Liverpool’s form since the restart has been pretty mediocre: does that matter? And if it does, what does it mean for the future…?
Liverpool have won the league, so all is well.
That’s correct. Sort of.
It’s a strange quirk of the cosmos that the most dominant champions the Premier League has possibly ever seen have actually been in pretty poor form recently: the defeat to Arsenal on Wednesday means they have dropped ten points since the restart, and if we go back to the loss to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League tie in February, they’ve only won five of their last 13 games.
Does this matter? Probably not. But does it mean anything? That’s a slightly different question.
There were, you could argue, enough slightly concerning signs in the Arsenal game to not just write off, particularly when combined with the 1-1 draw with Burnley a few days earlier. Liverpool were entirely dominant in both games (they outshot Arsenal 24-3 and in one ten minute period they had 92% of possession) but only came away with a single point.
“Arsenal basically did a Burnley to Liverpool a few days after Burnley did a Burnley to Liverpool,” said Duncan Alexander on the Totally Football Show this week. “If Liverpool replayed those two games, nine times out of ten they would get six points.
“[You could say] it doesn’t really matter now but in a sense it really does matter because they were going for all these records, and one by one they’ve dropped away. A lot of people have pointed out to me “they’re the league champions, who cares?”, but I think if they’re going to be remembered as these great champions, it would’ve been good to have a 100-point season, or a perfect record at home, or something like that.”
So what has caused this drop-off from the team that had only dropped a single point before losing to Watford at the end of February? Their attack is a good place to start, as Lynsey Hooper pointed out.
“They’ve definitely lost some of their clinical-ness. Mane’s goal aside, they squandered so many chances. We focus on Arsenal only taking three shots all game, but Liverpool had 24. They really weren’t very clinical in front of goal: Salah in particular disappointed.
“I know a lot will be made of Virgil van Dijk’s mistake, but there are a lot of question marks on their attack as well.
Duncan Alexander added: “Since the Premier League restarted, we record a category called ‘big chance’ when a player is reasonably expected to score: Salah has wasted seven of those, which is two more than any other player and more than some teams.
“When Liverpool missed out on Timo Werner, everyone said “it doesn’t really matter, Liverpool’s front three are imperious and he wouldn’t have got in.” But they’re all 28 now – they’re not going to go on forever.
“The levels they’ve had for the last two seasons: are they going to be able to keep it up for a third?”
The most obvious thing for a team to do in these circumstances is to strengthen their squad, but Lynsey Hooper suggests they’re not going to do that to any great degree.
“I think they’ll get rid of more players than they bring in. I think they’ll bring in a marquee signing, but we’ll see players like Xherdan Shaqiri, maybe Divock Origi potentially leaving. I think there will be younger blood coming through, but it might come from the academy. Klopp might be tempted to try and bring more youth through.”
As for wider causes, Rory Smith had a few suggestions: “It strikes me there’s a few different things going on. One is just natural psychology: we tend to think of ‘losing your intensity’ is not running around at 100mph, walking around, not really caring, deliberately giving away goals – but it’s more to do with not just making that final burst, that quarter of a percent or half a percent.
“Liverpool can’t artificially create that: they have achieved what they wanted, and their intensity has dropped.
“I think there’s an element of burnout. I think there’s an element of Klopp trying a few different things, giving a few different players some chances, to see what will happen next season.
“I think it’s a bit dangerous to start revising how we’ll remember a team. The main thing is they’ve won the league. That’s what they wanted.
“But equally I think there’s a maybe a bit of a risk about how they will go into next season, given how short the turnaround will be, to get that momentum back.”
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