Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal: Why Are The Big Games Easier?

In a pleasing but head-scratching result, Liverpool once again triumphed over a top four rival with a convincing 3-1 win over Arsenal. It was the latest in a trend that is now far too prevalent to ignore: Klopp’s men can beat the big sides with relative ease, but struggle horribly against weaker opposition. The win came less than a week after a woeful showing against Leicester, and the results against Burnley, Swansea and other such teams remain fresh in the memory. Many have accused the side of lacking the right mentality – this does not seem right. A mentality issue may explain a few more off-days than one might like against smaller teams, but it doesn’t satisfactorily account for a systematic failure to break down teams from the bottom half of the table. Something else is definitely at play here; it is a tactical issue, and it needs to be resolved rapidly for Liverpool to reach their goal of top four this season.
The issue is Liverpool’s inability to break down the low block. The weakness was not regularly exposed during the first half of the season – it had not yet become apparent that the team struggled so much against deep lines, so opposition such as Watford came (laudably) to play an attacking game and got comprehensively overturned. This period of grace inevitably came to an end, however: opposing managers started to realise that sitting deep and springing counter attacks often yielded results against Liverpool. Of course, the vulnerability to counter-attacks would be partially alleviated by improving the defence: this is a personnel issue, however, and it gains little to point out such flaws when Klopp must work with what he has until the summer. What can possibly be dealt with is the consistent failure to create good chances against sides that sit deep. First, it is worth discussing why the low block causes Liverpool more problems than other big teams. Essentially, it flies directly in the face of the kind of football Klopp likes to get his side playing – it couldn’t exactly be characterised as counter-attacking, but certainly the element of suddenly breaking with pace to get in behind the line is a prevalent feature. The combination of runners from deep such as Lallana and Wijnaldum, the pace of Mane in a fluid front three and the accuracy of Coutinho and others in picking out the runs creates a team perfectly suited for exploiting gaps. Against the bigger teams, this works well. The excellent Leroy (@LFCImpulse) has made a video from the Arsenal game demonstrating how excellent off-the-ball movement leads to creation of space, which is then lethally exploited. This can be seen here: https://twitter.com/LFCImpulse/status/838728516539572224.
However, against sides determined to sit deep, all of this off-the-ball movement takes place in front of a solid bank of defenders. Thus nobody gets drawn out of their defensive position, and any space that is created is in an area which does not carry much danger for the opposition. At this point, Liverpool generally draw a blank. Occasionally Coutinho will bail the side out with a trademark long-distance strike, but these can hardly be relied upon as a consistent solution. What generally happens is a recycling of the ball out wide, where James Milner or Nathaniel Clyne will receive it. They are left in space deliberately, as they are unable to create chances with any regularity. Milner is playing on the wrong side, so tends to have to cut back inside; by the time he has done this, someone has generally been able to get out to him. Clyne lacks composure in the final third, and in general contributes little to nothing going forward. In any case, a wide threat will generally only be potent when there is a target man to aim at – Liverpool have no such player, so shifting the ball out wide is not really a viable solution for breaking down the low block. Quite the opposite: almost everyone else, sometimes including the centre-backs, come through the middle in support but find that it does not make a perceptible different to the threat level posed. Instead, gaps are left: this allows opposition to pick their moments and catch Klopp’s men on the counter.
The solution is two-fold. Firstly, and straightforwardly, a more direct style must be adopted. This does not mean direct in the sense of long balls, but rather assertive runs with the ball that force the opposition to close down in numbers. Even if the take-on fails, the run creates some much-needed space for others: if the runner can offload the ball before getting tackled, there is a genuine prospect of getting in behind the deep line. This would just require a simple instruction from Klopp: stop looking out wide so often, take a risk and take on the defenders. It is not as though there is an absence of technically gifted players in the Liverpool attack. Secondly, and perhaps more radically, is a switch to three at the back: specifically, a 3-5-2. Mane and perhaps Moreno would function in the wider roles – while this would be questionable defensively against a bigger side, it makes no material difference against the low block. The only threat comes on the counter, and currently when this happens Clyne and Milner are high up the pitch anyway. As such, it makes sense to have more attack-minded, direct players in the wider roles. This would mean that recycling out wide would not be an almost automatic waste of possession – Mane in particular has a tendency to cut inside and run at the defence, creating the possibility of space for others.
Naturally, such changes come with plenty of risks and no guarantees. However, the current form against bottom-half sides is so woeful that it surely has to be worth trying. Even if Klopp is reluctant to make a change to the formation, the reduction in balls out wide in favour of more on-the-ball runs should increase the chances of getting in behind and creating clear-cut chances. The ability to seamlessly ease pass our main rivals is a more than solid building block to be starting from – if the tweaks can just be made to fix the form against the lesser outfits, Liverpool will be title contenders again in no time.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Lallana Signs New Deal: New Contracts and Negativity

The club recently announced that Adam Lallana, 28, has signed a new long-term contract. Some doubted the former Southampton man in his early days at the club, and although a lot of the criticism was unwarranted he has undoubtedly come on leaps and bounds since the arrival of Jurgen Klopp. He has been one of our most important players over the past 12 months, and as such this new deal is good news.

This has not prevented a significant minority within the Liverpool fan-base from vocally questioning the decision, however. The new contract, initially rumoured to be 150k a week but now reported as 110k, undeniably represents a significant amount of money – some have suggested that this is too much to be spending given the combined factors of Lallana’s age, quality and demand (or lack thereof) in the transfer market. This is highly questionable: Lallana remains in his prime years, and is one of the most important members of the team. His pressing and energy are second to none, and his finishing has improved a lot this season. Furthermore, the wages of footballers long ago reached a point where the numbers were so incomprehensible as to preclude particularly insightful value-for-money judgements. As fans, the most important thing is surely that a player who helps the side has been tied down for the long term.

That said, questioning the Lallana deal is not inherently wrong – there is at least some validity in the arguments laid out above. It is the underlying hypocrisy which is damning; at the risk of tarnishing a large group with one brush, most of those who are outspoken against Lallana’s new deal are also fans who dislike FSG. This begs the question: what exactly do these fans want? They constantly complain that funds are not being made available, despite the ample evidence that it was Klopp who opted not to spend in January, and then baulk when big sums are involved. The claim is that Lallana is not good enough to warrant the big money, and the new contract thus shows a lack of ambition. But these same fans complain that we simply cannot compete with the top sides in the transfer market. If this is the case, the option of spending this money on a better player is simply not an option. In other words, there is a worryingly large subset of fans who would only be satisfied by signing a world-class player who happens not to be wanted by any other big teams, preferably at a low price although not so low as to suggest lack of ambition. This is, of course, highly implausible – it would seem as though some fans simply seek out negativity.

This is an issue far bigger than the new deal for Lallana. This is about the nature of support, and the dawn of an unnecessarily demanding culture. Of course all fans want success, and it is right and natural to be frustrated if this success does not come. However, this should be accompanied by an appreciation that success is not something that can be instantly delivered by following some magic formula. Particularly at a club like Liverpool, where the historic standards for what constitutes ‘success’ have been set so high, some serious framework has to be put in place before this success can be achieved. The waning Anfield atmosphere, once so famous, is symptomatic of the modern demand amongst fans for instant gratification: the support has become dependent on achievement. In other words, unless the team are winning, they lose the backing of these so-called supporters. This of course leads to a vicious cycle whereby the lack of support demotivates the team, thus affecting the quality of performance. Some might try to dispute whether crowd noise really impacts the players; Klopp clearly thinks it does, given his repeated pleas in press conferences for the creation of a better atmosphere. In the same way, all fan negativity translates to the squad and is ultimately counter-productive.

This is not a plea for fans to overlook everything wrong with the club. There are some clear problems, and there is nothing wrong with highlighting them. However, seeking out issues to the exclusion of appreciating the positives is both foolish and contrary to the very essence of being a fan. Fans back their team, they cheer them on; it is hard to reconcile this with relentless criticism. Furthermore, it is hard to fathom why anybody would want to do this: is it not more enjoyable to remain at least vaguely optimistic than to create problems that do not exist? At the end of the day, Liverpool have a world class manager at the helm, consistently good results against the top sides and very realistic top four prospects this season – it is pure fiction to pretend that there is nothing to be positive about! If the team miss out on top four it will be a huge disappointment, just as it was a huge disappointment to see the title hopes all but disintegrate in January, but it will not change the fact that the club is slowly getting back into a position that will make it a force to be reckoned with again.

I take the view that tying down Lallana to a new deal is one step along this path. This is not an undisputable fact – you are more than entitled to argue that he is being overpaid or has been signed on for too long. What is ridiculous is to almost gleefully take the new contract as more ammunition to rally against FSG, the club or even the Liverpool Echo when the mood takes you. Support requires patience, especially support of a club like Liverpool. Many people would do well to remember the true meaning of YNWA – they may even find that a more unconditional support helps to bring the success they craved in the first place.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Liverpool 1-1 Chelsea: Post-Match Analysis

Liverpool put in a much-improved performance against league leaders Chelsea, but were unable to get the victory. The hosts were the more positive of the teams and created the most chances, but in the end it was Chelsea who came closest to snatching the win, denied only by a penalty save from Simon Mignolet. On balance a draw was probably the fairest reflection of the game – failure to win is undoubtedly a further dent in Liverpool’s rapidly fading aspirations of a title challenge, but the strong showing against the title favourites has at least given fans reason to hope that the recent awful run is coming to an end.
The quick start was reminiscent of the Liverpool side we saw in the first half of the season. Chelsea barely had the ball in the first ten minutes, and when they were in possession they looked rattled by the high press. Clear-cut chances proved elusive, however: the organised back three repeatedly forced Klopp’s men wide, and as usual the crosses didn’t carry all that much threat. Nonetheless, it was a start that gave reason to be hopeful for a breakthrough; this made David Luiz’s opener on 24 minutes all the more frustrating. It was the visitors’ first shot of the game, and it came from a highly dubious free kick – Hazard and Lallana clashed legs and the Belgian threw himself down. To be fair to Luiz it was a wonderful free kick, flying over the wall and in off the post from a fair distance out. The circumstances, though, were almost comical – Mignolet was still trying to organise his defence when the ball was struck, and had barely had time to look at the ball before it was in the back of the net. This was undoubtedly an error on his part, but it is hard to see why the referee blew the whistle while the keeper was so patently not ready; it was also Mignolet’s first significant error of the entire season, and he certainly atoned for it later on.
This left Liverpool with a big task. The team has been struggling for goals all month, and now faced the challenge of finding a way through one of the most organised defensive units in the league. They continued to push after going behind, but for the rest of the first half were unable to create anything of any real quality. After the break, however, they came out with almost tangible determination. The game slowly but surely started to open up, with some quick passes creating space that hadn’t been available in the first period. One such pass found Firmino in vast space in the box, but the Brazilian panicked, took it first time and blazed it well wide. Not too long afterwards Liverpool were in again, and this time they took the chance. Jordan Henderson played a lovely first time ball to James Milner, whose header across the box was met emphatically by Gini Wijnaldum. At this point the momentum was firmly with Liverpool, who continued to push – it would have been nice to get Mane on at this point, but having played 120 minutes so recently it isn’t hard to understand why he was only given fifteen minutes.
Although Liverpool were firmly in the ascendency, Chelsea had begun to look dangerous on the counter. Hazard was replaced by the rapid Pedro, and at times the hosts’ back line looked stretched. Were it not for Jordan Henderson, Conte’s men would surely have retaken the lead – substitute Fabregas looked to be clean through, but a last gasp sliding challenge from the captain dispossessed him. Matip had less luck with his tackle – faced with an onrushing Diego Costa, the Cameroonian centre-back stuck out a leg and brought him down. It was probably the right call to give a penalty, but it was undoubtedly soft – it would have been a kick in the teeth to lose to goals from a dubious free kick and penalty. Step forward Simon Mignolet. The keeper has a marvellous penalty-saving record at Liverpool, dating back to his dramatic 90th minute stop against Stoke on his debut, and he pulled out another one at this crucial moment. Usual taker Hazard had been substituted off, and Costa’s effort wasn’t good enough to get past the Liverpool stopper.
So, a point gained or two lost? There was certainly a feeling of frustration after the game, but it was coupled with a begrudging recognition that a draw against Chelsea represented a decent point. It is agonising to see yet another title challenge seemingly fade away, but the realistic aim for Klopp in his first full season was always going to be to get us back into the Champions League. In any case, with fifteen games to go, anything could still happen – after the game the manager urged fans and players alike to keep believing and keep pushing, and this is definitely the right attitude.
The performance certainly gave reason for renewed belief: the three central midfielders in particular put in much-improved performances. Mane’s return is also bound to be a big boost, and Coutinho is slowly getting back up to pace following his long lay-off. January is over now, and there is a feeling that Liverpool can now leave their horrible form behind them. Nobody wanted to crash out of both cups, but what the team is left with now is a clear run. Fifteen games to make the fans proud – let’s keep believing.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Plymouth 0-1 Liverpool: The Kids Are Alright

Liverpool avoided an embarrassing early exit from the FA Cup with a fairly comfortable win in their third round replay away at Plymouth. The scoreline ended up being a narrow one, but the visitors looked in control for most of the game – no mean feat for what was not far away from being an u23s side. Some of the young players to whom Klopp gave a chance have come under criticism following the match: this is extremely harsh. To put in a professional display and come away with the desired result against a senior football league side desperate for a result is a testament to the calibre of the players.

As in the initial game at Anfield, Klopp selected a second-string starting eleven. This included a handful of senior players – Origi, Sturridge, Coutinho, Moreno and Lucas – but was largely made up of products of the youth system. In fact, it was the youngsters who impressed the most in the early exchanges: Alexander-Arnold and Woodburn looked particularly assured, whereas Moreno floundered and Sturridge and Origi struggled to influence the game. Daniel Sturridge must be getting increasingly frustrated; he has now failed to take the last few chances he has been given to impress, and in a squad with as much attacking talent as this one he cannot bank on getting too many more. Fortunately, his lack of goals was compensated for through the most unlikely of candidates – Lucas Leiva of all people opened the scoring midway through the first half. Coutinho showed the benefits of having a competent set piece taker back in the side, and Lucas got on the end of his teasing corner to power the ball into the net. It was his first goal in seven years, and in the end proved to be the goal that saw Klopp’s side safely through to the fourth round.

There were chances to add to the lead – Origi had the most blatant of these, seeing a tame penalty saved late on. However, the failure to extend the gap never really looked like being punished. Alexander-Arnold had to make one excellent last-ditch challenge and Karius had to be on his toes to keep out a sweetly struck long-range effort, but on the whole Plymouth were contained professionally and effectively. This makes some of the criticism of the performance even more odd: it wasn’t the most exciting, end-to-end game of all time, but if anything this is a testament to the temperament of our young talents. The questions asked of Sturridge and Origi are a little more valid – they would undoubtedly have wanted to have made a bigger impact against a League 2 outfit – but facing a deep line who undoubtedly had specific instructions to keep close tabs on them, the performances were certainly forgivable. In any case, performance was always going to be secondary in this fixture; nobody really wanted the extra game in an already congested schedule, so the goal was simply to get through it with minimal fuss.

The next round sees Liverpool host Wolverhampton Wanderers. It will be interesting to see what kind of team Klopp puts out – it will be an even tougher challenge for the young players than Plymouth, but it seems likely that they’ll be given a chance. Perhaps Harry Wilson will have won himself a long-awaited start: he has been in excellent form for the under 23s side all season, and impressed after coming on in the Plymouth game. Whatever the exact personnel, on paper at least Liverpool have been handed a strong chance of progressing further. The FA Cup is clearly not the priority, but it serves the dual function of blooding youth talent and giving the team a shot at some silverware. In the meantime, Liverpool return to the test of league action: a win against free-falling Swansea is a must in order to keep title ambitions alive.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool: Post-Match Analysis

Liverpool had to settle for a point in one of the most significant clashes with their biggest rivals in recent years. The home side needed a win to gain ground on the top four, and Liverpool made the trip to Old Trafford knowing that three points would keep them in touch with league leaders Chelsea. In this respect neither team came away satisfied; given the way the match went, however, United fans can be thrilled with a point. Klopp’s side were superior for much of the match, but were undone by a late Ibrahimovic goal.
It was apparent from the outset that Liverpool had shown up determined to put in a more energetic performance than the lacklustre showing at Southampton midweek. The pressing, which in truth has not been particularly impressive over the last few weeks, was well and truly back: Origi was perhaps a little brainless in his charging down of the ball at times, but United nonetheless felt the pressure. That said, Mourinho’s men probably enjoyed the best of the first fifteen minutes – once they had settled down and accustomed themselves to the pressing, they managed to put Liverpool on the back foot. The game remained open, however, and Firmino was unlucky not to make the breakthrough after robbing Phil Jones of the ball on the edge of the United box. The disappointment did not last long – Pogba handled the ball from the resulting corner, and Milner dispatched the penalty excellently.
This was the first in a series of errors from Pogba, who frankly looked out of his depth. He should have been sent off minutes later for essentially putting Henderson in a headlock, but apparently the penalty signalled the first and last decision the referee would rule in our favour. Somehow United ended up with a free kick following the fracas, which forced an excellent stop out of Simon Mignolet. This was one of three vital saves in the first half – he has excelled this season, and was faultless once again today. This can partially be attributed to the competition from Karius, who also put in a strong display in his most recent appearance, but it also worth noting that the Belgian has always been a world class shot-stopper. Other areas of his game let him down, but there are few keepers in the league who perform the fundamental duty of the goalkeeper better than he does. Sadly, Mignolet’s contribution was not quite enough to see the team over the line with the three points. Wijnaldum, who aside from his finishing put in a very strong performance, spurned two very good opportunities to double the lead in the second half; this was eventually punished with less than ten minutes to play, as Ibrahimovic forced the ball over the line following a scramble. To add insult to injury, Valencia was offside during the build-up: this adds to the rapidly-increasing list of recent Old Trafford goals that should not have stood.
The case could also be made that Rooney should have been sent off. He was beaten to the ball by Milner, and in his follow-through planted his studs on to the left-back’s ankle. It should certainly have been at the very least a yellow, but even this was not produced – this was just another factor that added to a frustrating day. Still, perspective is definitely needed: a point away at Old Trafford is a good result, and would have been taken by a lot of fans before the game. Also, there was little wrong with the performance: it has to be accepted that sometimes in football things simply don’t go for you. Looking forward, Liverpool can be encouraged – nine times out of ten, Klopp’s men will be rewarded with a win for this kind of showing. A few people worthy of individual praise are Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Can was under immense scrutiny following some poor recent performances, but barely put a foot wrong. He tracked back well when needed, and provided a good option going forward. Henderson demonstrated exactly what the team have been missing in his absence – he was the heartbeat in terms of passes when on the ball, and provided cover when the team were out of possession. Alexander-Arnold was very much thrown in at the deep end with this game, following the injury to Clyne, and he can be very proud of how he handled the pressure. He dealt with Martial admirably, and also made a nuisance of himself going forward with some overlapping runs. A couple of his crosses left something to be desired, but it would be wholly unreasonable to expect him to come into a fixture of this magnitude at his age and be the complete full-back. It is fair to say that the youngster has an exciting future.

The seven-point gap to Chelsea is not, of course, ideal, but nor is it insurmountable. Provided Liverpool can prevent the gap from widening further before the two teams clash at the end of the month, the title is still very much to play for. If nothing else, the top four picture continues to look very promising – regardless of league position, it is clear that we are making steady progress under Klopp.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Friday, 23 December 2016

Everton 0-1 Liverpool: Mane Happy Returns

Liverpool recovered from a poor start to snatch a late derby win at Goodison Park. A horror challenge from Ross Barkley looked set to be the main talking point until Sadio Mane pounced, beating the defenders to the rebound after substitute Daniel Sturridge’s shot came back off the post. On balance Liverpool probably deserved the win after a strong second half showing – there could be no better Christmas present than a late victory over Everton.

There were very worrying signs in the first thirty minutes. Everton seemed eager to press, and Liverpool were regularly forced into playing long, hopeful balls just to escape the pressure. Romelu Lukaku looked dangerous, and it was only some stellar defending from stand-in centre-back Ragnar Klavan that prevented him from firing the home side in front. Lukaku’s compatriot counterpart, Divock Origi, struggled to get involved; the ball rarely found him, and when it did he struggled to do anything telling with it. Firmino was even more ineffectual in the opening minutes – playing out on the left he looked completely off the pace, and was only really noticeable by his poor touches and misplaced passes. However, Klopp reacted to this – the last third of the opening forty-five minutes saw Firmino move central with Origi out wide, and Liverpool looked much better for the change. They slowly started to take control of the match, and by the end of the half Everton had just begun to be forced on to the back foot.

This dynamic continued into the second period. Perhaps Everton’s high-intensity start had taken too much out of them, or perhaps Liverpool had simply woken up a bit; either way, the home side struggled to get close to the performance levels that they started the match with. Neither team threatened hugely, but when there was a threat it came from Liverpool: Firmino in particular had chances. He had a one-on-one saved by Stekelenburg, and then an inventive volley was kept out very well by substitute keeper Robles. In addition to these chances, the second half brought more of a derby feel – a couple of nasty challenges flew in, none worse than that of Ross Barkley on Jordan Henderson. The playmaker came in on Henderson’s ankle, with his studs showing: had the referee properly seen the incident it would surely have been a red card. In the long run, however, the awful challenge actually worked in Liverpool’s favour – Henderson was ultimately fine to carry on, and the time which it took for him to receive treatment was part of what allowed the away side a lot of added time to snatch their late winner. This they did: Sadio Mane, who in truth had failed to have a huge influence for most of the game, was quickest to react after Daniel Sturridge struck the post in the 94th minute. It is a testament to his pace and reactions that he was able to beat two defenders to the ball, despite starting significantly behind them. Sturridge, too, deserves praise; his tenacity and willingness to shoot led directly to the goal, and he is sure to have been pleased with his impact off the bench following a recent injury layoff.

That Sturridge played such a big part shows the importance of options. Origi is a very good player, and prior to the derby had five goals in his last five appearances, but sometimes games simply need a change in personnel up front in order to make something happen. It is no coincidence that the loss of two strong attacking options in Sturridge and Coutinho has led to a dip in results: whilst those who have filled in are extremely talented in their own right, it is hard to consistently pick up results when there are no experienced alternatives to call upon from the bench. It should be said that Klopp used substitutes sparingly even when he had a full squad available to him, but the Everton game highlighted that he is not averse to making changes when he feels they would be beneficial. Sadly, one attacking option will be lost in early January – Sadio Mane is heading off to the African Cup of Nations. At least Sturridge has returned; his impact in the derby has given some hope that Liverpool will get by in the absence of the Senegal international, but the directness and pace of the winger will undoubtedly be missed.

In the meantime, Liverpool fans can carry into Christmas that glowing feeling that only a derby win can bring. Festive cheer will also be derived from the fact that Klopp’s men sit second in the league – a top four finish looks very much on the cards, and a six point gap to Chelsea is hardly unassailable. Hopefully the reds can show some resolution in the new year and mount a serious title challenge.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Liverpool 2-2 West Ham: One of Those Days

Liverpool compounded their recent dip in results with a frustrating draw at home to relegation-threatened West Ham United. Klopp’s team played some nice football and were much the better side, but were unable to create enough clear-cut chances. Coutinho’s creativity and Sturridge’s lethal touch were sorely missed – with either of them fit it seems likely that Liverpool would have won this game. However, the biggest issue was at the other end of the pitch: Karius put in another wholly unconvincing performance, and was at fault to some level for both goals.

Things got off to a very good start. Mane made the most of some hesitant defending to drive Liverpool forward; he reached the byline and put in a dangerous ball. Lallana controlled, turned, and fired the ball past Randolph. At this point it looked as though it would be a comfortable victory to get us back on track after the disaster at Bournemouth. Liverpool being Liverpool, however, this was not the case: there was a sense of inevitability as Payet’s free-kick flew in twenty minutes later. In actual fact, it was not inevitable at all – it was entirely preventable, and was allowed to happen through a combination of a poor defensive wall and awful positioning from Karius. Most of the wall jumped but Lallana stayed grounded: the ball went sailing over his head and in, past the outstretched hand of Karius. This hand would surely have been able to palm the ball away had the German not stood so far over to the right of the goal (Karius’s left): Payet hit it well but it was fairly central, and it should certainly have been kept out. This is the latest in a string of unconvincing moments for Karius, who has not really shown any shot-stopping prowess at all since arriving at Liverpool. He is supposedly a sweeper, who brings attributes to a team other than shot-stopping – maybe this is true, but again he hasn’t showed it much since joining the club. This is exemplified by West Ham’s second goal: the ball hit Henderson and bounced over Matip to Antonio in a very unfortunate fashion, but Karius was very slow off his line. The angle was not closed quickly enough, and Antonio just had the space to roll the ball over the line. At the moment, it is very hard to see what he brings to the team that Mignolet does not; for all his faults the Belgian is a truly world-class shot-stopper, and that’s an improvement on where Karius is right now. He may well develop, but if the club want to compete in the here and now then it cannot wait for Karius to catch up.

Things were only marginally better going forward. Multiple players went close, with Wijnaldum firing narrowly wide and Clyne skying a shot at the end of a lovely team move, but the equaliser proved elusive until the start of the second half. Another Mane cross was flapped at by Randolph, and Origi was on hand to capitalise. It looked as though it would only be a matter of time before Liverpool pulled themselves back in front, but it was not to be. Randolph atoned for his mistake with a spectacular save to deny Henderson a beautiful goal, and although the hosts constantly threatened they could not find a winner. In truth, it was not a bad performance – there is no real crisis, and the result feels much worse than it actually is due to the fact that it comes straight after the Bournemouth loss. However, another failure to win in the next game really will mean trouble: we are already six points adrift of the league leaders, and no wins in three would essentially strip us of any title credentials we may possess.

The next match is against Middlesbrough, and is surely winnable even without Coutinho and Sturridge. Klopp has unsurprisingly come out in support of Karius, and will almost certainly not drop him – if this is the case, it Is time for the young keeper to step up and prove himself. He cannot complain about critics when his performances have warranted such criticism; hopefully, for the good of the team, he silences the doubters by showing exactly what Klopp has seen in him. The forwards, too, have a point to prove: although the goals have continued in Coutinho’s absence the results have not, and if this squad have any ambitions of winning the title then they need to show that they can cope when key men are out. In other words, this result has taken the team to a point of make or break: the players must stand up and be counted now, or else resign themselves to falling short yet again.
-James Martin
Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013