Trent in midfield, Van Dijk back and learn from Everton: How Klopp can rebuild Liverpool's shattered confidence

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The Reds' season reached a new low at Wolves, but there is still some light at the end of the tunnel at Anfield

It’s become a regular feature for Liverpool this season, the old Monday morning post-mortem. The video analysis room at the AXA Training Centre is getting plenty of use at the moment, as Jurgen Klopp, his players and staff search for answers and, more importantly, a way out of the Reds’ current crisis.

In a campaign filled with unpleasant surprises, Saturday’s 3-0 defeat to Wolves represented a new low. It left Liverpool 10th in the Premier League table, out of both domestic cups and having won only one of seven games in all competitions since the turn of the year.

They are 11 points off the top four - a stated ‘minimum aim’ at the start of the season - and closer to the bottom of the league than they are the top. Their run of three successive away league defeats is their worst in 11 years, and they are currently on course to record their lowest points total since the 2011-12 campaign.

In a candid, and at times tetchy, post-match press conference at Molineux, Klopp insisted that he still believed in his ability to turn things around, but admitted that his players’ confidence was at rock bottom. Rebuilding that, he said, would be key, especially with a Merseyside derby against Everton at Anfield next up.

How exactly, though, can he do that? What can the manager do to spark his underperforming stars into life?

GOAL takes a look…

  1. Remember, remember

    Remember, remember

    It feels different, because so much of what has happened this season has been so unexpected, but this is not actually the first time Klopp’s Liverpool has found itself in this kind of position.

    Two years ago, the Reds were in the midst of a run of six successive home league defeats, as sides like Burnley, Brighton, Fulham and, yes, Everton, came to Anfield and left with the points.

    Then, as now, there were injuries and crises of confidence, rumours of an unhappy dressing room and an unhappy manager. Then, as now, Klopp put the latter to bed, insisting he was up for the challenge of fixing things.

    Fix them he did. Liverpool didn’t finish 2020-21 playing great football, and they certainly didn’t win a trophy, but they found a way to get the results they needed, dogging out away wins and getting over their homesickness through grit and determination. They finished with a run of 10 games unbeaten, eight of them victories, to finish third and qualify for the Champions League, when some had speculated that even a top-half spot might be beyond them.

    A repeat this season looks unlikely, granted, but Klopp knows it can be done. Recent history tells him that. 

  2. Get the big man back
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    Get the big man back

    Whisper it, but it looks like there could be some good news on the injury front this week, with Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Virgil van Dijk all potentially returning to full training at Kirkby.

    All three will make a difference, but it is Van Dijk whose impact would be the most immediate. Liverpool’s defending has been little short of diabolical in recent weeks, with 13 goals conceded in five games against Brentford, Brighton and Wolves, and a worrying vulnerability at set-pieces emerging.

    That vulnerability will certainly be tested against Everton, who will arrive at Anfield buoyed by what was potentially a season-changing win over Arsenal last weekend, and having Van Dijk, even a 75 percent fit Van Dijk, on the field would be a major boost for Klopp, as well as for the likes of Andy Robertson and Joel Matip, who have been finding life tough in the Dutchman’s absence.

    His aerial presence, and his voice, could be absolutely crucial on derby day. 

  3. Change the record

    Change the record

    You don’t need to look at the league table to know that all is not well at Anfield, you just need to look at the faces and the body language - of the players and of Klopp.

    Take Molineux as the perfect example. From the moment Matip shanked the second pass of the afternoon straight to Ruben Neves, there was an air of resignation about Liverpool, a feeling of ‘here we go again’ as another game passed them by, another opponent outworked and outplayed them, and another set of fans took their opportunity to rub salt in the wounds.

    Klopp’s mood, understandably, was pretty dark afterwards, and it was right that he chose not to offer excuses for his players. Indeed, he suggested it was time they stopped hiding behind the main one - namely that they played so many games last season that there was bound to be a drop off this term.

    That's a good idea. But he did also create unnecessary headlines by taking issue, unfairly, with a journalist, and he did invite ridicule by dismissing Wolves’ third goal as irrelevant, giving their social media team a tap-in which they duly accepted. 

    These, like complaining about kick-off times or the fixture schedule or the weather, may seem like minor things in the grand scheme - and nobody really cares when you're winning - but they add fuel to the fire, to the notion that Liverpool are ‘cracking up’, and they need to be avoided. 

    You can’t polish a you-know-what, as they say, and nobody expects Klopp to come out laughing, joking and full of the joys of spring, but he can make life easier for himself by saying a little less than he is at the moment.

  4. Fix up, look sharp
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    Fix up, look sharp

    Here’s a scenario for you. Imagine if, in the eighth minute of the game against Brentford on January 2, Darwin Nunez collects Mohamed Salah’s pass, rounds David Raya and sweeps Liverpool into an early lead. 

    Or imagine if, in the first half of the game against Brighton on January 14, Salah latches onto Jordan Henderson’s pass down the right, stands up his man and smashes the ball past Robert Sanchez.

    How about if Nunez squares to Salah before half-time at Wolves? Or if the Uruguayan takes the chance created for him by Trent Alexander-Arnold in the second half?

    Ifs, buts and maybes, of course, but there is no doubt that Liverpool have had the chance, and the chances, to make this a very different season for themselves. They’ve lost seven Premier League match, and in all of them they've been in the game at some point, only for their finishing and/or decision-making in the final third to let them down at crucial moments.

    Goals change games, and the Reds haven’t been scoring enough of them. Take away the freak 9-0 win over Bournemouth in August, and they’ve managed 25 in 20 league matches, as many as Aston Villa and fewer than a Leeds side that sacked its manager on Monday, fearing relegation.

    They’ve only scored the first goal six times in the league this season, and boy does it make life harder when you're constantly 1-0 down and fearing the worst.

    It’s on Salah, Nunez and Co. to help change that, sharpish.

  5. Try Trent in midfield
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    Try Trent in midfield

    It’s a suggestion often thrown out by supporters and pundits, one which has been regularly dismissed by Klopp and his staff. 

    But with Trent Alexander-Arnold struggling to impact games as he so often has from right-back, and with opponents clearly intent on clipping the England man’s wings by targeting his flank with lightning-quick transitions, could a shift into midfield, even just for the short-term, benefit Liverpool?

    Certainly both Joe Gomez and James Milner are imperfect solutions at right-back - and summer signing Calvin Ramsay has barely been seen - but both have performed capably there in the past, and it would be interesting to see whether Alexander-Arnold’s delivery and long-range shooting could make a difference to a midfield that still looks less than ordinary, despite the removal of the struggling Fabinho and Jordan Henderson. The 24-year-old often ends up there anyway, as games get away from Liverpool in the second half.

    One suspects that Klopp will resist the temptation to make such a drastic change, especially for a derby match, but it would be understandable if he did. Alexander-Arnold is the Reds’ most creative player, but he is spending far too much time on the back foot at the moment.

  6. Learn from Everton?
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    Learn from Everton?

    If Sean Dyche’s first game in charge at Goodison Park showed anything, it’s that you’re never too far away from turning a corner in football. 

    Everton’s form has been little short of embarrassing since November, but there they were last weekend, beating the league leaders and delivering the kind of performance which convinces players and supporters that better days lie ahead.

    And they didn’t do anything particularly dramatic or unexpected, either. They defended their penalty area better, they ran harder, they got the ball into dangerous areas from wide positions and they asked questions from well-delivered set-pieces. 

    Perhaps most important of all, they give their fans reason to get behind, and involve themselves in, the performance. Even had Everton not held on against Arsenal, one suspects there would have been a rousing reception at full time.

    Liverpool do not have to go full Dyche at Anfield next Monday, but they have to make sure their supporters are part of the game. That means concentration, organisation, aggression and body language which screams intent and full commitment, right from the first whistle.

    Exactly the opposite of Wolves, in other words.