Following up their first league championship success in 30 years was always going to be difficult for Liverpool this season. However, the Merseyside club seems to be missing the spark which saw them become such a dominant force last year.
With a lot of football to be played remaining this season, Liverpool could still end the campaign with much silverware. They remain in contention for the Premier League title, in what appears to be a wide-open contest, while they are in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
It is Liverpool’s front three of Mo Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino who have proved unstoppable over the past couple of seasons. They scored 57 goals in all competitions between them last season, a large chunk of their teams’ tally. At the time of writing, they have 31 goals, which still a healthy total but it is likely they will fall short of last year’s number.
Firmino, in particular, is struggling to continue his excellent strike rate. He has five goals in 25 appearances this season. While it is worth pointing out that the Brazilian’s contribution is far more than finding the back of the net, the 29-year-old will have expected to score more often than one in every five games.
Liverpool’s front three have played a lot of football over the past few years. This intense run of fixtures may just be catching up with them, which would explain why the intensity isn’t quite as high this season.
Against Manchester United in a recent Premier League fixture, they were unable to break down their rivals at Anfield. They had a lot of possession in that 0-0 result but could not find the back of the net to secure the three points.
Injuries Have Hit Them Hard
There is no doubt the injuries that Liverpool have suffered this season have really hurt them. The most notable is Virgil van Dijk who has been out of action since the 18th October. The 2019 PFA Player of the Year has been invaluable since joining from Southampton in January 2018.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has had to shuffle his players and even play some of his squad out of position to cover these losses. In that goalless draw with Manchester United, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson both played at Center back.
Liverpool are in a similar position to what Manchester City had to encounter 12 months ago. They lost their best defender when Aymeric Laporte was injured long term. Pep Guardiola’s side struggled for consistency as a result which affected their form in the league.
Given the number of defenders who have been out injured, Klopp will be pleased his side have hung in there in the Premier League. As of the 19th January, Liverpool are +400 with Betway to defend their title at the end of the campaign. If van Dijk does return for the final third of the season, it will be a big boost for the German boss.
New Approach with Thiago
One of the big differences with this Liverpool team in the 2020/21 season is that Thiago is now in midfield. The Spaniard is a very talented player and has had a lot of success with Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga since moving to Germany from Barcelona.
Thiago is a player who is not rushed in midfield. He takes his time to assess what is ahead of him and then picks out his pass. This is a very different approach to what Georginio Wijnaldum, Henderson, and James Milner had last season where they were known for their fast intensity.
Liverpool’s number six has missed large parts of the season due to injury. He has now had a spell in the team, and it has coincided with the Reds struggling in front of goal. At one stage with Thiago in the team, they have gone three games without scoring, which is very unusual for a Klopp team.
It will be interesting to see if Klopp continues to start the Spanish international or if indeed, he changes his tactics to accommodate him in a different way. Thiago has a lot of experience of playing at the highest level in Spain and Germany, and he was part of the Bayern team which won the Champions League last season.
The next few months are going to prove interesting to see if this is a slight blip in Liverpool’s campaign. There is a good chance they will be back to their devastating best again. If they don’t get back in top form, next summer could be the time Klopp looks to freshen up his squad and some of his trusted stars may look for a new challenge in Europe.