You can imagine a heavy sigh of relief exuding from Jürgen Klopp as the final whistle blew on Sunday. His team had managed to scrape past a Burnley side that has been poor away from home all season. A 2-1 win was generous to the home side given their less than brilliant performance but the game finally saw Liverpool overcome a team outside of the top six in 2017.
The start of 2017 has seen a draw to Sunderland, defeats to Hull, Swansea and Leicester which has caused Liverpool to slip from being title challengers to top 4 outsiders. The manager described the Burnley game as the team’s first “ugly win” of the season and it was a sentiment the players agreed with. In their post-match press conference on Sky, Georginio Wijnaldum and Emre Can conceded that getting the three points was more important than the performance but to mount a serious top 4 challenge or title charge, Liverpool have to improve.
With Liverpool, it seems they are either at it or they are not and this is evident from the first whistle. Against Arsenal, they started brightly. Hunting the London team and snatching the ball away at every occasion. Against Burnley, it took them a long time to get going and it was only until Wijnaldum’s goal in stoppage time of the first half that they looked like they could win the game.
Declaring it is a mentality issue seems like an easy excuse. To blame poor performance after poor performance on all eleven players not being in the right frame of mind does not sit well when you consider the elite level of player we are talking about. A fluke result can be put down to psychological issues but a consistent trend tends to point to other reasoning.
Perhaps the main reason is that Liverpool lack a plan b. The bigger teams come up against Liverpool and try to play football, a style which the Merseyside club relish as they have the technical abilities to compete with top clubs when the ball is on the ground. But the smaller teams who don’t have such players rely more on teamwork and a style that sets up to frustrate Liverpool. Burnley are a good example of this. A team who will challenge for every ball, be defensively strict and can score on the counter. When Liverpool meet a side like that they find genuine difficulty in breaking the lines down and players like Coutinho struggle to create space and chances.
To abandon Klopp’s style now would not be a sensible choice but to have an alternative approach is wise. Liverpool need a player who can be incisive and who can break down opponent’s defences. This is not to say they should go sign a 6ft 6 target man but more that they need to find a player who is both physically strong and has the talent to also be able to play in a more technical game.
Top four is a very real possibility this season but if Liverpool want to continue progressing next season, they have to consistently overcome the teams outside of the top 6 and the struggles that come with those games.