Liverpool’s barren domestic cup run has continued after a meek 2-1 loss at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The Reds were dumped out by Ruben Neves’ long range strike and in spite of our recent strides forward, we’ve now won one trophy in 13 years and none since 2012. It was a tricky situation for manager Jürgen Klopp, who has his eyes firmly set on the Champions League and the trophy we covet the most, the Premier League.
The performance was, unsurprisingly, clunky and disjointed.
A far cry from how comfortable our first team won in the Midlands a few days before Christmas.
Whilst we have improved much of our squad, I think that this game highlighted that we have work to do in some areas – more so than I had hoped. The sad fact is that without our front three, there is a huge drop off in our goalscoring.
The sight of Daniel Sturridge moping around up front was a source of huge frustration. Sturridge has made contributions to our excellent season to date but he was way off the pace at Molineux and deservedly got the shepherd’s crook in the second half. He is a big, glaring step down from Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian has not had one of his better seasons by any stretch of the imagination, but he has played himself into form and his endeavour and determination can make things happen by themselves. Sturridge meanwhile depends entirely on his playmaking and his lethal left foot – and if they aren’t in the game then the sad fact is that Sturridge does not offer very much. His injuries have sadly curtailed his movement, making him much easier to defend against.
Having a good back up player is a tough ask for us because whoever we bring in will likely find themselves well behind the most lethal front three in football. That’s why Harry Wilson, who has thrived on loan at Derby County, is highly likely to take up that place on the bench next season.
If I had my way, I would be recalling him immediately as his confidence, trickery, pace and long range shooting could be just what we need if we find ourselves in a tight spot.
I definitely sympathise with Klopp over our current defensive problems – Dejan Lovren limping off with a hamstring injury inside of 10 minutes was the last thing we needed but the fact is that we could not rest him. Joe Gomez and Joel Matip’s ongoing injuries mean we have had no way to rest Lovren and Dutch talisman Virgil van Dijk at the same time.
In an ideal world, Ki-Jana Hoever would have been able to debut in his natural right back position but instead he was thrust into the limelight aged just 16 at centre half. The teenager put in a very solid and steady performance alongside emergency centre half Fabinho. With van Dijk back for the weekend’s trip to Brighton, I expect that Fabinho will retain that position.
With January transfer dealings in pretty much ruled out by the manager, we’ll be going with what we have. But if they are afforded opportunities again in the future, the likes of Alberto Moreno, Simon Mignolet and Daniel Sturridge will need to perform better than they did in that FA Cup tie. You can level the same at James Milner and the very disappointing Xherdan Shaqiri, but the Swiss has plenty of credit in the bank after a string of excellent performances since his £13m arrival from Stoke City. The senior players did not match the desire and intensity of the youth team debutants.
For all the screeching about Liverpool “devaluing the FA Cup” and “a lack of respect for the competition” I’m afraid our squad is not up to the standard to compete on three fronts. Not yet anyway. We’ll likely not have a better chance at winning the league than we do at the moment and after a hectic Christmas period, we simply need to rest tired legs.
The league must come first.
However, a failure to get all 3 points at the AMEX on Saturday will simple exacerbate all talk of this trophyless run. Let us hope that we recover from the Manchester City setback and return to winning ways.
*Odds are subject to change.