Soccer

Liverpool's problems are stacking up in the race for a top-four finish

Liverpool’s problems are stacking up: Darwin dilemma, dodgy defence, midfield muddle and uncertainty off the pitch has left Jurgen Klopp facing a HUGE battle just to finish in the top four

  • Liverpool have endured a tough start to 2023 after losing 3-1 to Brentford
  • Jurgen Klopp’s problems are stacking up in their battle to finish in the top four
  • Darwin Nunez is struggling to convert while the Reds’ defence looks suspect
  • Sportsmail pinpoints the areas Klopp needs to address to turn things around

A new year should have brought new optimism for Liverpool but already it feels like 2023 is shaping up to be a war of attrition.

Securing a top-four spot is the minimum expectation for owners Fenway Sports Group, but following Monday’s shambolic 3-1 defeat at Brentford, it feels as if they are losing the battle.

Jurgen Klopp will not panic with 63 points in the Premier League up for grabs but he cannot ignore the warning signs around his team. Sportsmail pinpoints the areas he needs to address.

Jurgen Klopp’s problems at Liverpool are stacking up in their battle to finish in the top four

Liverpool have endured a tough start to 2023 after losing 3-1 to Brentford on Monday night

When Liverpool are in a groove, it is almost impossible to break them down but they have been as robust as balsa wood this season and it was poppycock to hear Klopp complain about the legitimacy of Brentford’s third goal, given it came at the end of a shambles.

Liverpool, remarkably, have not kept a Premier League clean sheet since October 19 — seven matches ago — and that shutout against West Ham was one of just four in 17 matches so far. For comparison, at the same stage last season there had been 10 clean sheets.

It has been a fad to highlight, at times, the form of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk but to try to put the blame for this malaise on one player is ridiculous. Liverpool are out of sync all over the pitch and the consequence is vulnerability.

No team with serious ambitions of being successful can concede first 13 times in 26 matches, as Liverpool have done so far and if it continues they will not overhaul the teams ahead of them. The fact their goals against tally mirrors West Ham (22) tells you everything.


It has been a fad to highlight the form of Trent Alexander-Arnold (right) and Virgil van Dijk (left)

MIDDLE MUDDLE

Jamie Carragher was frank in his criticism of Liverpool’s failure to sign a midfielder and there is no question it is an area of the pitch that must be reinforced as a matter of urgency, but the idea that Klopp and his team of scouts have let this drift is not accurate.

Liverpool would have moved heaven and earth to get Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco last summer.

The fee of more than £65million would have been met, as would the personal terms the France international wanted. His displays at the World Cup showed what he would have brought.

Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho remain Liverpool’s best midfield trio

Perhaps there was a sliding-doors moment when Real Madrid failed to sign PSG forward Kylian Mbappe and that enabled them to pursue Tchouameni but Liverpool were also looking at other targets such as Matheus Nunes, the Wolves midfielder who they may yet pursue later this year.

Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham is Liverpool’s absolute priority but, until then, Klopp must rely on what he already has at his disposal.

When fit, his best midfield trio remains Jordan Henderson, Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho. How he gets them to peak for the games that matter will be a big test.

UPHEAVAL AND UNCERTAINTY

Klopp’s stance in recent months is that off-field issues do not have any bearing on results. What is inescapable, however, is the fact Liverpool have entered into a period where things have changed and that has stripped away the veneer that life at Anfield is ticking along smoothly.

Fenway Sports Group are looking to sell; FSG president — and key Klopp ally — Mike Gordon has stepped back from his day-to-day role in running the club and Julian Ward, the sporting director, is leaving at the end of the season, along with another key figure in analytics, Ian Graham.

Mike Gordon (right) has stepped back while Michael Edwards (left) has left the club

Jim Moxon, the club doctor, left to join Manchester United last August but Liverpool at least have compensated his departure by bringing in Jonathan Power. 

There have been numerous little changes from the tried-and-trusted ways of before, such as training sessions taking place a little earlier in the day, usually around lunchtime, rather than the 5pm starts that Klopp imposed when he was first appointed.

MISFIRING DARWIN

Opposition supporters are loving the fact they can taunt Darwin Nunez with unflattering comparisons to Andy Carroll but, other than long, dark hair, the two have nothing in common. Put it another way, Nunez will not be farmed out on loan within 18 months of moving to Anfield.

Still, there is no disguising he is missing chances. He has been unlucky in his last two games and the feeling persists that in the coming weeks he will have an afternoon when every shot flies in. He is raw but he has all the tools to be brilliant.

But can Klopp keep playing him? He has been to the World Cup and had a lot of pressure on his shoulders, the kind of stress away from football that involves settling a young family into a city where you do not speak the language.

Darwin Nunez has been unlucky in his last two games but has missed a host of chances

Nunez is having regular English lessons, along with Luis Diaz, at the club’s training ground and there is no question he will be a different beast next season.

In the meantime, the arrival of Cody Gakpo from PSV may help ease some of the burden on him — and give Liverpool the kickstart they evidently need.




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