Champions Liverpool keep sinking after fifth Anfield defeat in a row
- Chelsea dominated Thursday’s game and could have had more goals to add to Mason Mount’s exquisite first-half strike that turned out to be the match-winner.
A toothless performance in a fifth straight home loss in the Premier League for Liverpool on Thursday night, 0-1 to Chelsea, summed up the shocking manner in which the defending champions’ campaign has unravelled this season. That the losing streak at home has come immediately after a 68-game unbeaten run at fortress Anfield is proof of how far the Reds have fallen in the last couple of months.
Chelsea dominated Thursday’s game and could have had more goals to add to Mason Mount’s exquisite first-half strike that turned out to be the match-winner. While the game underlined the transformation the Blues have undergone in recent weeks under new boss Thomas Tuchel, it saw his German compatriot Juergen Klopp’s Liverpool struggle on all areas of the pitch.
It was the Reds’ fifth league defeat in six games and further dented their top four hopes. Klopp admitted after the game that it was not just their home form that was the problem. "Unfortunately, we cannot say it is only at home," he told reporters. "It is not about Anfield or whatever; it is, in general, too often. In the decisive moments we have to improve. We have to show our quality in these moments, and we don't do that often enough. It is a massive blow. It is not done yet. We have to win football games."
Winning games hasn’t looked easy for Liverpool though. When talisman centre-back Virgil van Dijk was ruled out of the rest of the season due to knee injury very early in the campaign, Liverpool were braced for a challenging season ahead. But even the most pessimistic of the Anfield faithful would not have expected such a plunge in form.
Klopp’s side has missed Van Dijk in defence. At the same time, blaming Liverpool’s poor form on the Dutchman’s absence and defensive woes is a reductive exercise. Liverpool’s problems go well beyond their defensive injuries, though those problems did start in the aftermath of the injuries.
It has been well-documented how Liverpool are running thin on defensive resources. With Dejan Lovren leaving in the summer transfer window and there being no reinforcements at the time, Klopp was left with only three senior specialist centre-backs–Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. Less than a month after Van Dijk’s injury, Gomez too was ruled out for the rest of the season.
Matip, whose time at Liverpool has been riddled with injuries, sustained a long-term injury earlier this year. The injury crisis has meant Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have spent most of the season deputising in central defence. Henderson, currently out injured, and Fabinho, who returned from a brief injury layoff on Thursday, have been key to Liverpool imposing themselves on the opposition in the last two seasons.
They have featured regularly in central midfield in the two successful seasons. Fabinho’s ability to intercept balls, break opposition lines, start breaks, among others, have been complemented by Henderson’s pressing duties, cover for full-backs, an improving passing range and other attributes.
The authoritative presence of the duo is clearly being missed in central midfield. It hasn’t helped to get the best out of fellow midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum. And it certainly hasn’t helped the front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, who have looked a pale shadows of themselves in recent weeks. To make matters worse, Naby Keita has missed a large part of the season due to injury, limiting the options in midfield for Klopp. Keita is back now but Klopp seems averse to starting him.
Thiago Alcantara, who returned to the first team earlier this year after Covid-19 and knee injury had sidelined him weeks after arriving from Bayern Munich in the summer, hasn’t had the impact many expected him to have. But the deep-lying midfielder is missing a partner in midfield who would allow him more freedom to execute his role.
At Bayern, Leon Goretzka or Joshua Kimmich ensured there would be defensive cover for Thiago. With Fabinho and Henderson missing from midfield, Thiago is more isolated than he is used to.
Liverpool’s problems also go back to their lack of investment in defence. While many saw a hint of panic in their late signings of Ozan Kabak and Ben Davies as defensive back-ups in the January transfer window, one wonders what would have been had Liverpool added a couple of centre-backs in the summer.
Liverpool have recruited well in Klopp’s time as manager but the club failed to improve the defensive bench strength this season. The club also does not quite have the resources to compete in the transfer market with Manchester City, the runaway leaders this term, or even with Chelsea and Manchester United. Their big money signings in the last decade came after key players were sold--Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll arrived in the same window that Fernando Torres was sold and Van Dijk and goalkeeper Alisson were signed after the departure of Philippe Coutinho.
Liverpool have scouted well and bought good value for money in recent seasons. The onus in the next transfer window will be on owners Fenway Sports Group to invest in the squad. Before that, Liverpool will look to salvage something from this season. The Reds will hope the return of forward Diogo Jota on Thursday will boost an attack that has underwhelmed since the turn of the year.