Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool had to settle for a solitary point after an exhilirating game against Watford ended in a 3-3 draw at Vicarage Road.
Following a turbulent 24 hours after Philippe Coutinho’s transfer request, the club and fans alike hoped that Jurgen Klopp’s men would take the attention away from the saga with a stellar performance on the pitch.
While the game certainly provided the desired entertainment, the Reds, courtesy of a 94th minute controversial equalizer, were forced to settle for just a point in their first game of the season.
Stefano Okaka headed the Hornets in front in under 10 minutes to send Vicarage Road into ruptures in Marco Silva’s first game in charge only for Sadio Mane to equalize in the 30th minute.
Watford did go into half-time leading once again as Abdoulaye Doucoure capitalized on some horror defending at the back from Liverpool to score his side’s second two minutes after Mane’s equalizer.
Liverpool, however, came all guns blazing in the second half and through a Roberto Firmino penalty and Mohamed Salah’s debut goal saw themselves turn things around. Just as Klopp’s men were preparing to settle for three hard-fought points, Watford scored in the dying seconds of the game through Miguel Britos to hand Marco Silva his first point as Hornets boss.
“New season, same old Liverpool”
Time and time again, it’s been spoken about and established how important a solid defence is to the fabric of a title winning team. A team can score all the goals in the world they like, but without a defence there quite really is no point and Liverpool only need to look so far as their own showing in the 2013-14 season to understand that.
In a season, when the Reds broke many club goal-scoring records, their absolute shambles of a back-line shipped out goals at will and it was something that cost them crucial points in big games. Most notable was the infamous capitulation at Selhurst Park, where they squandered a 3-0 half-time lead to finish the game with the score reading 3-3.
Funnily enough, fast forward three years and three months and the predicament at Liverpool is the same. Poor defence, set-piece vulnerability and lapses of concentration have been a hallmark of the Reds’ back-line for a while now and there was a sinking evidence on Saturday that even the likes of Virgil van Dijk may not be able to fix that.
Yes, they need a leader and a dominant force at the back but more than that they need organization and that is something Klopp has to fix in his tactics and coaching methods.
Liverpool can’t expect to challenge for silverware let alone the Premier League title with that kind of defence so they have to find a quick fix and reinforcements to strengthen their team by the time the transfer window is shut.
Mane-Salah-Firmino trio look good
Liverpool’s attacking options all enjoyed a good outing during pre-season with all of them recording a handful of goals and assists to show for. But it was new signing Mohamed Salah along with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino that got the nod from Klopp to start for the Reds and the trio showed signs of things to come over the course of the season.
Barring Mane’s goal, it was a largely disappointing first half for Liverpool from an attacking perspective but the trio jumped into their own during the second half causing the Hornets defence all kinds of problems.
And unsuprisingly, the Reds lost their mojo once Firmino and Salah, the architects of the turnaround, were subbed off by Klopp. Salah was instrumental in winning the penalty which Firmino duly converted to equalize in the second half before the Brazilian returned the favour by setting up Salah’s maiden competitive goal in a Liverpool jersey.
Mane undoubtedly looked the best of the lot as he tried to conjure openings through his movement, dribbling and penetrability. What must encourage Klopp is that Liverpool were far from their best in attack on Saturday but still managed to come away with three goals which should signal how good they can be at their dynamic best.
Why Liverpool can’t let Coutinho go?
Saturday showed further evidence why Liverpool simply couldn’t let Coutinho go this transfer window considering how crucial a juncture this season could be in the club’s progress under Jurgen Klopp. There was a depressing lack of creativity in midfield for the Reds which often left the front three isolated and with too much to do.
Throughout the course of pre-season, Coutinho looked at his best and his near telepathic connection with Firmino and Salah was something fans dearly looked forward to going into the new campaign. However, the Brazilian’s stunning transfer request on Friday has drastically changed the climate at Melwood.
Although FSG and Liverpool have clearly stated their desire to keep the player, it still remains to be seen how Klopp deals with the player and phases him into the team without risking a potential toxic dressing room atmosphere courtesy of a want-away player.
Whatever little has transpired off the Reds’ transfer window has been done centred around Coutinho’s position in the team. So Klopp can ill-afford to lose the player at this crucial period.
The 25-year-old missed the Watford game due to a back injury and is expected to sit out for the big Champions League qualifying game against Hoffenheim as well. Drawing the attention to Saturday’s performance, it was clear that Liverpool missed a creative presence in the centre of the park.
Georginio Wijnaldum had a forgettable afternoon for the Reds. He was wasteful in possession, squandered a golden opportunity to send the Reds two goals clear and was even culpable for the late Watford equalizer.
Emre Can and Jordan Henderson are more adept at the holding midfield roles and don’t have the ability to pull a rabbit out of the hat like Coutinho does. But as mentioned time and again before, the Reds aren’t and cannot afford to be a one-man team and need to learn to work without overly being reliant on key individuals. So only time can tell what happens between now and the end of the transfer window.
Klopp’s Substitutions To Blame?
The Liverpool defence can get all the criticism, but it wouldn’t be completely amiss to afford Klopp some of the blame for his substitutions yesterday.
The trio of Divock Origi, James Milner and Joe Gomez who came on for Firmino, Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold respectively did virtually little of note during their time on the pitch as compared to the highly influential players they replaced.
Klopp’s decision to take off 3 of the 4 players who did exceptionally well on the day may have been done keeping Tuesday’s Champions League qualifier in mind but when the team has gotten through 80 minutes and is still hanging by the skin of the teeth, he could have chosen to keep the key players till the game was truly done and dusted.
Watford saw more of the ball and more opportunities following the Reds’ substitutions and eventually earned their equalizer late on in the game, albeit in a controversial manner. There are certainly issues beyond just transfers that Liverpool need to solve in order to sort their results out.
Questions have to be thrown at the Reds’ zonal marking approach and the coaching that goes behind setting up the defenders. It’ll have been two years since Klopp took over this October and we’re still looking at a side that struggles against smaller teams, set pieces and look vulnerable at the back.
“Win the Small Battles”
It mostly certainly hasn’t been some of the most pleasant days in charge of Liverpool for Klopp with all the drama and speculation surrounding Coutinho’s future, Liverpool’s transfer window and their opening day result.
But, the German must quickly regroup his squad and keep them in good shape and frame of mind ahead of the massive game against Hoffenheim on Tuesday. Champions League football is on the line for Liverpool and qualification to the group stage could be a huge boost at this stage for the club.
It’s just the beginning of what is another long football season and therefore the fans and, most importantly, the players mustn’t be bogged down by the latest state of affairs. Small wins like signing reinforcements in the transfer window, holding on to Coutinho and securing a Champions League place could be the ideal lift for the players and the manager himself.
All the negatives aside, there is still a lot to be optimistic about this Liverpool team and it is probably only a matter of time before things come together. But, Klopp more than anyone will understand that even continued promise of improvement has an expiry date and that the problems on the pitch have to be addressed quickly.