At the beginning of the campaign, Liverpool were expected to fight for the Premier League title with Manchester City. However, things have not gone according to plan for the Reds.
It’s difficult to comprehend how a squad that played every possible match last season and was fighting for the quadruple has dropped so far down the pecking order this season. Liverpool’s decline is difficult to grasp, as Jurgen Klopp’s team is languishing in an unusual mid-table position. The warning sirens began to sound the moment Liverpool’s Premier League season began. Many anticipated things to improve with each passing game, but the Reds’ season kept falling apart at every turn.
As things stand, Liverpool are lying eight in the table, with 19 points from 13 games. They have won five, drawn four and lost four. It is this inconsistency that would have frustrated their supporters. One weekend, they beat the defending champions Manchester City and the other weekend, they lose against bottom-placed Nottingham Forest. With more than two-thirds of the season still remaining, Liverpool can yet salvage something from this disappointing league campaign, but it is undeniably strange to see them where they are.
At the beginning of the campaign, Liverpool were expected to fight for the Premier League title with Manchester City. However, things have not gone according to plan for the Reds. While Man City have maintained their position near the top of the table, Liverpool have fallen deep down. It is highly doubtful that Liverpool will go on a winning streak like the one they had in the second part of last season. Nonetheless, an unusual winter World Cup will significantly disrupt this season. As a result, anything can happen when leagues around Europe resume in December after a month-long break.
Liverpool paid big money to land the 23-year-old Uruguayan in the summer from Benfica. He was an exciting addition to a high-flying Reds squad. Many pundits believed throughout last season the one area in the pitch where Liverpool missed someone was up front. Roberto Firmino has been used as a make-shift centre-forward by Klopp for the last few seasons. However, Firmino was played more as a false nine rather than an out-and-out goal poacher.
|Roberto Firmino’s club career||Matches||Goals||Assists|
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Despite Firmino’s incredible work rate and good link-up play, his lack of goals were proving to be a problem for the Reds. He has scored a total of 106 goals for Liverpool in 347 games and has 78 assists to his name. While these numbers are not bad but they are neither good enough for the centre-forward of a club that is competing on all fronts across Europe. Hence, several pundits and supporters urged the Anfield club to sign a proper number nine and they got their wish delivered with Nunez’s arrival.
Darwin Nunez is not a prolific goal scorer yet, however, he has the potential to be a world-class striker one day. The massive transfer fee spent by Liverpool on Nunez was not just for the present but also for the future. However, his arrival has forced Klopp to alter his system to fit the Uruguayan in the Starting XI. This is the first time in a long while Klopp has been consistently playing with an out-and-out striker. Klopp did this in the past with Divock Origi, however, the Belgian could never establish himself in the team, and thus the German coach instead used Firmino in that role.
Over the last couple of seasons, he has also played Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane, who has departed for Bayern Munich, in that role up top. This has helped Klopp in maintaining fluidity up front. The versatile front three created massive havoc in the opposition’s defences as Liverpool grew as a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. Mohamed Salah on the right wing was the only constant, while Mane and Luis Diaz normally played on the left, with Jota battling it out with Firmino for the false nine position.
Another advantage of having a makeshift centre-forward in a false nine position allowed the striker to drop deep and link up play with the midfield. This, in turn, enabled Salah or Mane/Diaz to make the runs behind the opposition’s defence. Firmino was good enough to pick those passes and was equally clever enough to make several dummy runs to drag the defenders with them, thereby creating spaces in behind for Salah or Mane/Diaz. However, Nunez’s arrival has posed a small problem for the Reds in this aspect.
Unlike Firmino, Nunez does not normally drop deep to receive balls and instead plays as the Reds’ most advanced forward. This meant that Salah and Diaz – before he got injured – had to create chances for the Uruguayan more often than making forward runs of their own. This has also seen those two attackers going wide on occasions than moving in centrally. To fix this issue, Klopp has been trying to play in a 4-4-2 system this season. Not in the traditional 4-4-2 style but with a diamond midfield if need be.
This has allowed Mohamed Salah to even play up front alongside Nunez at times. While Salah can be a real force down the middle, the Egyptian is more deadly when he is cutting inside from the right flank – something the Anfield crowd has witnessed aplenty over the last few seasons. It goes without saying that the change in system and shape is starting to affect their attacking play. This is evident with the number of goals the Reds have scored till now. Liverpool’s 23 league goals from 12 matches is not a bad return, but they scored an astonishing 94 from 38 last season – a tally that is looking unlikely for the Reds to reach this campaign. It is too early to write off Klopp’s new system, but the truth is the changes are taking longer than expected to give the desired result.
— Darwin Núñez (@Darwinn99) November 6, 2022
It is still early days for Darwin Nunez at Anfield, hence not much can be made out of his indifferent start to the season. He has had his ups and downs. At the start of the season, Nunez received a straight red for headbutting Crystal Palace defender Joachim Andersen. He had to miss three matches for that silly offence – one that could have been avoided. When he returned, Nunez did contribute on some occasions to help the Reds get out of trouble.
|Darwin Nunez’s Liverpool career||Matches||Goals||Assists|
He has scored a total of seven goals so far in 17 matches this season. It is not a bad return in one’s maiden campaign in England. If the numbers are divided further, then Nunez has three Premier goals from nine games, three Champions League strikes from six games and one goal in the Community Shield. Even if many would blame Nunez for Liverpool’s problems in the attacking third, the numbers reveal that the Uruguayan is not the main issue. However, the system which Klopp is adopting to fit Nunez is not foolproof yet, hence the Reds are unable to reach the heights of the last few seasons.
Another big reason for Liverpool’s poor form this season is the number of injuries they have suffered particularly in the middle of the park. At one point or another, almost every one of their midfielders suffered injuries. Starting with skipper Jordan Henderson, Curtis Jones, Calvin Ramsay and Harvey Elliott had their own issues. Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Arthur Melo have been regular absentees, while the Reds missed Thiago Alcantara the most.
The absence of a player such as Thiago can be a big problem for any side. Thiago, known for pulling the strings from the middle of the park, has often been the bridge between defence and offence. His playmaking ability allows the Spaniard to dictate the play and be the team’s chief orchestrator. This in turn makes the job of other players easy. Someone like Thiago is rare to find, hence the task becomes extra difficult when a player like that gets injured, which has been one of the biggest concerns for Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp did not have a like-for-like replacement for the Spaniard. He had good workhorses and players with pace but lacked Thiago’s vision when it comes to providing passes that can split open the opposition’s defence or retaining the ball under pressure. To make matters worse, many of Klopp’s other midfielders were injured at the same time Thiago was on the sidelines. Besides, the ones who were playing were nowhere near their usual best. Fabinho is one such example, as he failed to reach the heights of his previous seasons.
Some of these ongoing issues were predicted by a section of experts and supporters in the past. Not to mention that Thiago is already a 31-year-old and has been frequently out of action through injuries. Hence, it begs the question as to why Liverpool spent big on a centre-forward instead of splitting the funds on midfield and attack. Fabinho is 29, Henderson is 32 and James Milner, who also plays as a midfielder at times, is 36. Not only Liverpool have struggled for goals and game control from their midfield, but soon aging legs might also become a problem to address for Klopp in the near future.