Toughing It Out

Liverpool have a new-found ability to 'win ugly' - but the beauty needs to come back into the attack sooner rather than later, Dan Thomas writes.

Posted by Joel

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson (right) shakes hands with manager Jurgen Klopp (left) after he is substituted off during the pre-season match at Anfield, Liverpool.

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It’s times like this where I feel sorry for Jürgen Klopp.

For long spells of his time at Liverpool, there has been a fixation on the way he sets up his defence or the standard of his goalkeeper. And now, we have a new obsession – our much vaunted attack not currently firing. Poor Klopp can’t win!

I am personally delighted with the transformation of the defence and the goalkeeper. There is an air of confidence and control that we emit now – “thou shalt not pass.” Especially at Anfield, where we have not conceded a league goal since the tail end of February. We don’t ever look like we’re going to concede.

Liverpool to win 3-0, 3-1 or 3-2 (v Red Star Belgrade) – 4.25*

Our excellent start to the season (for all the concerns, we’re level at the top even if the goal difference gap between us and Manchester City is now a chasm) has been built on our ability to keep clean sheets.

That doesn’t mask our deficiencies at the other end of the pitch currently. It isn’t even a relative lack of goals that concerns me. It’s the lack of chances we’re creating.

Apart from Mo Salah’s well taken goal at Huddersfield, we created very few chances. The same goes for the Manchester City game before the international break – where I struggle to think of us really, truly testing Ederson.

But as we have done on a few occasions this season, we’ve toughed out another result. There are many reasons you could cite for the subdued performance at Huddersfield, all of them viable. It was the first game after an international break and we’d had a handful of training sessions to prepare for the match.

It also comes on the back of a bleak international break where we’ve had four players come back with injuries. Salah and Virgil van Dijk were able to play but Sadio Mané missed out and Naby Keita will be out for a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury. This has caused a lot of disruption to our team though I completely take the point that we were grinding out results before any of the forced changes.

Some of the changes were forced and at the same time, some changes need to be made for the sake of freshness. I don’t buy into the school of thought that Klopp is holding the Reds back for an aggressive charge in the second half of the season. But I do think we needed to make some changes and with all due respect, Huddersfield are the perfect team against which to do so.

Liverpool to win TO NIL (v Red Star Belgrade) – 1.64*

It was a perfect opportunity to give more time on the field to the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Dejan Lovren and Xherdan Shaqiri. The latter particularly will have been itching for another start after decimating Southampton at the start of September only to be replaced at half time in that match.

With the squad still suffering from the impact of this summer’s World Cup in Russia and the segmented pre-seasons that has led to for the individual players, it is more important than ever that we rotate and our squad has been built to do so.

I can understand the need to tough out some results – I will give us the benefit of the doubt with the Huddersfield match because it was just after the international break.

But with three home games coming up against teams we must be looking at defeating, we need to break the cycle of “toughing it out” and start winning games more convincingly.

I am delighted with the clean sheets, it is something I’ve wanted us to do for a long time and it equips us to go and win matches – but at some point, we’ll make a defensive mistake, or we’ll concede a soft set piece or someone will slam home from 25 yards. We need to make sure we’re well in front the next time that happens.

With Manchester City relentless at the moment, the margin for error is smaller than it ever has been. So whilst it’s great we can depend on our ability to shut the opposition out, we need to click into gear further up the field.

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