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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

Liverpool front three firing blanks leaves Jurgen Klopp short of options in attack

The Reds' goalless draw with Manchester United on Sunday was their third game in a row without a goal

Jurgen Klopp cemented his place in Liverpool folklore when his team emulated the feats of 2005. His side did so again on Sunday; just in unwanted fashion.

Klopp secured Liverpool’s sixth European Cup, 14 years after Rafa Benitez prevailed in extraordinary fashion in Istanbul. Yet two months before then, his Liverpool went three league games without a goal.

In the subsequent 16 years, Liverpool never did that. Until Manchester United secured their third stalemate in five visits to Anfield.

In itself, it was hardly a bad result for Liverpool – and given the saves Alisson made from Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, it could have been a worse one – but it was the cumulative impact.

A failure to score against Southampton, Newcastle or in the final 78 minutes versus West Bromwich Albion left them with no goal in 348 minutes. A team who, a year ago, claimed 106 points from 108 now have three from 12.

Klopp attempted to downgrade expectations, talking of the target being the top four, rather than the title. He tried to apply a little perspective. “This is not the most difficult period I have been through in my life,” he said. “It’s not even close.” His time at Mainz acquainted him with heartbreak, whether from relegation or missing out on promotion in cruel fashion.

His Liverpool career has brought regular doses of the January blues; in 2017, when they didn’t win in nine games, they had a particularly acute case. Klopp’s teams tend to peak both earlier and later in the season. And yet this is a campaign unlike any others; its peculiarities may affect Liverpool more than most.

Klopp’s high-tempo, perfectly-calibrated brand of football relied more on training and peak conditioning. Liverpool tended to feed off the energy of their crowd and vice versa. They have not looked as sharp or as inspired.

And yet there is also a case for arguing they have been enduring the sort of spell of bad luck which, cliché has it, will even itself out. Since Sadio Mane struck against West Brom, they have posted an expected goals tally of 4.90 and not scored. Even when looking laboured, they have had chances.

Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Roberto Firmino (R) shoots but fails to score during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on January 17, 2021. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / AFP / POOL / Michael Regan / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications.
Liverpool attacker Roberto Firmino puts a chance wide against Manchester United on Sunday. AFP

Perhaps they simply used all their goals up in the 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace. Part of their subsequent drought can be attributed to poor finishing. Mane has been unusually impotent in the last three months. Roberto Firmino can be profligate, which matters less when others compensate.

Diogo Jota did that brilliantly, but Klopp’s decision to field the Portuguese in a Champions League dead rubber against FC Midtjylland backfired when he sustained a knee injury. A manager who was vocal in his complaints about player workload has been rather quieter since then. Jota’s absence matters more given Klopp’s lack of faith in Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi’s year-long malaise.

“We need to score goals,” said captain Jordan Henderson. “And I’m not talking just about the front three, by the way. I’m talking about everyone: midfielders, full-backs getting into the box, set-pieces. Everybody can chip in. We need to start doing that quickly.”

And yet the Klopp model has been to rely on the front three, and the reserve forwards, for goals. Van Dijk was their fourth-highest Premier League scorer last season.

With Philippe Coutinho never replaced, a choice that has been justified, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been the closest thing to a midfield scorer, but he has only played 79 minutes this season.

Naby Keita’s injuries and inability to kick on have stripped them of another supposed threat. Now, supporting Henderson’s point, no midfielder or defender has more than one league goal. It leaves Liverpool, once again, looking reliant on that misfiring front three.

Published: January 18, 2021 05:41 PM

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