Liverpool’s Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho (R) celebrates with Liverpool’s Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah after scoring the opening goal of the English Premier League football match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James’ Park in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, north east England on October 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Lindsey PARNABY
Heralded as Liverpool’s saviour when he was appointed two years ago, Jurgen Klopp has cut an increasingly tetchy figure in recent weeks as the Reds boss struggles to find the winning formula at Anfield.
In contrast to his success with Borussia Dortmund, Klopp is still looking for his first silverware in England and, after a 1-1 draw at Newcastle on Sunday, Liverpool are already languishing seven points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City.
Klopp’s side have won only one of their past seven matches in all competitions and his record to date compares unfavourably to his Liverpool predecessor Brendan Rodgers’ statistics over the same period.
With in-form rivals Manchester United due on Merseyside for Liverpool’s next match on October 14, Klopp must use the international break to solve his team’s damaging problems.
AFP Sport takes a closer look at the issues that threaten to derail Liverpool’s season:
Lack of cutting edge
If Klopp’s colourful description of goals being “the mother of football” is correct, then Liverpool are in danger of being orphaned.
With 137 chances created, Liverpool have had the most opportunities to score of any Premier League team this season, but have netted only 13 times.
While Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal all splashed out on forwards in the close-season, Klopp opted against signing a penalty box predator and the decision looks like coming back to haunt him.
Out-of-favour forward Daniel Sturridge is often on the bench and Liverpool are paying for their lack of cutting edge.
Anfield legend Jamie Carragher said: “You take it back to Manchester United last season in terms of having a lot of games where they didn’t score and had lots of chances.
“At the end of the season they just went and bought Lukaku and it looks like that problem at the moment is fixed. Liverpool didn’t fix the problems that needed fixing.”
Only two Premier League teams have conceded more goals than Liverpool this season, with the 12 allowed by Klopp’s leaky rearguard a stark contrast to their title rivals.
Manchester City and Manchester United have let in only two goals each, with Tottenham (five) and Chelsea (six) also far more solid.
Klopp is clearly aware of Liverpool’s defensive malaise as he spent most of the close-season engaged in a failed attempt to sign Southampton centre-back Virgil van Dijk.
Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno and Joe Gomez comprise a distinctly flawed unit, with Klopp’s commitment to attack also leaving his defenders with little protection from the midfield.
“If they keep defending the way they are at the minute they’ve got no chance (of winning the title). The goals they are conceding are far too easy,” former Liverpool goalkeeper Chris Kirkland said.
Klopp’s decision to rotate goalkeepers Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius has exposed his lack of a true number one.
Mignolet has endured a difficult time at Anfield since joining from Sunderland in 2013 and his penchant for costly mistakes convinced Klopp to sign Karius from Mainz last year to push the Belgian international.
So far the move has not had the desired effect. Mignolet is no more convincing and Karius has made a blunder or two himself.
Karius’s failure to keep out Fernando’s long-range free-kick in Liverpool’s draw against Spartak Moscow last week brought fresh criticism, but Klopp remains defiant.
“I don’t understand how you can talk after a game like this about this one situation. I don’t think it was a mistake but probably you have another opinion,” he said.
Keeping Coutinho happy
Given Liverpool’s problems with turning possession into points, arguably Klopp’s biggest concern will be keeping Coutinho motivated after the Brazil forward was denied his wish to join Barcelona.
Coutinho handed in a transfer request in a bid to force Klopp to sell him before the transfer deadline, but even when Barca’s bids climbed over £100 million, Liverpool refused to budge.
Forced to return to Liverpool, the 25-year-old has kept his frustrations in check so far, scoring three times in his past three appearances, including a long-range rocket at Newcastle at the weekend.
Klopp must ensure Coutinho retains that focus for Liverpool to have any chance of a successful season.
“He has put his frustration into games and is playing with freedom. He has been fantastic,” Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson said.
“We all love him. A lot of things happen in football. Phil has been brilliant.”