Jurgen Klopp forced to adjust season’s ambitions as Liverpool plumb new depths at Hull City
Hull City 2 Liverpool 0
Hull: N’Diaye (44’), Niasse (84’)
Man of the Match: Andrea Ranocchia (Hull City)
HULL // So much for the notion that Sadio Mane’s return would be a panacea for Liverpool’s problems. Or, indeed, the idea that now January is over they would revert to being the all-conquering force of autumn. If February brought a change, it lay solely in the way Liverpool plumbed new depths at Hull City. If it was not before, their title race is run.
It feels more than five weeks since Jurgen Klopp celebrated victory by pointing out his side were only six points behind table-topping Chelsea and in hot pursuit. Now they are 13 behind them and could drop out of the top four for the first time since September on Sunday.
Theirs has been a swift, undignified decline. Their aims have been downgraded. “The [Uefa] Champions League is an outstanding, big, big target,” Klopp said.
But, unbeaten and seemingly unbeatable against their top-six peers, Liverpool contrive to find ways of losing to their supposed inferiors. Each of their six conquerors this season reside in either the lower half of the Premier League or the Championship.
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“We have the record against these teams and the record against the other teams,” Klopp said. “I can understand how it looks from the outside.”
They can seem a schizophrenic side. Roberto Firmino epitomises them, a player who can seem unstoppable but was deeply average at Hull. Philippe Coutinho has been shorn of inspiration since regaining fitness. Adam Lallana was anonymous. Mane’s return reunited a quartet who had not played together since November, but Liverpool did not regain such form.
When Liverpool fail to gel, the quirks of their tactics — the lack of width, the lack of a specialist finisher, the accumulation of similar players — become issues.
A recurring theme is the shortcomings of their goalkeepers. Simon Mignolet has been at fault for two goals in as many games and if he redeemed himself for conceding David Luiz’s free kick against Chelsea by saving Diego Costa’s penalty, his latest blunder was more costly.
Under pressure from Abel Hernandez, he failed to hold a Harry Maguire header, affording Alfred N’Diaye an open goal. The Senegalese did not miss. Like the impressive Kamil Grosicki, he had only trained for two days with his new colleagues. It did not show.
His debut goal was compounded by a concession to another January signing. Oumar Niasse was a Merseyside misfit, not even granted a squad number at Everton. But the on-loan attacker raced on to Andrea Ranocchia’s long pass to slide in Hull’s second goal.
The Italian’s involvement showed Hull’s capacity to triumph in adversity. He was not due to start, but Michael Dawson injured a calf in the warm-up. Ranocchia is on a short-term deal from Inter Milan: while others spend, Hull are looking to borrow their way to safety. With six newcomers and three full debutants prospering, it promises to be a profitable policy.
Ranocchia allied an assist with a display of defensive resilience. “We had very good organisation,” the precociously impressive manager Marco Silva said.
Liverpool’s greatest chance was their first, Harry Maguire contriving to deflect a Coutinho shot wide. Thereafter Eldin Jakupovic saved contrasting headers, Emre Can’s low effort and Mane’s looping attempt. Coutinho missed a second chance he would normally take
Hernandez squandered two chances in as many minutes, prodding a shot wide before a heavy touch allowed Mignolet to save. Yet each pointed to the creativity of Hull, in the shape of Tom Huddlestone and Grosicki respectively. Liverpool’s defence was carved open.
“We gave easy goals away,” said Klopp. “We have to take all the criticism. We have to show an answer, not give an answer.”
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Published: February 4, 2017 04:00 AM