West Ham 2 Liverpool 0
LONDON // “The best playmaker there is,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp once said of gegenpressing, the tactic of attempting to win possession back as soon as it is lost that he has become synonymous with.
On the evidence of Saturday’s insipid 2-0 defeat to West Ham United, his side are still worryingly short of creativity from both individual and systemic sources.
Back-to-back 1-0 wins over Leicester City and Sunderland had seen Liverpool close the gap on the top four in recent days, but this loss leaves them closer to the bottom half of the table than the Uefa Champions League places.
For Klopp, the honeymoon period is not just over but consigned to distant memory.
“It was not enough from my team today. In decisive moments we were there but we were not there,” the German said in his post-match press conference. “I told my players after the game: ‘not enough’.”
This defeat was not just a standalone setback but part of a continuing pattern that has seen Liverpool struggle to overcome opponents who sit deep and hit with speed on the break.
Their most impressive and memorable Premier League triumphs under Klopp came away at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium, where Chelsea and Manchester City were obliged to take the initiative.
Liverpool looked in their element in such an environment. In the 4-1 thrashing of City in November, they hassled and harried the hosts into submission, pressing high up the pitch and countering with speed and incision.
When facing traditionally smaller sides, though, they have generally struggled.
Reaction: Jurgen Klopp 'really angry' after Liverpool's 'deserved' defeat to West Ham
Crystal Palace were the first team to inflict defeat upon Klopp by ceding possession and storming forward when the ball was turned over when they met at Anfield in November.
Newcastle United and Watford followed suit in subsequent weeks, and West Ham unsurprisingly replicated the approach at the Boleyn Ground too.
It is often viewed that the scoreline is the only statistic that matters, but none of the figures from the game made for particularly pretty reading for the visitors.
Of the 23 shots Liverpool mustered, 14 came from outside the box and only two were on target.
Despite having a 65 per cent share of the ball, Adrian was forced to make a save on only one occasion.
There was little sense of unity in forward areas or passing combinations that troubled the West Ham backline.
Liverpool lacked invention and imagination. Their possession was passive and their runs ponderous.
Hopeful crosses were flung into the box and received with delight by Angelo Ogbonna and James Collins, an old-fashioned centre-half who was magnificent in the heart of the defence.
As resolute as West Ham were, Liverpool’s attacking players failed to do enough to properly test them.
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Philippe Coutinho’s commitment to shooting from outside the box seems unconditional. Roberto Firmino produced a few nice flicks but again failed to stamp his mark on the game, while Jordon Ibe quickly faded after a lively start.
Christian Benteke was even more disappointing up top, too sloppy with his touch and too static with his movement.
He may have netted the winning goals against Leicester and Sunderland, but the £32.5 million (Dh176.3m) man did little here to suggest that the doubts over his compatibility with this Liverpool team have been quelled.
“It’s my responsibility. I’m angry with myself today,” Klopp said, attempting to deflect the pressure away from his players and onto himself.
It will likely take a full pre-season for the former Borussia Dortmund boss to fully implement his methods and get his ideas across, particularly in regards to the concerted and coordinated pressing game he champions.
Until then, Klopp needs more from the likes of Coutinho and Firmino on an individual basis.
The lack of creativity is concerning, and if Liverpool are to finish in the top four this term it is a problem that must be addressed soon.
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