kick (though you could argue that Kolo scoring twice in a week would likely have caused some sort of irreparable tear in the space-time continuum).
Since Klopp has arrived on these shores he has guided Liverpool to wins at Chelsea, Manchester City, Southampton, Norwich and Villa in which the Reds have blammed a whopping 24 goals. But he has also been denied any goals in trips to Sion, Newcastle, Watford, West Ham, Leicester and now Augsburg.
In spite of the lack of quality Melwood-time due to a hectic fixture list, the Firmino-nutmegging gaffer has managed to achieve one thing with this team that is making it look like his. He has them being good at creating the moments that lead to potential chance creation. A load of lads who are good at making the pass before the assist, or at winning the ball in a high area leading to a chance being created. This is what his Dortmund side were great at.
The issue now is that far too often either the lads who need to lay on the assist are making the wrong decision, or the fellas on the end of the assist are.
Not having Daniel Sturridge has been an obvious part of the problem, as has the settling in period for Roberto Firmino and the issues we’re all aware of with Christian Benteke.
We were all justifiably excited on Sunday to finally see the Triumvirate of Doom (I’m hoping that name will stick) of Sturridge, Firmino and Coutinho. However, last night showed that while it is a very promising set-up, it is still very new and will take time to settle as the Brazilians and the Wriggly-Armed Assassin (also hoping that name sticks) learn how to play as a three.
Liverpool don’t play again until next Thursday. As a spoiled fan who is used to games every three days, that feels like ages away. May as well be pre-season. However, for Klopp, it’s an incredibly rare occasion where he has time to work with his team at Melwood and give them proper training sessions, rather than just recovery sessions or light preparatory ones.
I’m not saying that by next week we will have a lean-mean Klopp-tastic machine capable of wiping the floor with Augsburg in the return game, but the manager knows what the problem is and has a chance to start remedying it.
Liverpool have shown in numerous games this season that they are capable of scoring lots of goals, even against very capable teams. The trick now is to learn how to do it more consistently, or at the very least, just spread them out a little.
- After scoring three at Chelsea, they laboured to score two in their next two games against Rubin Kazan and Crystal Palace.
- After scoring four at City, they struggled to score three in two home games against Bordeaux and Swansea (two were penalties).
- After scoring six at Southampton, they didn’t score any in their next two at Newcastle and Sion.
- After scoring three against Arsenal, they failed to score against Manchester United.
- After scoring five at Norwich, they failed to score in 210 collective minutes at home to Stoke and West Ham.
- After scoring six at Villa, they failed to score in Augsburg.
Now it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that Liverpool should be scoring six every game. We can leave those demands for further down the line, say by the start of next season? The issue is that this team is clearly capable of scoring lots of goals when it’s flowing and confidence is high. It just goes from one extreme to the other too often.
People can say that the opposition were terrible all they want, but no-one else is scoring four at City, no-one else is scoring five at Norwich, and in spite of their genuine terribleness, no-one else is scoring six at Villa.
The immense promise that is being shown in those games bodes very well for the future. Just imagine what Klopp is going to be able to do once he can bring in his own players.
However, in the meantime he needs to figure out how to get his current set of lads scoring goals that win points. Six against Villa is great, but I would much rather those goals come in the form of three 2-0 wins, or six 1-0 wins.
Liverpool have the feeling of all or nothing at the moment. The good thing is that the ‘all’ doesn’t feel too far off becoming the norm. It’s not as if they are struggling for goals through a lack of quality in the team but, as Klopp is fully aware, it’s the final third decision-making that is largely the reason for not finding the net more often than they do.
It is a small tweak to make though. A calm head in pressured attacking situations can very much be taught, and when it all clicks, Liverpool are going to score more often than, erm, not.
Sorry, I ran out of crude analogies.