Liverpool weaknesses exposed by Brentford as Jurgen Klopp has plenty to do
Opportunity knocked for Liverpool. Having beaten Aston Villa and Leicester over the festive period – albeit without much conviction – they had the chance to squeeze up behind fourth-placed Manchester United by winning at Brentford.
Instead, they produced one of the most feeble performances of the Jurgen Klopp era. Disjointed, even disinterested at times, they were blown away by the chaotic brand of football Brentford have made a speciality.
Liverpool could have been just one point off the top four – the perfect launchpad for 2023 – but instead they are now seven adrift after United beat Bournemouth.
Liverpool produced one of their worst performances for some time as they lost at Brentford
Liverpool fell seven points behind fourth place with their loss and Manchester United’s win
It’s alarming because Liverpool are in danger of falling into a vicious circle.
If they miss out on Champions League football – just 12 months after reaching the final of Europe’s elite competition – they may struggle to attract the top quality players clearly needed to build another winning team.
A lack of Champions League football may also deter investors interested in buying the club – or a stake in it – from Fenway Sports Group. The Europa League or no continental football at all doesn’t have anywhere near as much appeal.
It would be more comforting for Klopp – who angrily tried to deflect his own team’s failings on ‘microwave’ officials – if there was just one area of weakness to address.
But Liverpool have problems all over the field, not to mention some more fundamental shortcomings that results have masked at times this season.
Jurgen Klopp has likened talking to referees to like talking to his microwave in another rant
Get £85m Nunez firing
It might have been Liverpool’s night in west London had Darwin Nunez finished his chance when he rounded Brentford goalkeeper David Raya early on.
But Ben Mee blocked the shot off the line and the Uruguayan’s performance didn’t get any better.
That was the 15th ‘big chance’ Nunez has missed since his arrival in England – more than any other Premier League player this season.
He has scored five league goals and nine overall, and he undoubtedly troubles opposition defences with his explosive pace, but he also has too many off-days.
Nunez missed several big chances as Liverpool fell to a 3-1 loss at the GTech Stadium
The Uruguayan seemed set to score early on but his shot was blocked on the line by Ben Mee
Domino’s Pizza sent out a tweet mocking Darwin Nunez after his poor evening in front of goal in Liverpool’s defeat against Brentford
Brentford fans revelled in his misery on Monday by chanting: ‘You’re just a s*** Andy Carroll.’ Ouch. Even Dominos pizza had a pop.
Nunez might be cut some slack in that he needed time to adapt to the Premier League and perhaps he is unfortunate in that he came to England in the same summer as the super-prolific Erling Haaland at Manchester City.
But comparisons are inevitable and while Nunez has scored five goals from 55 shots in Premier League games (11 shots per goal), Haaland has scored 21 goals from 62 shots (2.95 shots per goal).
Liverpool signed him as their main striker to score goals and win them matches. Nunez needs to start putting chances away but his confidence looks increasingly fragile.
Defence is looking rusty
Virgil van Dijk was forced off at half-time with a hamstring injury Klopp later reassured was ‘nothing serious’ – but the Dutchman is now facing weeks out and faces a race to be fit for their Champions League clash against Real Madrid.
His fury at the manner of Liverpool’s two conceded first-half goals was clear to see as he raged at his team-mates – and the absence of the vocal and experienced star might hurt the Reds in the long run, even though he didn’t cover himself in glory.
Van Dijk didn’t look at all comfortable alongside either Ibrahima Konate or Kostas Tsimikas as they tried to contend with Brentford’s tactics of using quick runners in behind.
Virgil van Dijk tries to rally Liverpool after Brentford scored their second goal – but to no avail
Van Dijk – who faces weeks out injured – looked clumsy and pedestrian at times against Brentford’s quick attacking players
The way Konate threw himself to the floor after being brushed off by Bryan Mbeumo for Brentford’s third goal was simply embarrassing.
There were also problems against Leicester on Friday, with Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall permitted by Van Dijk and Joel Matip to glide straight through the heart of Liverpool’s defence to score early on.
Opta stats reveal that Liverpool have allowed opponents 51 ‘big chances’ so far this season – more than twice any of the sides above them in the table.
Ibrahima Konate embarrassingly tried to claim a foul after Bryan Mbeumo got the better of him
They have also conceded the first goal in 10 of their 17 league games, shooting themselves in the foot time after time.
Van Dijk has been one of the transformative players of this successful Klopp era and will be excused a bad spell but he has started to look very fallible indeed.
His slump in form is a real source of concern. He hasn’t looked himself quite often this season (remember James Milner yelling at him when Man United scored at Old Trafford in August?) but with the player set for a spell on the sidelines, there is a chance for Joe Gomez or Matip to step up in his place.
A midfielder is needed this month
Jamie Carragher called for a £200million midfield revamp after the defeat but that’s easier said than done in a January window.
‘We talk about Virgil van Dijk, he’s not been at his best, but no matter how good you are, you need protection from your midfield. If you don’t get protection, you’ve got no chance,’ Carragher said on Sky Sports, after Micah Richards had tried unsuccessfully to get him to join in with Hey Jude as Brentford celebrated.
‘Liverpool didn’t sign a midfield player in the summer. They can’t get in the top four without signing a midfielder. I can’t see it changing before the end of the season.’
Jamie Carragher was seriously unimpressed by Liverpool’s midfield and called for a revamp
It’s true, Liverpool are in urgent need of a midfield refresh and this defeat again highlighted it.
Harvey Elliott was poor and hooked at half-time for Naby Keita, while Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara were overrun by Brentford. Jordan Henderson was missed.
But a £200m splurge on world-class midfielders this month is fanciful.
Liverpool are in pole position to bring Jude Bellingham from Borussia Dortmund but that won’t happen until the summer – and they’re set to face stiff competition for the England star.
Another option is Matheus Nunes of Wolves, but again that won’t happen this month.
Liverpool are weighing up a summer move for Wolves midfielder Matheus Nunes
The midfield has been the one problem area for Jurgen Klopp’s (left) Liverpool of late and Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham (right) is still their No 1 transfer target
Liverpool could take a midfielder on loan this month if they find someone who fits their requirements but it all has the feel of quick fixes rather than the evolution of another winning team.
And while Bellingham is undoubtedly an excellent player, his game lends itself to a more advanced position. With the back line currently getting so little protection, they’ll need a defensive midfielder too.
Brentford are enjoying one of the best seasons in their history and they might even be an outside bet to qualify for Europe.
They’ve beaten both Manchester sides and have drawn with Chelsea and Tottenham. They even held Liverpool to a 3-3 draw last season in the same fixture.
Yet the Reds seemed blissfully unprepared for the type of challenge they were going to face at the GTech Community Stadium.
Liverpool’s players didn’t help themselves by not being switched on in the loss at Brentford
Brentford had just 27 per cent possession but they certainly exploited it, battering Liverpool with their direct balls to quick forwards and bullying them at set-pieces.
Of course the quick turnaround between fixtures at this time of year makes it difficult for players to fully absorb all the intel on the opposition they’re given but Liverpool badly underestimated Brentford.
A shoddy performance was compounded by basic individual errors. Elliott tried a needless dummy just before Brentford scored their second goal at a time when Liverpool were reeling after the Bees had two goals disallowed.
Harvey Elliott (left) struggled against the Bees and was taken off by Jurgen Klopp at half-time
Leaders need to LEAD
Who’s up next?
Premier League unless stated
Saturday Wolves (H)
FA Cup third round
January 14 Brighton (A)
January 21 Chelsea (H)
February 4 Wolves (A)
February 13 Everton (H)
February 18 Newcastle United (A)
What happened to Klopp’s ‘mentality monsters’? The modern-day Liverpool teams and players that simply refuse to give in right until the final whistle.
Liverpool looked beaten well before Mbeumo put the game to bed. Shoulders were slumped, and energy and resolve to salvage the situation was non-existent.
This central pillar of Klopp’s Liverpool is increasingly not there. In such difficult situations – and it’s usually away from home, where they’ve won just two of eight leagues games this season – the leaders in the team need to step forward.
Andy Robertson led a frantic inquest after the third goal but it was too late by that point.
You only have to look at the chaos Brentford created from their first-half corners to appreciate the issue.
Surely Liverpool’s video analysis team would have pinpointed these situations as an area where Brentford would look to hurt them?
Brentford opened the scoring because Fabinho wasn’t able to win a near-post header and the ball bounced in off Ibrahima Konate. Unfortunate, but was the lesson learned?
No. Yoane Wissa turned the ball home but having stepped back from an offside position after Mbeumo’s corner was flicked on by a runner to the near post.
Yoane Wissa was able to capitalise on chaos in the Liverpool defence at corner kicks
Then Wissa was allowed too much space to connect with a deeper corner delivery and send the ball in via a deflection off Ben Mee, who was standing offside.
When Wissa did finally head Brentford’s second, it was because Trent Alexander-Arnold had been left with two men to mark at the back post.
It was sloppy defending and poor organisation – and the blame must lie with Van Dijk and Konate.
Trent Alexander-Arnold reflects on the defeat, which was a major setback in their top four push
Get back to heavy-metal, high-pressing football
Another hallmark of Klopp’s Liverpool is their ferocious and relentless pressing from the front that gives opponents no peace.
Those standards have slipped of late and when combined with the high defensive line Liverpool continue to deploy, it can be a recipe for disaster, especially against teams with pace.
Without the intensity of the press, Liverpool struggle to impose themselves on games and if they’re not going to carry on doing it, Klopp needs to do something different defensively.
Liverpool’s lack of a high press combined with a high defensive line was a recipe for disaster
The drop-off may be to do with the tight turnaround between games – Liverpool played on Boxing Day, December 30 and then January 2. But that isn’t any different to anyone else.
They were out-run by Brentford, who covered 73 miles collectively to their 66.
Obviously several players were at the World Cup last month, but others were in Dubai going through what amounted to another pre-season training camp.
Or maybe in year seven of Klopp’s ‘heavy metal football’ there is just an urgent need for reinvention.
Get Salah into the game more
Mohamed Salah was starved of service
Mohamed Salah had the opportunity to set another Liverpool record on Monday night. A goal would have taken him ahead of Michael Owen’s 55 goals away from home in the Premier League.
He would also have moved ahead of Sir Kenny Dalglish as the club’s seventh-highest goalscorer of all-time.
Unfortunately, the Egyptian was largely anonymous and barely had a sniff of goal all evening.
It isn’t as if Salah is out of form. He returned from the World Cup break by scoring one and setting up another in the win at Aston Villa, taking his season tallies to 16 goals and six assists.
But nobody could get him any decent service at Brentford. Maybe that will improve when Cody Gakpo is integrated into the side because his assist record for PSV is exceptional.
Salah is far from Liverpool’s main problem though.
Cody Gakpo has arrived from PSV Eindhoven and is poised to come into the Liverpool side
Stop the Harvey Elliott experiment
Harvey Elliott has been one of Liverpool’s more encouraging performers this season but it wouldn’t have done his confidence any good to be taken off at half-time.
He has been playing on the right side of the midfield three in Henderson’s absence but lacks the anticipation of the England midfielder, which contributes to the defensive weakness.
Elliott is more forward-thinking, which is a positive in many games, but on Monday it wasn’t what Liverpool needed.
Perhaps Elliott should swap places with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, occupying the left-sided attacking role in the absence of the injured Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-11594677/Liverpool-weaknesses-exposed-Brentford-Jurgen-Klopp-plenty-do.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Liverpool weaknesses exposed by Brentford as Jurgen Klopp has plenty to do