The temporary fall of Liverpool is exactly what the phrase suggests. Temporary.
Jurgen Klopp’s side has been playing at a level football isn’t used to for the last two seasons, but they now find themselves eighth in the table. Possibly ninth if Aston Villa wins their games in hand.
Liverpool has gone from arguably the best team in the world to a team that could drop points to anyone in the premier league. What is the biggest reason this has happened? Injuries.
Yes, every team deals with injuries but that doesn’t mean you can look past Liverpool’s.
The Reds lost Virgil Van Dijk to a torn ACL. Van Dijk was ruled out for the whole season after a reckless challenge by Everton keeper Jordan Pickford in October.
He has a strong argument for being the best centre-back in the world as he was the runner-up for the 2019 Ballon d’Or. He is also their third captain. Van Dijk is an important leader on and off the pitch.
Liverpool’s backline looks solid whenever he features and he makes whatever center-back he is playing with better.
To make matter worse they then lost Joe Gomez for the whole season too, Van Dijk’s usual centre-back partner.
Gomez looked like he was going to step up after Van Dijk’s injury but he only played two more games until suffering a knee injury while training for England.
Joel Matip also would be confirmed out for the season in February. Matip is a top centre-back in the premier league, but injuries have stopped him from stringing together good seasons to earn him this respect.
He was looking strong in the back with Fabinho until he suffered an ankle injury during Liverpool’s game against Tottenham.
Why Its Okay To Blame the Defence for the Temporary Fall of Liverpool
Saying the problem isn’t the defence is far from the truth. Liverpool losing their senior centre-backs has affected their creativity massively.
Liverpool currently only has centre-backs Rhys Williams, Ozan Kabak, Nat Philips, and Ben Davies fit.
None of these defenders are as good as Van Dijk, Matip, and Gomez on the ball. These players are crucial to Liverpool playing their high-line because they are more reliable options for the midfield to involve in the build-up play.
They can also play that important pass through the midfield and to the attackers, or over the top that creates a big chance. Especially Van Dijk who is an exceptional passer and Matip who tends to play that pass through the midfield often.
Therefore missing these defenders affects how good Liverpool is with possession on the ball. When they return to full fitness we can expect the temporary fall of Liverpool to be over.
Most importantly, you can blame defence injuries for their season because Liverpool was forced to move their two most important midfielders into the defence.
Their captain, the 2020 FWA Footballer of the year, Jordan Henderson was taken out of the midfield. Henderson’s impact on the Liverpool side is clear.
He actually created the most chances last season out of the Liverpool midfielders. He had four goals, five assists and nine big chances created. He’s a great passer that can create chances.
He is also vital to getting the most out of Trent Alexander-Arnold. He protects Alexander-Arnold on the right-hand side helping significantly on the defensive end, giving Alexander-Arnold the license he needs to go forward and create.
Whilst Thiago does trackback, and defend, he doesn’t do it as well as Henderson does. Liverpool lost all this after Matip got injured and Henderson was moved into the defence.
Henderson played quite well there, but Liverpool needed more creativity during these challenging times and they lost that. He is the engine in the midfield that Liverpool missed a lot in this season.
Now Henderson is also confirmed out for the season after suffering a groin injury in late February during Liverpool’s second game against Everton.
Fabinho started playing in the back four after Van Dijk’s injury and Klopp knew he could rely on him for that role.
Him performing at the level he has there isn’t surprising as we saw him do so against Bayern Munich in the second leg of the 2018-19 Champion League Round of 16.
However, losing Fabinho in the midfield was a massive loss that, at the time, needed to happen. He makes Liverpool so much better in possession because his other midfielders are able to do more with his protection.
Fabinho return to his CDM role in the second leg fixture against RB Leipzig saw a much better Liverpool midfield. The midfield was better at keeping possession, breaking up play and both Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum looked more comfortable in it.
After the game, Klopp said: “Of course it helps when Fab can play the six, it gives Gini the freedom in other areas, these kinds of things. Thiago did well.”
He also added: “Number six is his position, one of the best in the world in that position, it’s clear.”
Going forward, perhaps Klopp will trust his other defenders and play Fabinho where he is best at. It is important for Liverpool to get the best out of Wijnaldum and Thiago. Especially Thiago due to his ability to create chances for the team.
Are There Any Other Factors Responsible for Liverpool’s Terrible Season?
Injuries in the defence is overall the main reason for the temporary fall of Liverpool without a doubt. But Liverpool’s front three have also not been up to standard.
Before you could argue Liverpool had the best attack and front three in the world, now that argument would be hard to make.
Mohammad Salah is still scoring at an impressive rate, being the top goal scorer in the premier league with 17. However, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are having poor seasons.
Mane has seven goals and three assists in the league while Firmino has six goals and five assists. What’s as worrying as their goals and assists count, is their lack of quality in the final third, whether that is finishing or passing.
It is clear the front three is the least dangerous it has been since the 2017-18 season.
Although, the front three would likely be better if Liverpool were able to support it with their best midfield. However, due to injuries in the defence they are unable to do so.
Why Is the Fall Temporary?
Liverpool had good transfer windows to put it simply. Injuries have distracted people from this. They could have used another centre-back earlier but they still managed to get two in January.
The temporary fall of Liverpool should be over next season as they have improved their depth significantly.
They brought in Diogo Jota for £40 million and he has proved his worth. He puts pressure on the front three as he can play down the middle, on the left, or on the right.
They brought in Thiago Alcantara for £25 million. He is definitely one of the best midfielders in the world.
He has shown his quality in certain matches such as the second half of the first game against Everton and the second leg of the Champions League against Leipzig. He has been unfortunate to not play alongside Liverpool’s strongest midfielders as much as he should be able to next season.
The reds also improved their depth significantly bringing in Konstantinos Tsimikas to be a backup left-back to Andrew Roberson. Also by bringing in Ben Davies from Preston North End and Ozan Kabak from Schalke in January.
They were forced to bring in Kabak on loan and Davies for £1.6 million due to injuries. These signings have put them in a great position next year with plenty of backup. Although, it remains to be seen if Liverpool will opt to attain Kabak on a permanent basis after the loan as they do have the option to buy for just £18 million.
Nathaniel Philips has also emerged as a strong backup option in defence and will no doubt be part of the great squad depth Liverpool is beginning to establish.
The emergence of Curtis Jones has been really the only positive for Liverpool this season. Jones has shown that he is capable of stepping up when he needs to.
The 20-year-old has started 12 games for Liverpool this season and featured in a total of 20. The future looks bright for Jones and he is likely to play a big part in Liverpool’s return to the top and ending the temporary fall of Liverpool.
The temporary fall of Liverpool has been shocking, but it is understandable due to their circumstances. Just because they are not conceding enough to call the defence a weakness, doesn’t mean it isn’t the main problem.
Klopp has had to sacrifice creativity in order to put out the strongest defence possible. Mane and Firmino having underwhelming seasons have also harmed Liverpool but it isn’t anywhere near the significance of their injuries.
Therefore, injuries are the main reason for the temporary fall of Liverpool. The league should expect the 2019-20 Premier League Champions to compete for the league next year and be one of the strongest teams in the world again.
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