Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Thoughts on Liverpool

Liverpool Football Club has not won the top division title since 1990, there fans know this, all football fans know this, all of Manchester knows this. They have never won the Premier League title, whereas Manchester United has done, quite a few times. When Liverpool last won the League title it was their 18th triumph, the most in the English top ranks. Man United had only won six. Then the dawn of a new era heralded a changing of the guard and as Liverpool struggled to find a worthy successor to King Kenny Dalglish, United had Alex Ferguson to strike.

Man United now have 20 league titles in total, the 19th was cheered more than the 20th or the first under Ferguson's guidance in 1993 on that Monday night against Blackburn.

On Sunday, Liverpool were playing their game in hand over Manchester City (while they played in the League Cup final). This game was played at the old enemy's fortress Old Trafford - a place called the Theatre of Dreams but it has been anything but utopia recently under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho. Now Mourinho has gone, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is riding the rocky ship and guiding the Red Devils to an unlikely Champions League position which in November seemed unfathomable.

Liverpool had the opportunity to go three points clear of Manchester City, an important landmark in this tight season and with Tottenham Hotspur having been defeated on Saturday at Burnley, the chance for breathing space was paramount.

However, the chance slipped by as Liverpool who have fluffed lines recently away at West Ham and at home to Leicester and showed fallibility in a league victory over Crystal Palace. In a game where they played virtually their full strength side bar James Milner at right back over an ailing Trent Alexander-Arnold; Man United had an injury crisis culminating with them committing all three substitutes in the first half (Ander Herrera, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard) and Marcus Rashford playing 75 minutes with an injury of his own and having to stay on the field in vain, this forced Romelu Lukaku to play out on the wing while Rashford committed sprints when required.

Liverpool were playing against 10 men in the second half, and yet they could not breakdown a resolute defence led by Luke Shaw's impressive display in nullifying the threat of Mo Salah.

Yet there in lies a problem with Liverpool - the front three of Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane - has been the lack of goal threat in times of stalemate.  The reliance upon goals from the trio is a problem as the midfield trio that started against Man United - Jordan Henderson, Gigi Winjaldum and Fabinho - have only scored six goals all season, that is not enough for any side with title aspirations.

This is Klopp's dilemma in not being totally gung-ho, the midfield trio affords him stability with Andrew Robertson marauding down the left when allowed but that midfield triangle offers no creative inspiration to unlock resolute defences. Firmino went off injured to be replaced by the lacklustre Daniel Sturridge.

When the game demanded invention, Klopp took off the captain Henderson for Xherdan Shaqiri to hopefully create a chance that never came.  The decision to withdraw Henderson made sense, the club captain coming back from injury had played 90 minutes midweek against Bayern Munich so resting muscles was Klopp's concern.  However, the reaction from Henderson to being substituted ignoring both Klopp and the incoming sub spoke volumes of possible upheaval behind the scenes and the problem with player power as individuals feel they should remain untouched. Salah was substituted with 10 minutes remaining and he afforded no ill will - he must have known he did not give his best.

Liverpool had the opportunity to make a statement and give the title another twist and some distance; yet with 11 games remaining they are only one point clear with games remaining against Everton, Tottenham and Chelsea.

Manchester City are on a roll, they have won the first trophy of a possible unprecedented quadruple, players are coming back from injury and the rotation of the squad allows goals to be scored by many parties whomever starts games. For instance, in the final on Sunday the front three was Sterling, Aguero and Bernardo Silva; for the league game on Wednesday at home to West Ham you can anticipate a front three of Sane, Jesus and perhaps Sterling.

This rotation will afford Guardiola to maintain momentum while the options for Liverpool are thin and if individuals play with such impotency as Mane did at Old Trafford, the chance for Liverpool to gain that 19th title may be gone.

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