From talk about breaking records in a good way, Liverpool have now gone to worrying about setting some negative ones. Not that the club, manager Jurgen Klopp or the players are literally worried about such things, but fans and media usually are, and the incredible drop does underline some worrying trends.
Liverpool’s problems not surprising
To be perfectly honest, it’s a marvel that the Reds lasted in the race this long after all they’ve been through injury-wise; no team in the league (or elsewhere) could’ve coped with losing three centre-backs for the season.
Many were quick to explain the drop in Manchester City’s results last season by pointing to Aymeric Laporte being out for several months. It certainly had a bearing on what happened, but now imagine City today without Laporte, Ruben Dias and John Stones for the rest of the season. Or Manchester United without Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly. Spurs with no Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld or Davinson Sanchez, Leicester without Jonny Evans, Caglar Soyuncu and Wesley Fofana.. In those circumstances, it’s safe to say none of those teams would be in the title talk at this point of the season.
Klopp made the most of what he had with midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson stepping in to plug the hole, and they mostly did a very good job at the back, but their absence in the middle of the park has been sorely felt throughout this negative run. The team haven’t been able to press as efficiently, to win possession as high up the pitch as they did before, which in turn led to the three forwards not being fed quickly enough to hit unprepared defences. Two or three seconds lost in that aspect make a lot of difference.
Add the obvious drop in defensive stability which the absence of a player like Van Dijk brings, and none of the things we’ve been witnessing lately are difficult to explain. Ozan Kabak, who arrived to the club on loan from Schalke 04 on February 1st and started this match, is not only very young and unused to the English game, but he’s also unused to his teammates. That became painfully obvious when he got in the way of Alisson Becker due to miscommunication between him and the goalkeeper in the 81st minute, with the result being that Leicester striker Jamie Vardy scored what was probably the easiest goal of his career and turned the game completely on its head.
But the point is, these problems are completely understandable. Add the fact that Klopp is still obviously devastated about losing his mother a few days ago and not being able to attend the funeral or spend time with his family in Germany, and the picture becomes complete.
Liverpool will likely be back to their relative best at some point, but the question is, will it be in time for them to salvage anything from the campaign? The turnaround in their performances and fortunes doesn’t look likely to come just yet.
Foxes take what they get
Leicester took a somewhat defensive approach to their game away to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the previous round, and it was hardly surprising that they did the same against Liverpool. Arranged in what mostly looked like a 4-4-1-1 system, with James Maddison playing closest to Vardy upfront, they kept their lines tight and with a bit of luck on their side, they managed to keep the champions out apart from the 67th minute when they simply had no way of stopping the brilliance of Roberto Firmino and the class finish by Mohamed Salah.
They looked to hit quickly through counterattacks, which is what teams who set up defensively usually do, and to use Vardy’s pace and eye for finding the right channels for runs to hurt the visitors’ high line. They created a few chances that way despite Kabak and Henderson mostly dealing with Vardy well, most notably when Harvey Barnes ran down the left to latch onto a fine pass from Wilfred Ndidi and slot past Alisson Becker with five minutes to go.
The equalizer, scored by Maddison directly from a free-kick which bounced through a loaded box, was a bit of a controversial one. When the ball hit the back of the net, the linesman raised his flag and signaled that Daniel Amartey, who clearly tried to play the ball and put Alisson off, was offside. However, VAR overruled the decision and allowed the goal to stand, even though valid questions could again be raised about the way the VAR officials drew those notorious lines.
Controversy, yes, but from Leicester’s point of view, you take what you get, be it mistakes from the opposition defence or from the officials. The three points are all they will care about as they seek to strengthen their top-four hold.
Still interesting near the top
Leicester have now broken into second place with 46 points, past Manchester United on 45, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team are yet to play West Browich Albion today (Sunday). Liverpool are still fourth with 40, but now Chelsea (39, play Newcastle on Monday), West Ham (39, play Sheffield United on Monday), Everton (37, play Fulham today and will still have two games in hand), and Aston Villa (36, two games in hand) all have a great chance to attack top four soon.
Manchester City are well and truly away after their convincing triumph over Spurs, running fast towards the third league title since Pep Guardiola took over. The way things are going at the moment, it seems inevitable for the trophy to return to the Etihad, despite there being a long way to go still.
But the battle for the remaining European spots promises to be very interesting right to the final day of the campaign.