After two chastening defeats to the then bottom and second bottom teams in the Premier League – the latter seeing Liverpool knocked out of the FA Cup in the fourth round for the third year in a row – the Reds got back to winning ways against Huddersfield on Tuesday night with a comfortable 3-0 victory.
So the Jurgen Klopp magical mystery tour is back on the rails – for now.
But why did it come off the rails in the first place? After an impressive run of 18 matches without a defeat how did things go so badly – so suddenly – awry?
After Swansea’s impressive 3-1 come from behind win over Arsenal on Tuesday night, the 1-0 reverse to the Swans – the first of the two losses – in retrospect doesn’t look so bad.
If you go back to their game against Swansea Klopp’s team were unlucky. All the key stats were in Liverpool’s favour – shots on goal 21-3, shots on target 4-2, pass success 88%-68%, aerial duels won 51% to 49% and a whopping possession advantage of 72 percent-28 percent.
It was a match were Swansea defended very well and Liverpool simply could not find a break through. As Swans’ manager Carlos Carvalhal explained the plan was to get the Red Ferraris (Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Robert Firmino) stuck in traffic – and it worked perfectly.
But that being said it was a match Liverpool could have easily drawn – or even won – if the ball bounced a slightly different way.
However the West Brom debacle, where Liverpool conceded three first half goals for the first time since Real Madrid in 2014, was exactly that and saw the Reds only realistic chance of silverware this year thrown out the window.
It was all the more painful for Liverpool supporters as it came after a hard-won third round defeat of Merseyside rivals Everton, and an exceptional late-winner by new defensive lynch pin Virgil Van Dijk who was on debut.
But Van Dijk was part of the reason for what went wrong against WBA.
In a move that was as baffling as it turned out to be ill-fated, Klopp rotated his two-fullbacks for the crucial tie.
Out went the in-form and hard-working Andrew Robertson, who at 8 million pounds is quickly turning into Liverpool’s best value buy since Luis Suarez, and in came the haphazard defensive liability Alberto Moreno.
The young Spanard was directly responsible for two of the West Brom goals, caught completely out of position as he wandered around somewhere on the left flank like a lost schoolboy.
The other fullback change saw Joe Gomez swap with another young tyro – Trent Alexander-Arnold. This was less catastrophic than the Moreno-Robertson switch but still had an effect.
The hard truth is that the back four of Moreno, Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Alexander-Arnold had never played together before – and Klopp simply could not introduce a new defensive line-up in such a crucial match.
It‘s clear to the entire world where Liverpool’s Achilles’ heel is located – their back four – they have conceded eight more goals than Burnley in the EPL this year.
It’s also clear the cornerstone to any winning team in the Premier League over the last few decades has been a settled and regular defensive line, same to for Chelsea and Leicester in recent years.
So what is so infuriating is Klopp’s refusal to pick a back-four and stick with it. The German’s mix and match philosophy only exacerbates Liverpool’s defensive frailties.
In the entire 18-match unbeaten run the German only put out the same back four in consecutive games once.
The quartet of Robertson, Ragnar Klavan, Dejan Lovren and Gomez who kept a clean-sheet in the 4-0 win at Bournemouth were retained for the next game at Arsenal, but quickly dismantled after conceding three goals (in a horrific five-minute spell) in that match.
So inconsistency in selection is clearly one of Liverpool’s major failings but then going into such a big match – and let’s not down play this, Liverpool fans are desperate for a trophy and this was Liverpool’s best chance this season – it was no time to be tinkering again with the back four.
The Reds previous matches before the FA Cup tie were the thrilling 4-3 win over Manchester City – that brought the Cityzens own long winning run to a close.
The back four for that match was Robertson, Lovren, Matip and Gomez. Klopp understandably swapped Van Dijk in for the trip to Swansea.
But then out of arrogance or stupidity, he rotated Robertson and Gomez out for the crucial FA Cup tie and up went Liverpool’s 2017-18 silver-ware hopes in a puff of white smoke.
Let’s make some facts very clear – this back four had never played together – ever; it was just Van Dijk’s third game for the club; and Moreno had not played since the 7-0 thrashing of Spartak Moscow on December 6 last year!
Van Dijk was never going to fix all our defensive problems.— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) January 27, 2018
You wonder whether Klopp did a quick meet-and-greet in the dressing room before the team walked out: “Virgil this is Albert, he’ll be masquerading as your left back tonight – so you might want to be careful there. And this is Trent – nice young kid. He’ll do his best but he is my second choice these days.”
With Liverpool’s clear defensive gaps, the ongoing goal-keeping issues, and the importance of the game against a tricky opponent – who Liverpool drew 0-0 with at Anfield late last year – the selection smacked of extreme arrogance or stupidity, and on previous knowledge of Klopp he is far from dumb.
If Liverpool are to overcome their defensive problems and become real contenders Klopp must pick and stick with his back-four and curiously that may not include Van Dijk. The back four against Huddersfield was Robertson, the much-maligned Lovren, Matip and Gomez.
Liverpool could do worse than just stick with this quartet for the rest of the season – let’s face it, they don’t have that hectic a match schedule now.
The Reds began their 18-match unbeaten run with a 3-0 defeat of Huddersfield back in October last year. Reds fans will be hoping this 3-0 defeat of the Terriers starts a similar sequence – but only if Klopp learns a little humility and acknowledges the very substantial limitations of his defensive options.
KLOPP’S EVER CHANGING WAYS – LIVERPOOL’S BACK FOUR SWITCHES IN THEIR 18-MATCH UNBEATEN RUN
28.10.17 v Huddersfield (EPL) 3-0 – Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Gomez
01.11.17 v Maribor (UCL) 3-0- Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Alexander-Arnold
04.11.17 @ West Ham (EPL) 4-1 – Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Gomez
18.11.17 v Southampton (EPL) 3-0 – Moreno, Klavan, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold
21.11.17 @ Sevilla (UCL) 3-3 – Moreno, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez
25.11.17 v Chelsea (EPL) 1-1 – Moreno, Klavan, Matip, Gomez
29.11.17 @ Stoke (EPL) 3-0 – Moreno, Lovren, Matip, Gomez
02.12.17 @ Brighton (EPL) 5-1 – Robertson, Wijnaldum, Lovren, Can, Alexander-Arnold
06.12.17 v Spartak Moscow (UCL) 7-0 – Moreno, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez
10.12.17 v Everton (EPL) 1-1 – Robertson, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez
13.12.17 v West Bromwich Albion (UCL) 0-0: Robertson, Klavan, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold
17.12.17 @ Bournemouth (EPL) 4-0 – Robertson, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez
22.12.17 @ Arsenal (EPL) 3-3 – Robertson, Klavan, Lovren, Gomez
26.12.17 v Swansea (EPL) 5-0 – Robertson, Klavan, Matip, Alexander-Arnold
30.12.17 v Leicester (EPL) 2-1 – Robertson, Lovren, Matip, Gomez
01.01.18 @ Burnley (EPL) 2-1 – Gomez, Klavan, Lovren, Alexander-Arnold
05.01.18 v Everton (FAC) 2-1 – Robertson, Van Dijk, Matip, Gomez
14.01.18 v Manchester City (EPL) 4-3 – Robertson, Lovren, Matip, Gomez
Chelsea have secured the signing of left-back Emerson Palmieri from Roma on a four-and-a-half year deal, the Premier League champions said on Tuesday.
The 23-year-old played just twice for Roma this season after missing the first three months of the campaign with a serious knee injury.
“I came here because it’s a great team with a great history. Today I am realising one of my dreams to pull on the shirt of such a great club,” Emerson told the Chelsea website.
“English football is something I have been watching since I was 15 years old. It is a really beautiful game over here but it is going to be even more beautiful to play it.”
The Brazil-born defender, who joined Roma from Santos in 2015, obtained Italian citizenship last year and was called up to the Italy squad by then coach Gian Piero Ventura in May.
But he was injured on the final weekend of the Serie A season and was forced to withdraw from the squad.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 30, 2018
Arsenal Arsene Wenger is resigned to losing Olivier Giroud on transfer deadline day but has yet to confirm Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is definitely joining the club.
Aubameyang may have spent Tuesday afternoon at the club’s training ground, but the Gunners manager was reluctant to say the club record £60million deal for the Borussia Dortmund striker would be concluded for certain on Wednesday.
Just moments after seeing his team lose at 3-1 resurgent Swansea City on Tuesday, Wenger would not be drawn on whether he felt Giroud’s anticipated £18m move to Chelsea would be offset by Aubameyang’s arrival.
“I will inform you tomorrow (Wednesday),” said Wenger, when asked if the transfer was about to be completed.
Asked whether he was confident it would go through, he added: “Confidence does not help, because nowadays the deals can be so complicated.”
Wenger also refused to say Giroud had played his final match for the club after the Frenchman came on as a late substitute, but was unable to prevent his club from losing to the Premier League strugglers.
“That will all be decided tomorrow,” said Wenger when asked about Giroud’s future, with Dortmund also a possible destination if the Chelsea deal falls through.
But the fact that Wenger talked about Giroud in the past tense suggested the striker is about to end his six-year association with Arsenal.
“Olivier is a guy who gave great service to the club, who never let us down and saved us many times. I asked him if he could commit tonight and he had no problem with that,” he said.
“He became a strong international player for France. He has always been top class.
“But I don’t want to talk too much about where he goes.
“He is an Arsenal man, but he needs to play as well. At some stage, it was not a good situation for him.”