Soccer

Liverpool will find it tough to regain aura of invincibility again

ROB DRAPER: Liverpool have failed to build on a position of strength due to injury crisis, perhaps Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will restore their imperiousness… yet once lost an aura of invincibility is hard to regain

  • Liverpool’s 2-0 loss was their first defeat to Everton at Anfield since 1999
  • Jurgen Klopp’s side have now lost four successive home games in shocking run
  • Jordan Henderson limped off in the first half as injury problems get even worse
  • After last year’s dominant title win the Reds’ aura of invincibility has been lost  

As Jordan Henderson limped off after 29 minutes and Nat Phillips ran on, Liverpool turned to their 18th different centre-half partnership of the season. And in that bald statistic lies the ruins of Liverpool’s title defence.

Of course, there are other mitigating factors that have contributed to their decline. The fact that they have stopped creating chances might worry Jurgen Klopp more.

And it’s also arguable that a club the size of Liverpool should have made a better fist of this injury crisis. Certainly we can imagine the conversations between Klopp, Sporting Director Michael Edwards and Fewnay Sports Group president Miek Edwards might have been spirited as they discussed reinforcements in January.

Jordan Henderson’s injury added to a crisis that Liverpool have failed to sufficiently deal with

After Everton defeat they have now lost four successive home games for first time since 1923

But there it is, eighteen different partnerships at centre half this season. Title wins are built on sloid foundations. They are manifestly not built on 18 different combinations of defensive players.

You might say they could be thankful or small mercies. At least Phillips and Ozan Kabak are recognised centre halves. The fact that Jurgen Klopp has preferred the likes of Henderson and Fabinho may indicate his feeling about the strengths of his reserves.

However, two young centre halves with nine Premier League appearances between them is hardly ideal.

Kabak was meant to be January solution to the crisis, signed on loan with an option to buy at £22m. And yet his initiation into English football has been brutal. Last week the collision with Allison, which gifted Leicester their second goal, drew most attention. But he also seemed unaware of his runner when Wilfried Ndidi slid in a ball for Harvey Barnes and Leicester’s third.

Ozan Kabak has had a tough start to life in England after Liverpool signed him in January

Nat Phillips’ inexperience was also on show as he failed to deal with the threat of Richarlison

The same happened here after three minutes. Having cleared the ball with a strong header, he didn’t sense the danger from Richarlison, just rolling off his shoulder as James played a similar ball through the space and into the striker’s path. 

Phillips’ inexperience too played its part. As Everton broke on 83 minutes for the move that would result in the penalty, which sealed the game, Phillips, high up the pitch, beyond the half way line, closed in on Richarlison.

Yet his challenge was weak, the Brazilian bullied him off the ball of him and suddenly Liverpool were exposed, with Richarlison able to play in Dominic Calvert-Lewin. And Phillips didn’t have the strength or pace to recover. Though ultimately the penalty, harshly awarded, was Trent Alexander-Arnold’s mistake, the genesis of the setback was in that moment. 

None of which is to unduly lambast two young defenders. These kind of mistakes are inevitable when you’re finding your way in the Premier League. It’s just inconceivable that a team as good as Liverpool were last season would be relying on such raw players at this stage of the season.

Liverpool have endured some bad luck but their reliance on young centre backs has cost them

Of course, coronavirus has played its part. Some of the injuries sustained can be attributed to the volume of games played. Sheer bad luck has interjected in the season as well. You might expect to lose one or two centre halves for a long period. To lose three and two central midfielders who act as back up is truly is mightily unfortunate.

And yet there is still that nagging feeling that Liverpool have failed to build on a position of strength. Last season they enjoyed an 18-point lead over their closest rivals and we wondered whether a dynasty was in the making.

In the turmoil of this season they have conceded much of the authority they had accrued. Teams believe they can beat Liverpool now. There is no longer the fear there once was. Perhaps when Virgil van Dijk returns, when Joe Gomez is fit and Joel Matip is ready to stand by again, their imperiousness will return. Yet once lost, an aura of invincibility is hard to regain

The Reds will hope that their imperious best will return with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez




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